x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Javi Martinez gives Bayern Munich added bite

Munich club follow the fashion of recruiting one of Spain's "golden boys" in pursuit of landing elusive silverware, writes Ian Hawkey

Spanish midfielder Javi Martinez will face Stuttgart tomorrow with new club Bayern Munich.
Spanish midfielder Javi Martinez will face Stuttgart tomorrow with new club Bayern Munich.

The Bundesliga has entered its 50th season. That might seem young for a major professional league in Europe, and Germany has seldom in its history had to play catch-up with football's trendsetters, but it is big country and a national Bundesliga was late to evolve because it replaced a system of regional leagues.

They united only in the early 1960s to combat a trickle of talented West Germans abroad, to professionalise the game, and to strengthen the national squad.

Fifty years on, its financial musclemen are showing off their own power to lure talent from abroad.

Bayern Munich put down a landmark in the annals of club football last Wednesday by paying €40 million (Dh183.8m) for a single player. Nobody has ever moved to a Bundesliga team with a higher price-tag than the Basque midfielder Javi Martinez, who has joined Bayern from Athletic Bilbao in Spain and may make his debut tomorrow against Stuttgart.

The Martinez transfer is eye-catching for several reasons. First, he is not a striker or a dazzling midfield player, the sorts for whom record-breaking fees tend to be tabled.

Of his talent, as a commanding anchor of a midfield, or an imposing central defender, there is no doubt, and among his suitors had been Barcelona, Manchester United and Manchester City.

These are the sorts of club an ambitious young Spanish international might be expected to more naturally gravitate to. Half of Barcelona's team were fellow World Cup winners with Martinez, the youngest member of the 2010 Spain squad in South Africa; United's David de Gea was a teammate in the 2011 European championship-winning Spain Under 21 side; he has seen how well his international colleague, David Silva, has done at City.

But Martinez chose the Bundesliga, and by acquiring him, Bayern have joined a widespread fashion among Europe's heavyweight clubs, which is to have a member of Spain's so-called golden generation of players on their roster.

Just as City have Silva, United De Gea, Chelsea have Juan Mata and Arsenal Santi Cazorla, and now AC Milan have snapped up, from Roma, the former Spain Under 21 champion, Bojan Krkic.

Picking out the best Spaniards who are not yet at Real Madrid or Barcelona has become a badge of honour outside Spain, a sign that a club is the vanguard of the modern game, that it values technique and wants an injection of whatever it is that makes the Spanish such serial international champions.

Reaction from around the German top flight to the transfer has been mixed. Hans-Joachim Watzke, the general manager of Borussia Dortmund remarked: "It's a good thing for the Bundesliga that a current Spanish international comes to play in Germany. It shows the league is valued. It also confirms Bayern have financial resources no other German club can match."

Not even the reigning champions, Dortmund.

Dortmund's triumphs in cup and league over Bayern last season hurt Martinez's new employers, as did defeat - on penalties - against Chelsea in the Champions League final, staged in Munich, last May.

Hence the perception, voiced from Bayer Leverkusen, spiky rivals of Bayern, that, in the words of Leverkusen's general manager Wolfgang Holzhauser, the Martinez capture makes "it looks as if Bayern are showing their nervousness, and just buying in a winning mentality".

The idea that Bayern are frail under pressure is bound to be a taunt wherever they go over the next few months. Finishing as runners-up in three competitions, as silver-medallists the last two Bundesliga seasons, and second in a European Cup final twice in three seasons, falls short of expectation for a club who have eight senior current Germany internationals in their ranks, plus arguably the most mercurial attacking footballers from France, in Franck Ribery, and Holland, in Arjen Robben.

Those two, not the firmest of friends, make the dressing room a lively place, and it may become even more interesting politically now that players know veteran head coach Jupp Heynckes will be leaving - he has indicated as much - at the end of 2012/13. Martinez, who turns 24 tomorrow, can expect a very different environment to the defiantly provincial, Basques-only set-up he has left at Athletic.

He is, though, an impressively mature young footballer, 1.90m tall, strong in the tackle and astute in the positional discipline that allows him to make a striking number of important interceptions.

Add to that a poise and precision in circulating the ball, and he has the assets to add bite and urgency to a Bayern side determinedly seeking the difference between silver and gold.