On the heels of this spring’s All-German Champions League Final, more football fans are starting to tune into the Bundesliga. And not only is this season shaping up to be the most watched ever, but a lot of new faces are going to be in place. We’ve already seen an impossible array of moves (over a hundred, counting sales, purchases, and free transfers) in Germany’s top flight so far this summer, and the summer ain’t over yet. As a service to some of you Bundesliga novices, here’s a quick run-down of the German transfer period’s biggest moves so far.
- Jan “Two H” Kirchhoff: from Mainz to FC Bayern
This one was sealed back in January … which, from Bayern’s end, feels like a lifetime ago. Kirchhoff is a steady defender with size and good positional understanding, but Bayern supporters have been (understandably) skeptical that he’ll see much of the pitch for Die Roten. After all, Dante and Jerome Boateng both finished the year in sparkling form. Holger Badstuber, if he comes back healthy, is still one of the most promising young defenders in the world. And Daniel van Buyten, although getting a little long in the tooth, had some nice matches last season (including an excellent game vs. Arsenal in the CL) and is certainly more than capable as a 4th option.
And yet, you really never know when you’re going to need CB depth. At this time last year, when the Dante deal was inked, Bayern partisans were wondering whether the new guy would even get any time. Well, look what happened – he was the best CB in the league last year, and possibly Bayern’s best player. That’s not to say that Kirchhoff will follow a similar trajectory, and certainly you don’t want to see anyone get hurt. But between the possibility of injury, fatigue, cards, suspensions, and guys just having slumps in form sometimes, you’ll need great depth along the back line if you’re playing in 3 competitions. So Kirchhoff will probably come in handy, especially if Badstuber needs to be given a slow roll-out after ACL surgery.
- Konstantin Rausch: from Hannover 96 to VfB Stuttgart
Not one of those big-name moves that grabs a lot of headlines, but Kocka could end up paying major dividends for VfB. Last season, they started off very poorly (not winning their first league match until week 6, including 3 early losses to teams that would finish bottom half). They eventually came together and saved their season, and even made a charge to the DFB Pokal Final, which earned them a spot in the Europa League again.
Looking back at Stuttgart’s run, though, it’s clear they had some holes in their line-up. Vedad Ibisevic was a monster, notching 15 goals in the league and adding 9 more in cup and continental play, and VfB’s midfield was also pretty lively with Christian Geitner manning the pivot and Martin Harnik on the wing. But they had some trouble defensively, and the LB position was especially problematic: Christian Molinari, Arthur Boka, and Gotoku Sakai all got starts at that position, and none of them really excelled. For a team expecting to make a real run at the Europa League title and fight for a top half spot in the Bundesliga table, VfB really needs an upgrade.
Rausch has never gotten a lot of attention, especially because he plays in a league with so many excellent fullbacks. But he’s a capable tackler, doesn’t get caught out of position, and can even give you something good going forward on the dribble. He can also fill in at the left midfield position and is a tireless runner. Stuttgart already has some goal-scoring pop; if they can fill out the roster with solid, reliable role-players, you can expect a big improvement for them this year. And this exactly the kind of guy they need.
- Andre Schürrle: from Leverkusen to Chelsea
A big move, I guess, just because Schürrle had been so good for Leverkusen over the past 2 years, and because Chelsea demonstrated their financial superiority by scooping him up so effortlessly. And most Germany fans have high hopes for Schürrle’s future on the island. If he can fit in between Oscar and Ramires and in front of Mata, I could definitely see that being a successful move (and Mourinho appears to think so as well: he already shipped out Marko Marin on loan to make room for Andre).
But you can also argue that this isn’t THAT massive a loss for Leverkusen. They still have Kiessling, and their midfield is still stacked with Sidney Sam, Lar Bender, and Simon Rolfes. And, anyway, they didn’t have Schürrle in 2010-2011 when they finished in second place and racked up a +20 goal differential. Also, I think Leverkusen is going to come back strong this year thanks to another big move …
- Robbie Kruse: from Fortuna Düsseldorf to Leverkusen
You think I’m crazy? Cool. Just mark it down and come talk to me after the season.
- Mario Götze: from Borussia Dortmund to FC Bayern
So much ink has already been spilled over this move. Was Götze wrong to move across the country after helping to build Dortmund into such a powerhouse? Can Dortmund hope to reproduce his production with their new line-up, which will include Reus, Lewandowski and Ilkay? Is Lewandowski even going to stick around? As of right now, he’s still a Dortmund player, but the sharks are swirling. Is this move bad for the Bundesliga, as it shows that Bayern remains just too strong for everyone else, even after Dortmund’s recent resurgence?
These are all interesting questions, but it’s worth taking a minute to think about what Götze will bring to the pitch at the Allianz Arena. Although Bayern has a stable of elite forwards that any club in the world would envy, they don’t have anyone on their roster with quite the skill-set that Götze has: lateral quickness, amazing dribbling skills, great field vision, and versatility that lets him switch positions to go anywhere you need him. And, he just turned 21.
Will he be starting from day one? Probably not, depending upon what moves Bayern makes over the rest of the summer. But he’s sure to figure in the club’s attempt to defend the treble. And Götze is definitely a Pep Guardiola type: a precise passer who can keep the ball moving and who can get plugged in anywhere. Ribery and Robben might still have some time to shine, but over the next decade, a trio of Götze, Kroos and Müller is enough to give the rest of the league nightmares.
So what could possibly be a bigger move?
- Adam Szalai: from Mainz to Schalke 04
You’d better believe it. Szalai was one of the league’s biggest stars last year. When he was healthy and locked in, nobody could stop him. The reports have Schalke picking him up for just 8 million Euro; if this is true, that’s the biggest steal since Werder gave away Özil to Madrid.
A lot of writers and TV talking heads have been getting excited about Dortmund’s rise to challenge Bayern over the last few years. And legitimately so, it’s an exciting story: these two clubs have accomplished so much recently (Dortmund, back-to-back Bundesliga titles and a trip to the CL Final this year; Bayern, 3 CL finals in 4 years and a treble; both knocking off Spanish giants in this year’s semis). But one of the interesting things is that, for people who watch a lot of German football, Schalke has looked nearly as good … at certain times. They just haven’t been able to get it done consistently – when Bayern or Dortmund lose a match, you always get the impression that they’re going to come out on fire the next week and crush someone. Whereas, with Schalke, it seems like a single loss can send them into a tailspin from which they won’t recover for a month.
A big part of this is the fact that they’ve leaned so heavily on Huntelaar (who’s been, by far, their biggest scoring threat the past 2 years). Picking up Szalai should take some of the pressure off and prevent opposing teams from clamping down on one guy. In fact, this duo could end up being like the great striker pairing of Dzeko and Grafite from a few seasons ago. If that develops, Schalke could force themselves into the discussion with Bayern and Dortmund, and add a new German voice to the international song.
More moves could follow (Suarez to Bayern is constantly being reported as I write). But for now, these 6 appear to be the most important Bundesliga transfers of the summer. And with the attention that German football is starting to garner, the new boys will be stepping onto a big stage.