Bundesliga mailbag: Bellingham future, Neuer injury and Moukoko’s next move

Germany’s less-than-ideal World Cup performances elicited quite a few questions. So did Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer dilemma, Youssoufa Moukoko’s next move and the future of the Bundesliga. Some of the topics warrant more in-depth coverage over the next few months, but in the meantime, here’s my take.

Before that, though, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you, dear subscribers, the happiest of holidays, as well as a great new year. Thank you for your continued support of The Athletic. We appreciate it very much.


Bongani Z

What seems to be the ailment that doesn’t allow Germany to progress far in the World Cup recently after getting on the podium in the last four editions?

The circumstances in 2018 were quite different to 2022 but if there’s one problem both teams have in common it’s finishing. Germany had enough opportunities to beat South Korea in Russia and should have easily beaten Japan as well, considering the quantity and quality of shots taken. Why was that the case? A true centre-forward might have helped, or perhaps more focus: at times, it felt as if this Hansi Flick’s men were a little too confident in their own attacking abilities. The profligacy up front wouldn’t have mattered this much if the team had been defensively more sound, but they were obviously anything but. In my view, Flick will have to find more balance, tactically, and a more cut-throat approach to team selection. Thomas Muller, for all his experience and quality, shouldn’t have played this much after coming back from injury, to give you one example. Low had made similar mistakes four years ago, incidentally.

William H

Hello Raphael, how true is it that the efforts of Germany’s youth development have pushed out the traditional strengths of effective number No 9s and effective centre-backs? Is this an over simplification? Where is the next Mario Gomez, Miroslav Klose, Mats Hummels etc? Likewise is the emergence of a skilful player like Jamal Musiala a result of youth efforts or more of an aberration? And can we expect future German sides to be more in that mould?

Hi William, I think you’re broadly right. Youth academies have emphasised technique and versatility in recent years, which is why centre-forwards — and to a lesser extent centre-backs — have been somewhat neglected. But everyone’s acutely aware of these issues by now. Changes have been made to allow more diversity and different types of players coming through. Unfortunately, it will take a few years before we can see the results.

Musiala was honed in England, which has undoubtedly helped in terms of his dribbling skills as coaching in Germany tends to be a bit more collective. (That, too, is about to change.) He’s an outlier in terms of quality and talent but not so much in style, though. German football has been good at producing this type of player in recent years. Think of Mario Gotze, Florian Wirtz, Kai Havertz, Leroy Sane… but he looks like he’ll be the best of them all.

Mario Y

It’s the 2026 World Cup: how are Germany lining up? Who’s still there? Any new talents from under-21 teams who excite you?

Joel E

What do you think of Nelson Weiper? Could he be the striker that Germany needs? What other prospects are worth keeping an eye on for 2026?

Mainz’s Nelson Weiper is a skilful but also physically imposing centre-forward who’s shown real promise at under-19 level. Whether the 17-year-old has got what it takes will become a little clearer as he’ll get more game time with the senior team in the second half of the season.

As pithier prospects go, 17-year-old Paul Wanner (midfielder, Bayern Munich) looks a huge talent (it’s his birthday today) — he could play for Austria, too — and there’s quite a bit of noise around his team-mate Tarek Buchmann (centre-back). Luca Netz of Borussia Monchengladbach, a tall left-back, might fill one of Germany’s problem positions before too long.

But it’s very hard to predict which young player or late bloomer will make it for 2026. Four years ago, no one would have thought that Niclas Fullkrug, David Raum, Jamal Musiala or Youssoufa Moukoko might play at the World Cup. Of the existing contingent, the majority should still be around. Joshua Kimmich, Antonio Rudiger, Niklas Sule, Raum, Musiala, Moukoko, Havertz, Julian Brandt, Leon Goretzka, Sane, Serge Gnabry, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Nico Schlotterbeck and Armel Bella-Kotchap will get another chance to make it out of the group stages for a change.

David R

Borussia Dortmund fan here. Saw a report on Twitter saying Daichi Kamada might come over after his contract expires at Frankfurt. Have you heard this and do you like the fit? I’m a big J1/Samurai Blue fan so I’d love to see Kamada join BVB. What do you think our chances of retaining Moukoko on a new contract are? I’d love to keep him at Dortmund for at least one more season. When do you think we’ll get clarity on Bellingham’s plans?

