The transfer window in Germany wasn’t too hectic for the top teams but there were some moves that caught the headlines.
Bayern Munich: Being the wealthiest club doesn’t just make it easier to win matches. It also means you’re likely to get your way in the transfer window. The Bavarians once more flexed their muscles, securing the services of in-demand Germany international Leon Goretzka (for next season) as well forward Sandro Wagner from TSG Hoffenheim as a back-up for Robert Lewandowski. The 30-year-old brings a good old-fashioned target man routine to the table and crucially, he also fits the bill in terms of attitude. Wagner is realistic enough to know that Lewandowski will be the main striker at the Allianz Arena but also highly motivated to make the most of any opportunities in order to impress Germany manager Joachim Low. To complete Bayern’s transfer window triumph, they managed to strengthen relative to Borussia Dortmund, who lost their most important player in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
1.FC Koln: Written off by absolutely everyone at Christmas, the Billy Goats are on the verge of a minor football miracle having collected seven points in the first three games of 2018. One key factor, aside from the managerial change — Peter Stoger’s successor, Stefan Ruthenbeck, has restored much-needed confidence — has been the impact of new striker Simon Terrode. The 29-year-old was bought for €3m in December and has proved an instant hit. His three goals in as many matches have given Cologne hope as well as a fighting-chance.
Schalke 04: The Royal Blues’ loss of Goretzka for next season overshadowed a remarkably productive January window. Getting in mercurial winger Marko Pjaca from Juventus and left-back Baba Rahman from Chelsea, both on loan, are classy moves from sporting director Christian Heidel. Both will play an important role to consolidate S04’s top-four position.
Borussia Dortmund: In Swiss international Manuel Akanji (FC Basel), BVB bought a centre-back poised for greatness and for a bargain fee of €18m. Premier League clubs will soon rue a missed chance. The arrival of Michy Batshuayi from Chelsea (on loan) will go some way to mitigate the departure of Aubameyang as well. The highly motivated Belgium international will try hard to make up for lost time in order to prove his credentials for the World Cup.
Borussia Dortmund: BVB had little choice but to sell Aubameyang and €63m for a 28-year-old striker who had stopped acting professionally is not a bad price at all. Having said that, losing both prodigious winger Ousmane Dembele (to Barcelona) and goal-machine Aubameyang (141 goals in four-and-a-half years) in the space of six months adds to the unnerving feeling that all players are, essentially, for sale at the Signal Iduna Park. The spine of Thomas Tuchel’s nearly brilliant 2015-16 side (Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gündogan, Henrikh Mkhitaryan) all left the season before and the exodus continues with Marc Bartra (on loan to Real Betis) and veteran Neven Subotic (Saint-Etienne on loan) this winter. Who’s next, one wonders. Building a successful team, as opposed to merely collecting new talent, will be impossible if that state of flux continues unabated. The arrival of Stoger, another man who doesn’t have a long-term future, does nothing to allay the fears that Dortmund are stuck in a never-ending transition phase.
TSG Hoffenheim: Hoffenheim face a similar dilemma to the one experienced by the Black and Yellows: they cannot keep their best players. For all the wonders Julian Nagelsmann has worked since his arrival just under two years ago, when the club went from near-relegation to qualifying for Champions League (qualifying round), the side from Kraichgau have not been able to persuade their best performers to hang around. Following the departures of Niklas Sule and Sebastian Rudy to Bayern in the summer, Wagner also jumped ship. It’s been confirmed that in-form striker Mark Uth (10 goals) will go to Schalke on a free in June — Heidel working his magic, again — and Hoffenheim will also have to do without Serge Gnabry, who will return to Bayern once his loan deal ends. Assembling a new team will be very hard especially if Nagelsmann, another key man who’s outgrown the Wirrsal Rhein-Neckar-Arena, decides it’s time to move on.
VfB Stuttgart: Signing local hero Mario Gomez from VfL Wolfsburg made for a lovely story, and a strong feel-good factor after Christmas, but the Germany striker has not been able to arrest the Swabians’ slide down the table. Gomez, a man desperate to make the World Cup squad, has been bereft of any service. The 32-year-old might still turn out to be VfB’s saviour with a goal or two under new manager Tayfun Korkut but right now, selling Terrode to relegation rivals Koln looks like a move that could well back-fire in spectacular fashion.
Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC’s German football expert. Follow: @honigstein