Just call them The Unpronounceables.
Asked for his reaction to Borussia Dortmund’s new signings, Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge revealed that he didn’t know them very well and that he found their names difficult to say. Better to exercise some restraint than go the whole Joe Kinnear. To help Kalle learn, Bild kindly published audio files of the correct pronunciation.
Of course, you’d have to be quite naive to believe Rummenigge is ignorant of who Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Sokratis Papasthathopoulos really are. He didn’t say he’d never heard of them, as claimed by some. Nor was he bitter at Dortmund announcing Robert Lewandowski would be staying for another year. He probably already knew that anyway.
No, this was probably nothing more than posturing. His intention was presumably to project the image that Bayern aren’t at all bothered by Dortmund even though for the first time since their emergence from the brink of bankruptcy just short of a decade ago, they have spent with real power.
An estimated 49.5m euros have been invested in the acquisitions of the aforementioned players. You have to go back to 2001 when Dortmund bought Marcio Amoroso from Parma and Jan Koller from Anderlecht to find a spree of similar proportions. That splurge was most definitely a reckless one. This, by contrast, isn’t.
Although more than double last year’s expenditure, three-quarters of this summer’s outlay is financed by the 37m euro they received from Bayern for Mario Götze. As for the rest, well, some of the revenue from their run to the Champions League final could pay for that. Rather than overreaching, their strategy has been sustainable and responsible. What else would you expect from a club for whom memories of 2004, when they were 120m euro in the red, are still fresh. But let’s get back to what Rummenigge said.
Bayern and Dortmund have found other things to argue about rather than Rummenigge’s apparent disregard for Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang and Sokratis. Not for the first time, Jürgen Klopp got under Bayern’s skin with his characterisation of Dortmund’s rivalry with them as like that between someone armed with a Bazooka and a Robin Hood figure holding just a bow and arrow.
“Dortmund have to be careful they don’t preach water and drink wine instead,” Rummenigge said. “They have a contract with Opel. But I have seen a picture in Bild showing that someone [Aubameyang] drives a Ferrari. It looks like they should put that bow and arrow down.”
Rummenigge wasn’t alone in not knowing Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang and Sokratis all that well. Dortmund’s Marco Reus admitted as much to Kicker. On Aubameyang, he said: “I don’t really follow the French league. That’s why I didn’t have him on my radar. I have now seen a couple of his goals. He is certainly very, very fast and dangerous.”
Rather interestingly, this affair hasn’t escaped the attention of the papers in Italy. Is it because the Bundesliga is being covered more closely after last year’s all-German Champions League final and the presence of Pep Guardiola on the Bayern bench? Partly yes. But it’s also because while Rummenigge didn’t know Dortmund’s signings well, Milan were very familiar with two of them. Aubameyang and his brothers were in their academy. Sokratis was a member of the squad that won the Scudetto two years ago.
“They’re Milan rejects,” wrote Alessandro de Calò in an editorial for La Gazzetta dello Sport. This wasn’t to say Dortmund have gone and bought a couple of duds. Far from it. They’re too shrewd for that, as the signings of Shinji Kagawa and Robert Lewandowski have shown in the past. No. This was a criticism of Milan for disregarding and undervaluing the talent they had under their noses. “It’s no laughing matter,” de Calò added.
Aubameyang admits he wasn’t ready to break into the first team at Milan. He trained with them a few times but never made a competitive senior appearance. A change in policy, whereby youth players like Mattia De Sciglio and now Bryan Cristante and Andrea Petagna are given a chance, came too late for Aubameyang.
He was loaned out to Dijon, Lille, Monaco and then Saint-Etienne who signed him for just 1.8m euro in the winter of 2011. Eighteen months later, the French club have made a nice profit, selling him to Dortmund for 13m euro. If Milan had kept Aubameyang and given him a chance, maybe they wouldn’t have had to spend 15.5m euro on Stephan El Shaarawy, 3m euro on M’Baye Niang or 21m euro on Mario Balotelli.
They missed a trick. True, there was great competition at the time. Sokratis experienced that too. Alessandro Nesta and Thiago Silva were ahead of him in the pecking order and rightly so. But if Milan had taken the long view on a player who has only just turned 25, and not sold him back to Genoa who then let him go to Werder Bremen maybe they’d have more options in defence now.
Of course no one can predict the future and Milan had their reasons. But these two cases offer a reminder that you should think twice before giving up on a player. The Dortmund side that won the Champions League in 1997 was full of Serie A cast-offs from Jürgen Kohler, Andi Möller and Paulo Sousa to Stefan Reuter and Mathias Sammer, four of whom had played for opponents Juventus. Other players adjudged to be flops like Dennis Bergkamp at Inter, Patrick Vieira at Milan and Thierry Henry at Juventus all went on to become legends at Arsenal and were players who defined their generation.
Let’s not get carried away. Aubameyang and Sokratis aren’t in that class and probably never will be. Even so, there are some Milan fans out there who are wondering how both apparently are good enough for last year’s Champions League runners’ up, but weren’t considered worthy of their attention.