Bayern v Barcelona: World-class club v World-class team

Bayern v Barcelona: World-class club v World-class team

Barcelona v Bayern Munich - The 2009 Champions League Quarterfinal

If recent history is anything to go by then the next Champions League winner will emerge from the semifinal between Bayern Munich and Barcelona.

In the last four years, either of these teams has reached the final twice (Bayern Munich 2010, 2012; Barcelona 2009; 2011). Nevertheless, their respective fortunes couldn’t be more contrasting. Whereas the Blaugrana have won their two Champions League finals, Bayern Munich lost theirs.

Barcelona v Bayern Munich – The 2009 Champions League Quarterfinal

Coincidentally, the Bavarians both times lost out to the conquerors of Barcelona at semifinal stage (Inter Milan in 2010, and Chelsea in 2012). Barcelona on the other hand has yet to lose a Champions League final in the new millennium.

While their recent success (or lack thereof) in Europe is incomparable – after all, history remembers the winners not also-rans – both these behemoths of European football are quite similar, from a sporting perspective at the very least.

In addition to being the, or one of the main contenders for all domestic honors, both sides have won Europe’s biggest club football prize four times. This year the pair has also recaptured the domestic title from their nearest rivals, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund.

Although in Barcelona’s case it’s not officially confirmed yet, it’s only a matter of when, not if.

Then there’s the personnel that goes by the name of Pep Guardiola. After winning 14 out of 19 possible titles with Barcelona during his four-year stay with the La Liga giants, the former Blaugrana player opted to take a sabbatical year once the 2011/12 season had concluded.

Sought-out by many of Europe’s richest clubs to become their next manager, Guardiola surprised many when Bayern Munich announced in December 2012 that the Catalan has signed a three-year deal that would begin July 2013 and run through June 2016.

To be perfectly clear, Bayern Munich is anything but poor. But while the Bundesliga side lacks a sugar-daddy benefactor a la Roman Abramovich, or Sheik Mansour, the Bavarian outfit has the financial muscle to compete with anyone in the transfer market (Barcelona included).

Note: No included are loan deals for in/outgoing players, the expiry of contracts, and players released on a free.

Since Pep Guardiola first took reins over Barcelona, his previous and future employers have spent vast amount of money on new players. The table above offers a better, although somewhat limited insight into the transfer policy of both clubs.

The Catalan side has spent almost double the outlay on new signings than their Bavarian counterparts, €374 million to €205.8 million, but Barcelona also has a higher coverage ratio at 46% to Bayern’s 19%. Though FC Hollywood’s net expenditure of €166.7 million almost rivals Barcelona’s €203.7 million, it isn’t necessarily proof of frivolous spending on behalf of Die Roten.

Unlike Barcelona whose transfer policy is often times influenced by their off-pitch rivalry with Real Madrid, that causes the Catalan club to sanction unnecessary, or highly expensive acquisitions (sometimes both), Bayern Munich don’t spent money on vanity signings.

The consecutive summers of 2009 and 2010 are prime examples for Barcelona’s illogical approach in the transfer market.

FC Barcelona’s treble success in the 2008/09 campaign prompted the re-elected Real Madrid President Florentino Perez to pay a little more than a quarter of a billion Euros on new players in the same summer, amongst those players, a certain Cristiano Ronaldo, at a massive €94 million price-tag.

Never the ones to be outdone, the Blaugrana felt inclined to buy Inter Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic for an equally mind-blowing €49 million in cash, plus Samuel Eto’o who Barcelona valued at €20 million.

Cristiano Ronaldo is still at Real Madrid, whereas Zlatan Ibrahimovic is now plying his trade in France’s Ligue 1 at nouveau riche PSG (by way of AC Milan).

For various reasons (sporting and otherwise) the Swede only lasted one season, once more forcing Barcelona to enter the transfer market in search for a superstar acquisition – Valencia’s David Villa for €40 million.

Interestingly enough, €45 million would’ve been enough to persuade Valencia’s president to part with his prized asset a year earlier. According to reports then-president Joan Laporta refused to raise his offer of €40 million for El Guaje.

Barcelona has effectively spent €89 million (excluding wages and signing bonuses) to replace Samuel Eto’o. Even worse, David Villa’s days in Barcelona appear to be numbered, meaning another vanity signing is required.

Worse still, Barcelona is not likely to recoup a significant amount of their investment for the now 31 year old forward.

Replacing Samuel Eto’o

Bottom line: Barcelona has yet to find an adequate replacement for Samuel Eto’o. If Barcelona does indeed buy Brazilian It-Boy Neymar this summer, he’ll likely command a transfer fee north of €40 million.

With David Villa all but certain to depart the Blaugrana at the end of this current season, it’ll add to the Samuel Eto’o replacement cost, reaching in excess of €100 million.