Curtis S

Would Moukoko be on option for striker for Bayern? Do you think Harry Kane is their No 1 target and attainable?

Dortmund like Daichi Kamada but reports about an agreement between the player and BVB were premature. I’ve been told nothing’s really happened yet. But, out of contract, good age, good mentality — he looks a good fit to me.

Dortmund would like to keep Moukoko but not at any cost. His agent is keen to get him into the Premier League for the new season, so I’m not sure whether an agreement can be reached. They are very conscious of their wage structure.

I don’t think that Bayern are in for him. Moukoko is best playing off another striker; I don’t see him as the big No 9 that the German champions are looking for. Kane remains a target and they’ve had encouraging talks with the player’s camp. But the latest I heard from Munich is that they don’t see this deal as very probable at this point.

Jude? Big Bundesliga summer moves tend to be done by April. Knowing Dortmund, they will want clarity in time to make some shrewd moves well before the season is finished.

Hysni K

Am a huge fan of Jude’s talents, like almost everyone, but the ‘mentality monster’ hype emanating from England during the cup has been excessive, in my view. I watch him closely live from the Westfalenstadion every week and he remains incredibly raw, and his frequent bouts of negativity clearly impact an already brittle BVB squad. As talented as he is, not sure it is even worth Sebastian Kehl convincing him to stay another year. With €120-150m likely to come in, what is your view on what Kehl needs to do with it? Would hate to see a replication of what Spurs did with the Bale cash back in the day, so is it worth just throwing caution to the wind and testing Leverkusen with Wirtz, or even Havertz (if Mouki does something silly)? Cheers.

That’s an interesting observation, Hysni. I can’t say that I’ve noticed a negative impact whenever I see him play, he seems to be one of the few Dortmund players who always turn up. Either way, I think he’s likely to leave this summer unless there’s a big, unexpected change of heart in the next few weeks.

As far as re-investing the money goes, we’ll see it going towards the same mix of “high-potentials” a la Jamie Bynoe-Gittens and more seasoned pros for stability and experience. Wirtz doesn’t fit either bill — he will be too expensive. Ditto Havertz. If BVB are to have any chance of catching up with Bayern, they will have to make sure that the more established recruits really are the next best thing down from Bayern rather than just slightly above average.

Will P

Do you think the relatively constant use of Kai Havertz as a No 9 at club level has hampered his development? Where do you see him settling positionally, and do you still think he has what it takes to be one of the world’s best players? The hype around him a couple of years ago was absolutely huge, and he almost seems to have been forgotten and written off (maybe more of an English view), which seems absolutely ridiculous for someone who is 23 years old.

Havertz would probably be best in a free role behind a centre-forward: a modern No 10, if you will. There’s no doubt that he can play as a false nine between the lines but I don’t think it’s his best position, especially in the Premier League, and especially at Frank Lampard’s or Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea.


Havertz is still trying to find his best position at Chelsea (Photo: Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images)

He might have been better served at Real Madrid and Barcelona (or Bayern), in a slower, more possession-based team, but Chelsea were the club that pushed hardest in 2019, which is why he went there. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares once Graham Potter puts his stamp on this team. In theory, Havertz should benefit from the tactical rejig but much will depend on Chelsea getting a strong No 9 who will relieve Havertz of his duties up front and release him to be more of a creative fulcrum.

Ken C

Can Bayern deny paying Neuer’s wages if it turns out he wasn’t contractually allowed to ski tour? Or is he insured?

Tom M

What’s the scoop on Alexander Nubel’s future at Bayern? I’ve read that he’s not coming back so long as Toni Tapalovic (goalkeeper coach) is there and that he needs reassurances that Neuer won’t automatically inherit the No 1 role once he’s healthy. Any thoughts?

Ryan G

Hi Rafa, what do you think the chances are that Bayern recalls Nubel from loan and that he’s still at Bayern next year? 

Campbell B

Hi Rafa, is Neuer in any sort of disciplinary trouble for going skiing and then breaking his leg? Surely it’s a contract violation of some sort?

Curtis S

Is there a real chance Neuer isn’t the No 1 for Bayern at start of 2023-2024 season?

Michael D

Did Neuer have permission to go skiing? What has been the reaction within the club?

