ESPN’s lead Bundesliga commentator Derek Rae assesses which German top-flight clubs have helped themselves most in a much quieter-than-usual January transfer window.
I must be honest by stating that, on the list of things that excite me about football, transfer deadline day generally comes in about dead last. Most well-run clubs do their homework in advance and so have little need for the sugar rush of a last-minute signing. The January window this year also came hot on the heels of a much later summer transfer period, plus we remain in a financially restrictive pandemic, meaning that activity was always likely to be more under the radar.
One aspect of deadline day I can recommend to England, though, is Germany’s earlier finish. It all feels a bit more civilised when it ends at 6 p.m.!
To be fair, it’s important to look at who did what and why up and down the Bundesliga. Unsurprisingly, the two best-supported clubs, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, signed no one at all from the outside. BVB must wait until the summer for a new chapter, likely with a brand-new coach, while Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic had told Bayern fans there would be no winter additions.
Come the next window, however, Bayern will hope to have RB Leipzig‘s Dayot Upamecano on board. The player’s agent, Volker Struth, appeared on Sport 1’s Doppelpass show on Sunday and confirmed a buyout clause of €42.5 million. Securing Upamecano at that price will be Salihamidzic’s first priority, and Bayern are in pole position despite competition from Premier League clubs.
Leipzig have already started preparing for life after Upamecano by closing in on Strasbourg‘s promising Mohamed Simakan. The contract is expected to be signed next week. Already in the squad this winter is highly regarded midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai, who arrived last month from Austrian sister club FC Salzburg for around €25m, although an abductor injury has prevented an early Leipzig debut.
Bayer Leverkusen have been as busy as anyone in the top half of the table. Right-back has been a slight problem — remember too that Lars Bender is retiring at the end of the season. So in have come Jeremie Frimpong from Celtic and Timothy Fosu-Mensah from Manchester United. Mind you, both featured in the club’s horror show of a DFB-Pokal exit at the hands of fourth-tier Rot-Weiss Essen last week. The Werkself (“Factory XI”) are suffering from a distinct lack of Bundesliga productivity, too, with just one win from their past seven.
Can Demarai Gray from Leicester City help? It’s an intriguing signing for their wing on a relatively low-risk basis at €2m and a contract lasting just 18 months. Gray will initially be behind Moussa Diaby, Leon Bailey and Karim Bellarabi but could feature in the squad as early as this weekend.
Borussia Monchengladbach‘s highly regarded sporting director, Max Eberl, has been on sabbatical for the month of January, but that hasn’t kept the club from building for the future. Nineteen-year-old central midfielder Kouadio Kone from Toulouse joined with an eye on becoming the long-term successor to Denis Zakaria. American fans of the Bundesliga will be excited by the signing of right-back Joe Scally from New York City FC even though the paperwork was done long ago. The 18-year-old is going to the perfect club for the next stage of his development.
Talking of Americans, I very much like TSG Hoffenheim going out and getting Chris Richards on loan from Bayern. On the one hand, it’s pure pragmatism with Benjamin Hubner, Ermin Bicakcic and Kevin Akpoguma on the injured list. Plus of course Richards has already allied with coach Sebastian Hoeness with Bayern’s reserve team who won the 3. Liga (the national third tier) last season.
But Richards, a bit-part player for Bayern this season, is ready for more, and in the very short term, he’s not going to get that experience with the Rekordmeister. Significantly, though, Bayern CEO and board chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge told Sky Deutschland this week that they see Richards as someone who can contribute more in Munich next term and beyond. The decision to send him on loan is a shrewd move by all parties.
Eintracht Frankfurt‘s already potent attack, powered by Andre Silva, has received a boost with the return on loan of Luka Jovic from Real Madrid. Three goals in his first four games speaks to the potential for Frankfurt to push strongly for Europe and perhaps even a Champions League place.
From a Serbian striker to a Croatian: Union Berlin left it late before bringing on board natural finisher Petar Musa from Slavia Prague, a move necessitated by Anthony Ujah‘s knee injury. FC Augsburg, meanwhile, should help themselves with the loan signing of Gladbach’s gifted midfielder Laszlo Benes, who has been kept out of the Fohlenelf purely due to an abundance of options in his position.
Hertha, having reshuffled the pack on the sporting director and coaching fronts, have gone for on-pitch and dressing-room leadership and experience in Sami Khedira. Yet the 2014 World Cup winner hasn’t played in more than eight months. Will he prove to be the missing link for a young Hertha team?
I do like the Berliners’ loan-with-an-option-to-buy signing of Nemanja Radonjic, a natural wide player with something to prove after ups and downs at Marseille. Matheus Cunha is much more comfortable playing centrally while Dodi Lukebakio is suffering through a dip in form. Radonjic should help straight away.
Cologne beat Bielefeld 3-1 last week, and Nigerian striker Emmanuel Dennis (on loan from Club Brugge) contributed immediately upon arrival, especially in the second half. Max Meyer, signed on a free transfer from Crystal Palace, seems happy to be back in the Bundesliga and intent upon helping Effzeh preserve their status in the Oberhaus.
Bielefeld, who I think are the most likely team to end up 16th and therefore in a relegation playoff, still pack a punch. They must hope Japanese midfielder Masaya Okugawa, a €3.5m signing from Salzburg, can impact the team to the same extent as his compatriot, the creative Ritsu Doan.
That brings us to the bottom two, Mainz and Schalke 04, whose dealings looked like ones made by those cut adrift and in dire need. Mainz threw everything but the kitchen sink at an attempt to improve. They’ve done well to get Dominik Kohr and Danny da Costa on loan from local rivals Frankfurt. It’s a significant ask, though, for new striker Robert Glatzel, who hasn’t scored in his past seven games for Cardiff in the Championship. Mainz said goodbye to Jean-Philippe Mateta, who has moved to Crystal Palace for around €15m.
Schalke too, had to sell before they could buy: Ozan Kabak and Rabbi Matondo to England for what could be a combined €33m, and fans’ favourite Ahmed Kutucu to Heracles for just over €3m. Shkodran Mustafi, VfL Wolfsburg right-back William and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (back for a second spell at the age of 37) have all arrived. Still, it would take a brave person to back Schalke to stay up.