In light of the staggering, and mounting costs of replacing the legendary Cameroonian, it makes the record-breaking €94 million Madrid paid for Cristiano Ronaldo look like a sound investment.

Even more so since Los Blancos can arguably still demand his original price-tag from potential suitors. After all, he just turned 28 in February; the exact same age Ibrahimovic and Villa were when they joined Barcelona in a big-money transfer.

Somewhat lost in the mix has been the 2009 transfer of Arjen Robben to Bayern Munich, facilitated in no small part by Florentino Perez’ requirement for cash-flow to fund his transfer extravaganza that summer.

Although by no means a cut-price deal, the €25 million Bayern Munich paid for Robben can be considered a bargain, especially in hugely inflated transfer market. He was, and still is a key performer for Bayern Munich.

Whereas Barcelona’s 2009 signings are nowhere to be found these days, Bayern Munich can still rely on the services of Robben and Mario Gomez, who also arrived in the Bavarian capital around the same time as the Dutchman.

There’s the concept that not all players are cut out for Barcelona’s football philosophy. But while the influx of La Masia talent in the Catalan first team is supporting this idea, it further establishes the notion that Barcelona’s scouting and signing policy are abysmal.

Since 2003 Barcelona have had a total of three managers (Vilanova included), two from 2008 onwards. Since Pep Guardiola was installed as Barcelona’s manager, the club has bought 19 players but only retained 4 (21%). Bayern Munich have signed 24 players yet have retained 12 (50%) of their signings.

Shouldn’t it be easier to identify transfer targets? Especially with a tried, tested and not altered football philosophy in place? Bayern had a variety of managers over the seasons, but how come they have a higher retention rate in that regard? Moreover, why does Bayern Munich has the better performing attackers?

The table below illustrates how Barcelona’s attacking signings compare to Bayern Munich’s forwards.

Note: The statistics are correct as of April, 21, 2013

The Blaugrana have spent almost twice the amount on forwards, but only received about a third of the contribution of Bayern Munich’s signings in return. It once again raises the question: “Why is Barcelona’s administration incapable of identifying the proper forwards that would enhance their attack significantly?

It’s really mystifying that a team that has played with a particular system for so long is unable to purchase the right player. Conversely, it highlights Bayern Munich’s technical staff’s ability to identify and sign the players the need, at reasonable prices.

The fact that Arjen Robben and Mario Gomez are still with FC Hollywood is a testimony to their quality.

Sure, the Bavarians did lose both of their recent Champions League finals, but then again, would Barcelona even have reached the finals without the contributions of Lionel Messi, let alone win?

Barcelona’s negligence to buy a proven, natural centre-back has further weakened an already fragile defense. Almost all of their domestic rivals have managed to beat Victor Valdes at least once.

In a league where the financial disparity is greater than in any other of Europe’s top 5 championships, it speaks volumes of the Catalans defense when even bottom dwellers Celta Vigo, who spent a net €3 million on new recruits, can score two goals against Barcelona.

The centre-back problem

From 2008 onwards, Barcelona has spent €93,5 million on centre-backs, or defensive midfielder with the intention of retraining them into ones. Out of the 6 players the Blaugrana signed, only the cheapest, Gerard Pique, has firmly established himself as a starter.

Furthermore, the Catalan club seems to be hell-bent on proving that they don’t require natural centre-backs.

One of the more ridiculous signings in recent Barcelona history is Alex Song from Arsenal for a staggering €19 million. Signed as a 2-in-1 centre-back/defensive midfielder combination, the Cameroonian has been horrendous in central defense, and only features in midfield these days, if he plays at all.

While Barcelona faithful bemoan the ‘limited’ transfer funds Barcelona has available to them (still a respectable €50 million), one should consider that the very same institution paid €39 million buying two defensive midfielders to address one problematic position – central defense.

Though Javier Mascherano’s transformation has been somewhat successful, he’s still not quite at the level to keep the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo & Co. at bay.

It’s mildly amusing hearing Barcelona’s president, Sandro Rossell, preaching financial austerity, when he’s paying two players (Mascherano and Song) for half a position, as neither is a guaranteed starter in defensive midfield, or central defense for that matter.

Bayern Munich bought two centre-backs (Jerome Boateng and Dante) for a combined €18.5 million. Furthermore, they promoted and successfully integrated Holger Badstuber to the first team a couple of years prior to their arrival. The outlay for Boateng and Dante is less than a quarter Barcelona paid for their options at central defense.

More interestingly though, each of them is a full international (Boateng and Badstuber represent Germany, Dante just recently made the grade at Brazil). Unsurprisingly, the German Champions-elect boast the best defensive record in Europe, conceding just 14 goals in the Bundesliga.

