It seems like only yesterday that Bayern Munich was hailed for its ability to produce stars from its youth ranks. In fact, it’s been seven years since a Bayern academy player broke into the first team and remained in it.
David Alaba made the first-team jump during the 2011-12 season after joining Bayern’s youth program in 2008. Alaba was already 16 when he left his native Austria for Säbener Strasse. He is the most recent Bayern academy success story.
Before Alaba’s breakthough, Bayern could boast a remarkable run of producing talent. 2014 World Cup winners Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Thomas Mueller, Toni Kroos and Matts Hummels came out of the Bayern academy.
Kroos joined Bayern at age 16 and Schweinsteiger at 14. Hummels was only 6, Mueller 10 and Lahm 11. Mueller’s 2009 debut was the most recent breakthrough among that quintet.
In the meanwhile, other once highly touted Bayern youth players have moved on, like 1995-born Julian Green, now with VfB Stuttgart. Green was a part of Bayern Munich’s squad when it toured the USA in the summer of 2014 and played against the MLS All-Stars. Also in that Bayern squad were academy players Gianluca Gaudino (1996-born), Lucas Scholl (1996), Michael Eberwein (1996) and Leopold Zingerle (1994). All have since left Bayern.
Bayern Munich enters the 2017-18 Bundesliga season as five-time defending champion. Only one Bayern academy product is seen as having a chance to get playing time. Marco Friedl, a 19-year-old Austrian left back who joined Bayern at 15, is slated as a backup to Alaba in the wake of an injury to Juan Bernat.
For this season, Bayern Munich spent $47 million to acquire 22-year-old French midfielder Corentin Tolisso from Lyon and $22 million for 21-year-old German central defender Niklas Süle from Hoffenheim.
The youth drought in Bavaria is similar to what’s happened at Barcelona, which famously fielded 11 academy grads in a 2012 win over Levante, but has since seen the pipeline from La Masia dry up.
For its part, Bayern has responded emphatically to improve its academy. This month, it opened a $78 million academy complex, the 74-acre FC Bayern Campus, which it has dubbed “the conveyor belt of talent.” It includes 35 apartments for players and eight fields.
“The results of our work in the last few years haven’t been so good,” said Bayern president Uli Hoeness. “Since David Alaba, no other player has come close to making the pro team.”
Bayern has shaken up its youth coaching ranks and put Hermann Gerland, most recently assistant to first team coach Carlo Ancelotti, in charge of the academy.
"If you have something as great as this [facility], then you should be able to dig out a player for the first team every three years," Hoeness said. "We have to measure our success with how the situation is in five years. We couldn't allow the next five years of youth work to be the same as the last five."
The money spent to acquire Tolisso and Süle is close to what Bayern spent to build FC Bayern Campus. So it can recoup the construction costs if it spawns players of that talent.
But will a fancy campus enable Bayern to produce more players like Mueller, Lahm and Co., who came out of its youth program when it had more modest facilities? That probably depends mostly on how much talent the players bring with them when they arrive.