Their engines revving with more vigour than a fired-up Formula 1 front-row, Bayern Munich’s collection of spectacular wingers are waiting impatiently for the green light to signal GO on the 2018/19 Bundesliga season.
Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Kingsley Coman, Serge Gnabry and, coming soon, Alphonso Davies: each a footballing machine equipped with dizzying skills and potent pace. Full-backs across Germany and beyond are busily preparing for the coming onslaught, but even wearing jet-packs, opponents would struggle to stop these supersonic speedsters.
In words that will worry defenders far and wide, versatile attacker Gnabry warned he had been, “copying certain things from Robben,” and that he would, “continue to do so.” “I want to learn, but without losing my own skills,” the 23-year-old added.
It’s a possibility that paints an appealing picture, the versatile Gnabry applying pressure on Dutch master Robben: two tremendous talents competing for the attention of tactician Niko Kovac.
“I’m an offensive player who loves dribbling. I’ve improved my goalscoring,” Gnabry said, the one-time UEFA European U21 Champion with Germany speaking confidently following a fulfilling season on loan at Hoffenheim last term.
Not allowing knee and thigh injuries to shake his confidence, Gnabry contributed much to the Sinsheimers’ third-place Bundesliga finish, weighing in with 10 goals and seven assists in 22 appearances. Will he be handed an opportunity to add to those numbers on Matchday 1, when Bayern open their title defence at home to… Hoffenheim?
“I’m sure he’ll be able to build on his strengths: speed, dribbling and goal creating. We expect a lot because of his great quality,” was Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic’s take.
If Gnabry is Bayern’s future, his rising star is surely allied with Coman's – the Frenchman with the ferocious pace and fondness for raising mayhem on the left. The 22-year-old was cruelly chopped down by an ankle ligament injury when in full-flow last season and is now fixing on a return to the poetic form that drew the admiring eyes of the footballing world during a slick six-month spell.
“I’m hoping to reach the level I was playing at before my injury,” Coman told SportBild recently. The physical setback he sustained last February left the multiple title winner watching not only Bayern’s march towards a sixth-straight German top-flight title but also his nation’s FIFA World Cup triumph from afar. Thus, now recovered, Coman is craving action while also calculating: in the seven games it will take to reach a century of appearances with Bayern, how many assists can he add to the 21 he has managed until now, not to mention the 15 goals?
And just how much game time will the former Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus sensation be afforded by one of the greatest wing wonders of them all? With Ribery and the Bundesliga ready to pair up for what could be one last wonderful waltz together, the sport awaits one more showcase of joy similar to that which the Frenchman delivered over 11 previous seasons in Germany.
If Gnabry and Coman are the future of Bayern’s wide entertainers, as a pair, they face a colossal task in matching the duo collectively known as Robbery. With a combined total of 676 appearances and 427 goals for Bayern, Robben and Ribery are a double act with few equals. “These men are leaders and the boys have to look up to them as the pros they are,” coach Kovac said. “They are two world-class players who have done a great job in their careers, especially at Bayern Munich. They bring high levels of quality and great personality,” the new Bayern boss added.
In January, Kovac - who can also count on the evergreen Thomas Müller out wide should the need arise - and Bayern will be blessed with even more options in attack when teen prospect Davies arrives from Vancouver Whitecaps, the Canada international having agreed terms with the Bavarian giants this summer.
The starting grid thus set, the players’ motors purring, a pulsating jostle for wide positions in the champions’ set-up is certain to produce plenty of top-class entertainment right from the start.