Barcelona has a world-class team, with the exception of central defense it’s a match for any side in the world, perhaps superior to most of them. Unfortunately, Barca’s front office is anything but world-class. Although they did make a few solid, if not inspired signings (Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano, and more recently, Jordi Alba), they are few and far in between.

Not to mention, Barcelona’s misfits were utterly expensive. While the bulk of transfer failures can be attributed to the previous administration, Sandro Rossell is at risk of repeating the same mistakes his predecessor made, prioritizing unnecessary vanity signings.

The Catalan club prides themselves on their golden generation of La Masia players, and rightfully so. But while Barcelona football team is world-class, its organization, particular the department responsible for scouting and signing new players is substandard.

Bayern Munich not only took a cue from Barcelona, they signed Pep Guardiola to a three year deal. Perhaps Barcelona should follow suit and emulate Bayern Munich’s administration when it comes to conducting (transfer) business.

You can follow the author of this article, Sebastian on Twitter @JubeiKibagame.

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  1. Very thorough article, great job!

    Though I noticed one error: in the comparison of Barca’s and Bayern’s forwards Mandzukic has 34 goals but actually he scored only 21 goals in 34 matches.

  2. A very important name you didn’t mention in your article is Uli Hoeness. Bayern’s indentity in the last two or three decades can be largely attributed to him. He means a lot to Bayern, I regard him as the most important figure in the club’s history. Barcelona doesn’t have a leader like Uli and never will.

  3. @g99 thanks for pointing that out. You’re right about Mandzukic. I must’ve mixed that up. Yeah, apparently Höneß knows how to save a buck, or two. 😀

  4. Good read, agreed with most of the points, everyone knows Barca’s problems are at the back and they haven’t addressed that CB position properly for years. The way the Presidents run for election doesnt help in Spain, where like you say, they feel the need to promise a big signing (usually a striker) to earn votes although the signing might not be right for the team.
    The only bit I dont agree with is your assessment of Barca’s forwards being poor compared to Bayerns. Yes bayerns have scored almost twice as many as Barca’s but they also taken almost 3 times as many games to do it in. Taking the goals scored stat only and saying its better isn’t a true representation. Ibra/Villa/Sanches have scored at a rate of a goal every 1.74 games, where as the Bayern front line have scored at a rate of a goal every 2.6 games, so the forwards Barca have bought have actually been far superior in there goal ratio.

    But congrats to Bayern, thought for a while they have been one of the best teams in Europe, 3 finals in 4 years says it all. Barca need to sort out there defence. I for one am hoping for an all German final.

    • Thanks. But you have to consider the money Barcelona spent on them. They paid twice as much for about a third the productivity of Bayern’s forwards – even if the latter played more games. Barcelona spent TWICE as much. Say what you will but that’s not good business. 1.74 v 2.6 – is that really worth twice the outlay Bayern paid? The math simply doesn’t add up.

  5. How much someone is ‘worth’ in the transfer market all depends on the team willing to pay the fee. Did anyone think Ronaldo was ‘worth’ £80m when Real signed him? Was hernandez really only ‘worth’ £5m when Utd signed him? Who was value for money out those two? If Barca feel they are getting good value for money then only they will feel the fee’s were right to pay, they have a bigger budget than Bayern so can expect to be forced to pay higher fee’s for players in demand. Both Villa and Sanchez were wanted men when they moved forcing a higher transfer fee.

    For aguments sake, lets say the barca men do keep scoring at the same rate to match bayerns fowards, after 247 games at the same rate will have scored 140 goals roughly. Now you can work out the worth of each goal. Barca’s theoretic goal value would be a goal every 0.96m Euro’s. Bayerns right now is a goal every 0.73m Euro’s. So in terms of a multi million pound sport, thats not a big difference really although Bayern shade it in terms of goals/euro’s paid.

    But of course your stats arent correct as they are missing the contribution of Messi who is real person to have effectively replaced Eto’o, with Messi now playing centrally and Villa/Pedro/Tello/Sanchez play wide thus meaning they contribute less goals.

    • Messi has indeed replaced Eto’o, in a positional sense. But, and that’s important, Ibrahimovic was a direct replacement for Eto’o and Villa replaced the Swede.

      Regarding the value of any given player, Ronaldo had a spectacular season in 2007/08 (scoring 42 goals) and a good one by his standards in 2008/09 (26 or so). He joined Real Madrid as a proven goalscorer, at the age of 24. Furthermore, he was a Ballon D’Or winner and made the final three a couple of years in a row, along with Messi.

      My point is – Barcelona’s scouting departing is substandard. They are unable to identify the right players, which should have become an easier task since the club has played with the very same system for more than a decade.

      Bayern and Madrid for instance had different managers who employed different formations, yet their signings stay longer and contribute more.

      That’s not a conincidence, particularly in the case of Bayern Munich. Barcelona’s system is a 4-3-3 – why is it so difficult to identify the right players? Especially since the core comes from La Masia?

