Bundesliga preview: Bayern Munich aim to stamp authority in first season of post-Robbery era

No Franck Ribery or Arjen Robben, and they failed to land their main transfer target – can Bayern maintain their grip on German football?

Munich's Kingsley Coman, center, celebrates with team mates Corentin Tolisso, left, and Leon Goretzka, right, after he scores his side second goal during the German soccer cup, DFB Pokal, first Round match between FC Energie Cottbus and FC Bayern Munich in Cottbus, Germany, Monday, Aug. 12, 2019. Left stand Munich's Robert Lewandowski. (Robert Michael/dpa via AP)
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Two points is a fragile margin of victory by Bayern Munich’s modern standards. Enough to ensure a seventh successive Bundesliga title last May but too slender to make the summer months seem restful.

The German champions have been looking for an emphatic statement, and in the minds of many within the club, it has not yet been uttered loud enough.

Bayern kick off the new season on Friday against Hertha Berlin under a mist of issues as much about who will not be involved as excited anticipation about who is.

First, there is no new manager. Nor should there be, given that Niko Kovac, a young, slightly left-field appointment in 2018, did oversee a comeback in his debut campaign in charge, hauling back a dynamic Borussia Dortmund after Dortmund established a compelling lead in the table at halfway through the campaign.

Nonetheless, Kovac’s shaky start lingers in the memory, and he has his critics, including sceptics at Bayern’s headquarters who wonder whether he can develop the authority of some of his predecessors.

On Friday, there will be no Arjen Robben or Franck Ribery dancing inside from the touchlines or waiting to apply their wizardry from the bench. That marks a genuine turning point.

The Dutchman and the Frenchman are both in their mid-30s, had become less influential in recent seasons, but still defined what CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge called “the most successful decade in the club’s history”. Ribery, 12 years a Bayern player, and Robben, there for 10 years, have both left.

So has Mats Hummels, to rejoin Dortmund, but the departure of "Robbery" as the Robben-Ribery duo became known, feels more impactful because they were viewed as a representation of Bayern’s footballing exceptionalism. They were flag-bearers for a commitment to dashing wing play for so long that it has become part of Bayern’s essence.

It still will be, through the likes of Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman, but Bayern wanted more glitz for the post-Robbery era. The most conspicuous absentee from the beginning of the Bundesliga season is one Leroy Sane. Bayern had felt determined, even if it meant shattering the German transfer record, to make Sane their marquee recruit in this close-season.

It would have taken something near to €150 million (Dh614m) to drag him away from Manchester City, but the winger represents so much that Bayern aspire to they had been minded to table that sort of money.

Germany's midfielder Leroy Sane (front) runs with the ball during the UEFA Nations League football match between France and Germany at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, near Paris on October 16, 2018. / AFP / FRANCK FIFE
Leroy Sane was Bayern Munich's main transfer target this summer. AFP

Sane, 23, may be the most watchable wide attacker in football when he is on form; he is almost certainly the most exciting, glamorous German footballer of his age. Bayern traditionally regard it as an obligation to have anybody fitting that description on their staff.

Sane's cruciate ligament injury while playing for City in the Community Shield two weekends ago stymied that ambition. He will be out of action for several months, a City employee but still on Bayern's radar: a transfer saga postponed rather than terminated.

In the medium term, Ivan Perisic, 30, has arrived on loan from Inter Milan, a worldly footballer for the left extreme of the forward line and a Croatian compatriot of Kovac. Perisic was a World Cup finalist a little over 13 months ago (Sane was dropped by Germany from the squad ahead of that tournament).

Perisic has won the Bundesliga before - with Dortmund in 2011/12 - and was part of a Dortmund team that reached a Champions League final. Yet Perisic would have to have arrived in Munich wearing ear-plugs and a blindfold not to have noticed that his signature has been greeted as an underwhelming alternative.

Bayern Munich's Croatian headcoach Niko Kovac (L) poses with the football club's new recruit, Croatian midfielder Ivan Perisic, at Bayern Munich's headquarters in Munich, southern Germany, on August 14, 2019. Bayern Munich have signed Inter Milan and Croatia winger Ivan Perisic on a one-year loan deal. / AFP / POOL / Daniel Kopatsch
Bayern Munich's manager Niko Kovac with Ivan Perisic. AFP

Moreover, Perisic will be another conspicuous absentee against Hertha on Matchday 1. He carries over a one-game suspension from Serie A which he must serve with his new club.

Hummels, once a Bayern hero, will be elsewhere, having returned to Dortmund after three seasons at the Allianz Arena, ambitious, at 30, to achieve a unique sort of career symmetry. The defender won two Bundesliga titles with Dortmund before joining the Bayern juggernaut and picking up three in a row. He now eyes a third in yellow-and-black.

“I’ll be expected to take responsibility and bring in a winning mentality,” Hummels said of his switch from a Bayern looking to refresh their side to a Dortmund whose youthful pizzazz energised the 2018/19 Bundesliga but lacked, perhaps, a touch of experience.

Besides Hummels, the challengers have made enterprising signings. There’s the German winger Julian Brandt and his compatriot wing-back Nico Shulz; there’s Thorgan Hazard, creative playmaker with the best Belgian genes. If none of those are quite Leroy Sane, they are all at least on site, and ready for lift-off.