Bayern are not best pleased about Manuel Neuer’s injury but he hasn’t broken any rules or contractual obligations — there are no restrictions on skiing. (It used to be different a few years ago.)

In Germany, injured players only receive their full salary up to six weeks unless they are personally insured or the club has agreed to keep on paying them. Bayern have not publicly commented on details but it’s understood that they will continue to pay most, if not all, of his salary until he regains full fitness thanks to a special stipulation in his contract. The fact that he suffered the injury away from football is immaterial.

Alexander Nubel, on a one-year loan at Monaco, is reluctant to come back to Munich because he doesn’t see himself as a temporary back-up to Neuer and isn’t certain that he would enjoy the full support of Bayern goalkeeping coach Toni Tapalovic, a very close personal friend of Neuer. In addition, Monaco do not want to release Nubel halfway through the season.

neuer-bayern


Neuer is now out injured for Bayern after picking up an injury while skiing (Photo: Roland Krivec/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

If Bayern cannot find a solution agreeable to the player and the Ligue 1 club, they will think carefully about their next move. It’s a delicate issue. They don’t want to buy a ‘keeper to be there only for the next few months, but if they were to find somebody good enough to be Neuer’s long-term replacement, going after him now would create tension upon the incumbent’s return — the 36-year-old is contracted until 2024 and sees himself playing for a few more years after that. At the same time, the Bayern board don’t trust current number two Sven Ulreich to do it at the highest level for the next six to eight months. Recalling Nubel temporarily therefore still seems a sensible option.

TBZ S

Thoughts on Freiburg’s chances on maintaining their push for a Champions League spot and what they’ll need to do in order to hold on in the second half of the season?

Freiburg never cease to amaze me. What Christian Streich is doing with this squad is simply astonishing. Their game is high-intensity and there isn’t that much depth, but there hasn’t been any sign of them suffering from extra exertions in Europe in the first half of the season. They’ve eased straight into the round of 16 in the Europa League and can enjoy the winter break in the number two spot in the league, just four points behind Bayern Munich. The trick will simply be to keep going and avoid injuries to key players such as striker Michael Gregoritsch and playmaker Vincenzo Grifo. I’d still bet on them to finish outside the top four, mind, but then again, I have a long history of underestimating them. Did I say that they never cease to amaze me?

Ken T

How concerned is the Bundesliga about the unparalleled dominance of Bayern domestically? Is there anything they can do? Like a long-term plan to make the league competitive?

There’s no doubt that Bayern’s dominance hurts the league’s international appeal, and, to a lesser extent, domestically as well. (See the next question for more details). Bar a wholesale liberalisation of ownership and investment rules, it’s tough to see what the league can really do — apart from praying for a Bayern off-year and Dortmund (or RB Leipzig) getting their act together.

I’ve argued for making the league smaller and thus more competitive within the existing 50 + 1 framework but you won’t find enough clubs prepared to vote for their own probable relegation. Ultimately, too many people, both on the side of the supporters and inside the clubs, are vested in the status quo.

Adam W

Do you think that Bundesliga clubs and their members are more focused on maintaining an excellent fan environment or on winning at all costs? Sometimes I wonder if all of the things I love about the league (fans control, tradition, comparative lack of nefarious owners) are holding it back, and if that’s the case, should it really change if this is why everyone loves it?

This is a great question that goes to the heart of the Bundesliga’s unique position in relation to the Premier League, Serie A, Ligue 1 and (parts of) La Liga: the vast majority of supporters there don’t dream of their club becoming successful overnight thanks to an investor from Abu Dhabi or the US. They do want success, but not at the price of their club ceasing to be a local, democratic institution with membership control (or at least their structural involvement) at its heart. It’s a matter of priorities. The average Frankfurt fan enjoys winning, of course, but they don’t see it as the club’s raison d’etre, and they couldn’t care less if everyone loves them or the league. There are exceptions and deviations, but it’s fair to say that the Bundesliga, on the whole, still looks towards fulfilling the needs of local supporters rather than maximising the appeal of “the product”.

At the same time, the league needs to grow internationally, which creates tension between tradition and attempts to modernise. Until sentiment at grass roots level changes — and it doesn’t look like it at the moment — the professional football league in Europe’s biggest economy will continue to operate with one hand tied behind its back.

George C

Are these ever answered?

Yes.

(Top photo: David Inderlied/Borussia Dortmund via Getty Images)



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