Times are changing at Bayern Munich. The players who led the glorious treble-winning generation of 2013 have either left the club (Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger) or entered their twilight years (Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery). But the changing of the guard is imminent, and perfectly illustrated by a quartet of ambitious young Germany internationals who are determined to prove their worth: Niklas Süle, Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka and Serge Gnabry. Say hello to the Class of '95.
By Bayern standards, it was definitely a year to forget. Germany's most decorated club finished the 1994/95 Bundesliga campaign in sixth place, their lowest league position of the past 25 years. Ajax dumped them out of the UEFA Champions League semi-finals with a 5-2 drubbing in Amsterdam, while they didn't even get past the first round of the DFB Cup. Yet fast forward 23 years, and 1995 looks like it could define the Bavarians' success for the next decade.
With the summer arrivals of Goretzka and Gnabry, Bayern now boast four highly talented, homegrown youngsters – all born in 1995 – who could one day provide the backbone for both club and country. Indeed, their emergence seems to have resurrected club president Uli Hoeneß's old vision of an 'FC Bayern Germany'.
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"Bayern have always made up the majority of the national team," agreed sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic. "That has always been our strategy and it still is today. It makes sense for the core of our squad and our team to be German, because we want German values here at the club. We represent German football in the world."
Bayern's four musketeers have already tasted glory with Die Mannschaft – Süle, Kimmich and Goretzka won the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, while Gnabry triumphed at the UEFA U21 Euro two days earlier – but they have all had rather different journeys to the summit of their country's domestic game. Kimmich and Gnabry were still boys when they first met at VfB Stuttgart's highly rated youth academy, although neither of them would actually go on to make a senior appearance for the club.
Disillusioned with the Reds after being told he "wasn't good enough", Kimmich moved to RB Leipzig in 2013, and despite VfB having a buyback clause, they agreed to sell him to Bayern when Pep Guardiola came calling in 2015. Former Leipzig and Stuttgart coach Alexander Zorniger would later famously say he "wanted to kill everyone involved in that decision."
While Kimmich made the most of the Bayern limelight to establish himself quickly as one of Germany's hottest prospects, Gnabry took a slightly more roundabout route to the top. He left Stuttgart for Arsenal in 2011, but only ended up making 10 Premier League appearances for the Gunners before being loaned out to West Bromwich Albion in 2015/16.
It was Gnabry's return to the Bundesliga in 2016/17 that heralded an upswing in fortunes. An impressive tally of 11 goals in 27 appearances for Werder Bremen convinced Bayern to swoop that summer, although the flexible winger was not yet considered the finished article. A season on loan under Julian Nagelsmann at Hoffenheim did just the trick, as his 10 goals and five assists helped TSG to finish third and qualify for the Champions League group stage. Finally primed for the big time, Gnabry was officially unveiled as a Bayern player in July 2018.
The Bavarians also have Hoffenheim to thank for moulding Süle into one of the world's best young defenders. The imposing Frankfurt native began life as a striker before his coaches repositioned him in central defence, with Markus Gisdol handing him his Bundesliga debut at just 17. Nagelsmann also played a major role in Süle's development before his 2017 transfer to Bayern, where he has since been threatening to break up the 2014 FIFA World Cup-winning partnership of Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng.
Goretzka – the eldest of the quartet by two days from Kimmich – is gearing up for a first professional experience outside his native North-Rhine Westphalia, after 12 years with hometown club VfL Bochum and five at Schalke. It was, of all things, a dietary change that transformed Goretzka from an injury-hit prospect into the sleek box-to-box midfielder that Bayern were so keen to bring on board this summer. The club might not have agreed to sell Arturo Vidal to Barcelona had they not already lined up his replacement.
"Each of us took a different path, but we've all ended up here," Goretzka said on the reunion of the Class of '95, who have come together at club level after many years playing for Germany's youth teams. "I'm really happy that our generation is so well-represented," added Kimmich. "I know the guys from the national team, and I've known Serge in particular for a very long time."
While Goretzka recently declared that he believes he can take on a "leading role" at Bayern, the revolution may not happen overnight. Of the four players, only Kimmich appears to be guaranteed a starting place in 2018/19, having become Bayern's first-choice right-back last season. It is a little early to know Niko Kovac's plans for Süle, Goretzka and Gnabry, but they are expected to be part of a squad rotation, continuing to develop at the highest level and learning from some of the best in the business.
Captain Manuel Neuer still has many years ahead of him at 32, while Thomas Müller, winner of seven Bundesliga titles, is only 28. Along with star frontmen Robert Lewandowski and James Rodriguez, and elder statesmen Robben and Ribery, they will look to set an example for the younger generation – although they could end up with a fight on their hands to keep their places in the team.
"It's up to you how much game time you get," insisted Goretzka, who has impressed many of his new teammates – not to mention his coach – in pre-season training. "I know the quality at Bayern is huge, but I didn't move to Munich to sit on the bench."
Gnabry sees things in a similar light. "I have to be out on the pitch to keep improving," said the former Hoffenheim man, whose versatility has caught Kovac's eye in recent weeks. He played as a right-back and right winger during the USA trip, while he was deployed at centre-forward in the friendly win over Manchester United, and was Bayern's best player. "I expect a lot from him," Salihamidzic admitted.
A recent training ground anecdote illustrates just how well the new generation are settling in. After a session in Rottach-Egern, around 35 miles south of Munich, Robben stayed behind to run through his customary stretching exercises, letting the team bus return to the hotel. The flying Dutchman was soon ready to leave himself, but was instead forced to sit around waiting in a minivan as Kimmich and Gnabry finished off a weights session in the gym. Respect your elders, as they say.
In any case, the future is looking bright for Bayern. The Allianz Arena underwent a facelift in the club's colours this summer, meaning that the record champions can finally call their stadium home. Interestingly, of the 16 kiosks around the ground, only six have been decorated with images of the club's biggest triumphs, such as the 2001 Champions League victory and the treble in 2013. Clearly, Germany's biggest football club are expecting to write plenty more glorious chapters in the coming years – and don't be too surprised if they end up relying on the Class of '95 to lead the charge.