Back when Borussia Dortmund were genuine rivals for the Bundesliga and European silverware, it was common to hear Bayern Munich described as ‘the evil empire’. While Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund were the Rebel Alliance – all fizzing intensity, heavy-metal gegenpressing and X-wing-inspired attacking verve – Bayern were the Imperial Death Star, capable of zapping whole teams into oblivion at the flick of a switch.
More than that, however, Bayern were imperialistic in their approach to recruitment. They annexed much of that Dortmund team, using not only their considerable financial clout but also their undeniable allure and prestige. So Germany’s most successful club signed BVB icon Mario Gotze for £31.5m – destabilising Dortmund ahead of the 2013 Champions League final in the process – bought Mats Hummels for £30m in 2016 and convinced the prolific Robert Lewandowski to join on a free.
Bayern’s use of the free transfer has been masterful over the last few seasons, with the Bavarians using their enormous status and influence to put their domestic rivals in a chokehold. When Bayern are unable to sign a Bundesliga star or up-and-coming prospect by conventional means, there is a pattern of contracts ticking down and players joining them without commanding a fee.
Leon Goretzka arrival
Schalke midfielder Leon Goretzka is about to join Lewandowski as one of the most high-profile Bundesliga free transfers of the last decade – Goretzka has agreed to join Bayern in the summer when his final six months with Schalke are up – but there’s also the case of Sebastian Rudy, the German international and former Hoffenheim captain who joined on a free last summer.
Lewandowski has to be one of the greatest free transfers ever, having scored 133 goals in 174 appearances for Bayern and won three league titles in the meantime. That’s not to forget lesser-known former squad players like Sebastian Rode, Jan Kirchhoff, Lukas Raeder and Rouven Sattelmaier, all of whom were highly rated youngsters who had bright futures with other teams.
While not every free transfer works out spectacularly for Bayern, their unique magnetism as a club makes for frictionless transfer business. They are in the privileged position of picking and choosing when to spend money on players, so keen are many of the Bundesliga’s biggest talents to join them.
If that gives them a huge advantage over their opponents, it does little to dispel their image as the evil empire outside of Germany. Bayern fans won’t much care, of course, when they have Bosman signings like Goretzka and Lewandowski helping them to keep a tight grip on the league.