      Spending is not the issue, spending the right amount of money on the RIGHT player is. The moneyball approach doesn’t apply to football.

      It’s evident that Sanchez characteristics don’t suit Barcelona’s philosophy, save for the odd game or two.

      Bottom line: Barcelona’s scouting and signing policy (at senior) level is abysmal. Only Alves and Alba are the definite success storys, Mascherano is a mixed beg, the rest useless. Yes, even Cesc. Paying 30m plus add-ons for a player isn’t good business.

      Where were Song and Cesc against Bayern? On the bench. How much did the pair cost? Close to 50m.

      The club still need a quality CB, but Barcelona’s annual transfer budget is set at 50m plus the revenue from sales.

      Let’s assume Neymar joins Barcelona for a rumored 40+ million. That’s 10m left plus transfer revenue. Meanwhile, Thiago Silva has cost PSG 42m, at the ripe age of 27.

      Mats Hummels, in light of Götze’s departure, would command north of 30m. Kompany, because City don’t need the money, 30m at the very least.

      You mean to tell me that Barcelona have done a great job at signings? That 50m spent on Song/Cesc would go a long way in fixing Barcelona’s real problems – a world-class centre back.

  6. As a Madridista who has laughed at Barca’s comical transfers over the last few years I agree wholeheartedly on the substandard quality and political nature of the signings that actually come to the club.

    But I think both of you are somewhat wrong in your technical evaluations of the players Barca recruited. Guardiola likes winger who stretch play and exploit space–a wide midfielder–rather than classical or hybrid wingers like Ronaldo, Ribery, Robben because he thinks the shots should be taken by the striker, who theoretically has the best squad finishing since missed shots are the same as losing possession. In fact this is a part of their possession philosophy (

    Sanchez is a master of exploiting space, and was recruited specifically for the smart way he cuts in and his ability to create space on the frontlines for the midfield to run into.

    The truth is that Guardiola’s tactics required adaptations from strikers and wingers that de-valued them financially because they are discouraged from shooting for goal. It’s not just cultural problems that leave Barca with a terrible record on bedding attacking signings, it’s that Barca’s tactics make them less individually potent and the fans perceive their diminished goal output as a loss in form rather than following possession football.

    @Gary-The high goal ratios are deliberate by Barca, because they reduce the number of shots they take. E.g. the stats are misleading. It also indicates that Barca only shoot from a few people for their goals, while Bayern get there goals from more ppl.

    Fabs was the least relevant signing tactically but he’s much better than Xavi these days and should be in the 1st team instead of him.

    Song is a sad joke. Puyol got a new contract for sitting on a medical table all last year. And Barca still haven’t gotten a decent centerback to pair with Pique.

    Also aside from having an incomplete squad, Barca seems to avoid squad width. Thiago aside, there isn’t a single position outside of central midfield where Barca have good enough cover that an injury to the 1st teamer wouldn’t totally ravage them.

  7. I have agreed with you that the CB position is where Barca have fallen down and yes, instead of buying Centre Midfielders and convert them they should of just spent the money of recognized centre backs. I’m saying that your stats are heavily laid in your favour, yes Ibrahimovic was the direct replacement for Eto’o which expensively didn’t work out. Yes Villa replaced Ibrahimovic but he was never the direct replacement Eto’o, operating from the left, Messi was Eto’o’s replacement and has been Barca’s chief supplier of goals since he left, so to leave out his, and also pedro’s goals, just because they were at the club before 2009 is skewing the stats in the favour of your argument that Barca have wasted money.

    Also in this time period, Guardiola took over and the team won 14 trophies out of a possible 19, are on course to win La Liga again this year, and this team went on to become what many regarded as the finest the game has EVER seen during the ‘sextuplet’ season. During this time Bayern were overtaken by Dortmund who won the Bundesliga two years in a row and forced Bayern to flex there financial muscle in the transfer market, there budget absolutely dwarfs all other German teams but there is no negativity towards Bayern for losing those two league’s to Dortmund. Transfer policy good or bad, they’ve been unbelievably successful and look set to continue to be successful, if they do, and I hope they do, sign one or two proper centre backs to strengthen that position they will return better than ever and these sort of articles will disappear again. They only ever appear after they get knocked out a competition or lose a game heavily. But like I said, I do agree with most parts, the CB argument and also the fact that Bayern are probably the best run club in the world currently, I just feel you have been a little harsh for Barca’s strike force. Statistics can be used and tailored to whatever your argument is, at the end of the day, all any football fan cares about is winning trophies and im sure Barca have the edge over Bayern since 2009.

  8. It is not hard to understand Barca’s fall down, Xavi gets older so that the dominance of midfiled decreases. Messi can goal a lot but he also take too much control of ball.

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