Bundesliga big boys Bayern Munich are virtually certain to go into the winter break behind pace-setters Borussia Dortmund in the title race this season, and come what may it looks like its the last campaign for two of their longest serving stars.
Former France winger Franck Ribery is closing in on a dozen years of service in Bavaria, while Dutch counterpart Arjen Robben has occupied the opposite flank for a decade. The pair are out of contract at the Allianz Arena this coming summer, with both set to leave Bayern as a result.
Robben has said as much, but may not retire depending on what offers are the on the table. Ribery, who is the older of the two, is likely to follow the former Netherlands wideman out of Munich.
These highly-talented wingers have enjoyed glittering careers at the Allianz, where they dominated German football for long periods and won the Champions League in 2013. Bayern head coach Niko Kovac now has to bring a succession plan into action, with young duo Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry waiting in the wings.
If their development continues apace, then can this new generation of wide talent in Munich fill the boots of Ribery and Robben? How do they compare to the elder statesmen?
With the likely transition period of just six months, and Bayern currently 5/4 second-favourites in the outright Bundesliga betting with bet365 for this season, Kovac has to bring both Coman and Gnabry on quickly.
Robben rocked up in Munich in 2009, having already won league titles in his native Netherlands, the Premier League in England with Chelsea, and Spanish La Liga at Real Madrid. He has since averaged a goal almost every other game at Munich – an outstanding return for a winger.
Neither Coman nor Gnabry boasts that kind of international pedigree. It’s worth remembering, however, that prior to joining Juventus, the former was on the fringes of PSG’s first-team. Gnabry, meanwhile, played abroad at a young age with Arsenal.
Given both Ribery and Coman are French, comparisons are made easily and often. Coman is conscious of that and wants to be his own man while emulating the obvious and sustained success enjoyed by his compatriot with Bayern.
Like Ribery, he has known international disappointment, losing out in the Euro 2016 final with Les Bleus to Portugal a decade on from his fellow winger’s 2006 World Cup final penalty shoot-out heartbreak. However much Coman wants to downplay comparisons, they are salient.
He was overlooked for selection when France did win a major tournament this past summer, but it was not a call Didier Deschamps would’ve made lightly. Les Bleus’ embarrassment of attacking riches simply meant someone had to miss out.
If Coman is a so-nearly player at international level so far, then his club career already belies that and demonstrates he’s a winner. Although peripheral to PSG’s Ligue 1 title triumphs, in his teens he also had a Serie A winners’ medal from Italy and landed the last three editions of the Bundesliga with Munich.
Gnabry’s route has been different. Spells with Werder Bremen and Hoffenheim, while Coman bedded in at Bayern, have seen him hit double figures for goals in the last two campaigns.
It’s Gnabry who thus carries the greater direct threat, with Coman offering up more assists. It is no mean feat for either to take up Robben and Ribery’s mantle, but if Munich are to remain a force in the Bundesliga, both youngsters must step out of their shadows.