In Jamal Musiala, Chris Richards, Tanguy Nianzou, Bright Arrey-Mbi and Angelo Stiller, a number of young Bayern Munich players have had a chance with the first team this season as the club’s focus on making their next stars enters its next phase.
Thomas Müller and David Alaba are the most recent Bayern academy graduates to make the grade with the first team, but having respectively made their debuts in 2008 and 2010, the next established homegrown pro is somewhat overdue.
CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge acknowledged as much in December 2019 on a traditional pre-Christmas visit to a fan club, saying “there were years in which we didn’t work well,” per Bild.
Bayern wouldn’t be Bayern without a blueprint for success in place, however. On 1 August 2017 they opened their new FC Bayern Campus, just a couple of miles away from the Allianz Arena in the north of Munich.
With eight pitches on a 30-hectare site, it is the headquarters for all youth teams from the U9s to the U19s, the reserves, as well as the women’s and girl’s teams, while it also boasts training and rehabilitation facilities, school classrooms and living quarters for up to 35 players who do not come from the Munich area.
“We’re going full steam ahead here to give our youth players the optimal training and bring them closer to our first team,” said Campus sporting director Hermann Gerland at its inauguration. The fact that the Allianz Arena is clearly visible on the not-too-distant horizon serves as both a literal and figurative reminder of the ultimate objective.
And it is already starting to bear fruit. “I can tell you today that in the next two years we’ll have players stepping up from the Campus,” Rummenigge added at that fan club visit last year. “I like what Hansi Flick has done: he’s promoted four elite players. They play with the senior pros every day. That will make them better and ultimately one or two of them will make the squad.”
Of that quartet - Oliver Batista-Meier, Joshua Zirkzee, Sarpreet Singh and Leon Dajaku - Zirkzee is currently the only full-time member of the first-team pool; Batista-Meier and Singh are out on loan, while Dajaku is in the reserves.
Watch: Zirkzee was Man of the Matchday on Matchday 16 of last season
But others have stepped in, chiefly Musiala (17) and Richards (20), while 17-year-old Arrey-Mbi made his starting debut in the UEFA Champions League against Atletico Madrid, 19-year-old Stiller also came on in Spain, and summer signing Nianzou (18) is now available after a lengthy spell on the sidelines with injury.
“Finally, we once again have a few players on our Campus who are breaking through, and that was always our aim at Bayern,” Rummenigge told Sky in September 2020. “We always wanted to have this second pillar, and not only [rely] on the players we buy.”
Last season’s barnstorming rise of Alphonso Davies, who was just 19 for most of the campaign, proved that Flick is less interested in age than he is in quality.
He has underlined that belief again this season by fielding Musiala seven times in the Bundesliga, once in the DFB Cup and twice in the Champions League. Three of those outings have come in the starting line-up, while the England U21 international has repaid that faith in him with three Bundesliga goals already. His debut appearance and goal on Matchday 1 against Schalke made him the youngest player to ever feature and also score for the club in its Bundesliga history.
“Jamal plays in a team full of top players,” Flick said after Musiala’s first Champions League start against Atletico in November. “He’s highly valued by these players because he’s so calm on the ball, is good at dribbling and is difficult to stop in one-on-ones.”
Watch: Müller: “I’m very happy with Jamal”
While admitting that the 143-pound (65kg), 5’11” (1.81m) youngster still needs to fill out his frame and “improve physically”, Flick’s overall assessment is extremely positive: “In purely footballing terms, Bayern can be very satisfied.”
The same can be said of Richards, who has three league appearances (one start) under his belt in 2020/21, as well as two in the Champions League, where he has also been in the first XI once. A centre-back by trade, he has played at full-back on both sides of the pitch for Flick’s team this term.
“He absolutely deserves the minutes he's had,” the Bayern coach said earlier this season. “He has very good qualities. He's strong in the tackle, is good in the air and has good pace.” Nicknamed “Texas” by his teammates in the first team, Richards has improved to such an extent that he also made his senior international debut for the US Men’s National Team in November.
Meanwhile, Nianzou sustained a hamstring injury in early September, meaning he has only made one 21-minute appearance in the Bundesliga so far. But that cameo off the bench against Stuttgart on Matchday 9, replacing the injured Jerome Boateng, left Flick in no two minds about his ability.
“Tanguy was thrown into a game that wasn’t easy, so he can be proud of himself,” said the 55-year-old, who has also praised the defender for being “extremely far along in his development. It’s a joy to work with a guy like him”.
Another who has made quick progress is Arrey-Mbi. He joined the academy at the same time as Musiala from Chelsea the previous summer and accompanied the Bayern first team to their winter training camp, where Joshua Kimmich described him as a “beast”.
After just four appearances for the reserves he was handed his senior debut in Madrid. A centre-back by trade, he started at left wing-back. Flick said after the game: “He did the job we gave him, so we’re pleased.”
As for Stiller, he made his first-team debut when Flick fielded a second-string team in the DFB Cup first round against Düren. The central midfielder was then called upon again away at Atletico for his senior European bow. His rise, too, has been quick, having been promoted to Sebastian Hoeneß’s reserves that won the 2019/20 third division only midway through the season.
A Munich native who’s been with the club for a decade and counts predecessors Xabi Alonso and Toni Kroos as his role models, he was the top provider for the U19s in the UEFA Youth League with six assists in as many games last season. He is now already a firm member of the senior squad and knocking on the door for more playing time.
A particularly congested fixture list this season has helped the youngsters of course: Bayern have 20 competitive games on the calendar in the 14 weeks between the season starting on 18 September and the winter break beginning on 20 December.
As a result, Flick has needed to rotate his squad more frequently to avoid burning his key players out, while injuries to more established stars such as Kimmich, Corentin Tolisso, Javi Martinez and Davies have also opened gaps that need to be filled.
Yet football has always been about taking your chances when they come along – Davies benefitted from misfortune to Niklas Süle and Lucas Hernandez last season, after all. And Musiala, Richards and Co. are well on the way to making the most of theirs.