Despite arriving at the club with high hopes of developing into one of Europe’s top midfielders, Dutchman Ryan Gravenberch will go down as yet another famous failure at Bayern Munich after sealing a transfer deadline day move to Liverpool. With all the potential and high hopes he carried with him, why did his time at the Rekordmeister not work out?
There are always two sides to every story and to lay the blame for the player’s failure to succeed at Bayern solely with either Gravenberch himself, or Bayern as a club would be unfair. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
As soon as Gravenberch joined Ajax as a seven-year-old his talent was obvious and the rate of his progression meant that he was destined for the top. The Amsterdam club has an extremely rich history of unearthing raw diamonds and turning them into stars and the youngster was quickly being compared to club legend Frank Rijkaard. Eric ten Haag handed him his first-team debut aged just 16 making him the club’s youngest-ever Eredivisie starter.
The 2020/21 season saw him firmly establish himself as a regular first-team starter and as an 18-year-old he had already made his international debut for the Dutch national team against Turkey in a World Cup qualifier.
His career progression and the number of admiring suitors rose exponentially and it became clear that he would soon become the next Ajax starlet to make the move from the Amsterdam club to a big European destination.
When it emerged that Bayen Munich had won the race to sign the midfielder last year for €18 million, the fee was seen as a real bargain and the Bavarians were the recipients of jealous looks from all those clubs who had missed out on Gravenberch’s signature.
His first season in Bavaria however brough the first bump in the road in a career that had seen nothing but constant progress and success since his pre-teen years. Gravenberch had gone from the main man in Ajax’s midfield to a back-up battling for the odd substitute minutes here and there. At the start of the season Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka and Marcel Sabitzer were all ahead of him in the pecking order and despite the right words from then coach Julian Nagelsmann, his mood began to sour.
“It’s not quite so easy for a young player to come in at 20 and only come on for 20 minutes. It’s just a whole different approach,” the Bayern coach explained. “He is, of course, sad that he doesn’t play much, but not frustrated or angry at all. He’s a great guy, who will continue his development.
“I’ve told him that he is going to be one of the best midfielders in the world one day, and I’m committed to that. He just has to adjust a few things, and he will do that.”
This as we know wasn’t the case and didn’t happen. Nagelsmann just wasn’t seeing the progress in training and with the pressure that comes at the Allianz Arena felt the young Dutchman wasn’t ready. The player decided to go public on two occasions to complain about his lack of game time- something which didn’t go down well and then when given a rare opportunity to start in the Champions League against Viktoria Plzen, his performance drew criticism from Nagelsmann. The trainer accused the player of shirking his defensive responsibilities and blamed him for two goals.
His lot didn’t improve when Thomas Tuchel replaced Nagelsmann and with the arrival of Konrad Laimer and the new coach stating that he was looking for a new number six, the prospects of another season sitting on the Bayern subs bench set Gravenberch off on another round of media announcements that he wanted to leave.
The blame game
It should be said that Bayern perhaps purchased the player based on the huge potential he had and the fact that he could be purchased for a real bargain price of just €18 million. The fact that they are selling him on one year later for €45 million after the disappointing season he’s had is testament to the fact that Gravenberch was a ‘risk’ worth taking from a purely financial viewpoint.
It also depends on what the player was promised when Bayern persuaded him to sign for them over the other potential suitors. If the club dangled the carrot of regular Bundesliga and Champions League football like it was a foregone conclusion, they would have been misleading.
Gravenberch for his part has come across as unwilling, or unable to deal with the challenge at Bayern. There are question marks over his attitude and temperament to deal with setbacks, while tactically his game has highlighted defensive weaknesses and a lack of versatility. For the first time in his career he’s had better players ahead of him and he hasn’t raised his game to go past them.
Bayern have made a profit and the player gets to make a fresh start elsewhere. A happy ending? Not exactly. It’s not the story Bayern or the player would have imagined, and there will always be a feeling of what could have been.
© BundesligaFanatic (2023)