Stakes are high for wounded Bayern Munich

Stakes are high for wounded Bayern Munich

Published Aug. 23, 2012 9:47 p.m. ET

Bayern Munich's public pursuit of Athletic Bilbao midfielder Javi Martinez for a Bundesliga record of ?40 million ($49.9 million) shows the German powerhouse is still rattled after its season of near misses.

Despite spending a reported ?30.3 million ($37.8 million) on five new players in the offseason, Bayern is prepared to smash its record ?30 million ($37.4 million) paid for Stuttgart striker Mario Gomez in 2009 to land the 23-year-old Spaniard and take its overall spending to ?70.3 million ($87.7 million).

Bayern has only twice spent more - ?88.2 million ($110 million) in 2007 when the players included Franck Ribery and Miroslav Klose, and ?74.7 million ($93.2 million) in 2009, according to German transfer listing website

In both years the club had missed out on the Bundesliga title and then claimed it the following season.


Bayern has already won the first title of the new season, but the 2012 Supercup will not be enough to satisfy a side unaccustomed to failure.

Last season was arguably the Bavarian side's most traumatic. Bayern finished runner-up to defending champion Borussia Dortmund in the league, lost to Dortmund again in the German Cup final, 5-2, and then watched as Chelsea won a penalty shootout to lift the Champions League trophy in Munich.

Sporting director Christian Nerlinger was fired early in the summer, reportedly paying the price for his lack of authority and perceived failings on the transfer market. Bayern lost a couple of targets - Marco Reus and Leonardo Bittencourt - to chief rival Dortmund.

Matthias Sammer, who held a similar position with the German football federation (DFB), was signed in Nerlinger's place to oversee Bayern's future direction with a shakeup of its youth setup and more success on the transfer market.

Both Nerlinger and Sammer are former Dortmund players, with Sammer leading the side to the title in 1995 and `96, before doing it again as coach in 2002.

Bayern's signings of striker Mario Mandzukic, reserve goalkeeper Tom Starke, Germany prospect Mitchell Weiser, Peru forward Claudio Pizarro, Brazilian defender Dante and Swiss winger Xherdan Shaqiri were all agreed before Sammer's arrival, but he is likely to have had a hand in all but Dante's and Shaqiri's, which were agreed in early May.

Sammer is also one of the driving forces behind Bayern's push for Martinez, which isn't quite going to plan.

''It doesn't look too good at the moment because the people in Bilbao are very, very stubborn and apparently using every possible way to prevent the transfer,'' Bayern president Uli Hoeness told German TV station n-tv.

Hoeness said Martinez was willing to sacrifice part of his salary over the length of a five-year contract to help the deal go through, reducing the overall cost to Bayern ''by at least eight or 10 million.''

Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge indicated Bayern's willingness to pay the player's buy-out clause.

The deal is reportedly being held up because Bayern does not want to pay the 15 per cent additional tax due to the Spanish authorities if it forces the transfer, while Bilbao is refusing to willingly sanction the player's move even if the buy-out clause is met. Bilbao would get ?40 million ($49.9 million) either way.

Martinez, a Euro 2012 winner with Spain, would likely form a defensive shield at Bayern with Bastian Schweinsteiger that can quickly switch to attack, while he could also replace the Germany midfielder if necessary.

Schweinsteiger was injured for long periods last season and his absence was noted as Bayern paid the price for a lack of strength in depth.

Indeed, Schweinsteiger's ongoing fitness may have convinced Bayern's management to break their self-imposed limit to ensure Martinez arrives.

''We're definitely not paying 40 million euros,'' Sammer had told the dapd news agency last week. ''Speculation says 30, 33 million - it stops for me at these figures. The fact is it won't be a record transfer.''

Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes already has a selection conundrum with Schweinsteiger, Shaqiri, Toni Kroos, Luiz Gustavo, Arjen Robben, Thomas Mueller and Ribery all competing for places in midfield.

Heynckes' other problem is Dortmund, though the defending champion has lost an influential playmaker for the second summer in a row. Japan star Shinji Kagawa has departed for Manchester United after Nuri Sahin left for Real Madrid the year before.

Dortmund coach Juergen Klopp hopes former Borussia Moenchengladbach winger Reus and the 18-year-old Bittencourt will help make up for the loss, while a lot will also depend on Mario Goetze's fitness.

A groin injury forced Goetze to miss most of the second half of last season, and conjunctivitis cost the up-and-coming star of German football 10 days of preseason training.

Sammer bristles at the suggestion Dortmund may be Bayern's only worthy domestic adversary.

''There are also other teams this year. Schalke has a very interesting lineup. I'm also excited about Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen,'' Sammer said.

Former Bayern coach Ottmar Hitzfeld believes Bayern and Dortmund are at the same level with the pressure on his former side.

''Dortmund lost (the Supercup) and you don't hear anything about it. If Bayern had lost, it would have been a small earthquake. And it would have unsettled the top stars,'' Hitzfeld told dapd.

''The pressure this year is even bigger (than normal). The title is expected. The tension is there. It has to work from the start. Otherwise there'll be trouble.''