Window Shopping: Konrad Laimer Is The Perfect Destroyer
12:25 PM EDT on July 22, 2022
Welcome to Window Shopping, a recurring feature in which Defector highlights and analyzes some of the biggest players rumored for a big-money transfer each window. Each summer and January, we will take a look at these potential stars in order to answer two simple questions: Who the heck is this guy, and why is he worth so much money?
The most volatile type of transfer rumors tend involve players entering the final year of their contracts. There are so many competing interests at play. Will buying clubs want to pony up the transfer fee needed to acquire the player now, when they could wait and get the player for free in just a year's time? Will the selling club accept a bid that is almost always only a fraction of what the player is otherwise worth just to not lose him for nothing the next year, or will the selling club instead prioritize what the player can contribute in his final year over the potential reduced transfer fee? Will the player accept a transfer move in his final year to more quickly reach his next destination before injuries and the like put the move at risk, or will the player prefer to play the season out so as to profit from the sizable signing bonus free transfers often receive?
Konrad Laimer currently finds himself in this zone of uncertainty. The 25-year-old Austrian midfielder has one season left on his contract at RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga. He's the perfect type of defensive midfielder for a modern team: a pressing machine who is also comfortable with the ball at his feet. Combine that with his prime age and you get the profile of a player who should be in high demand.
But that's not exactly how things have turned out, though there are a couple mega-clubs who appear to be interested in spending up to €30 million to secure his signature a year before he hits free agency. That is a large fee for someone who would be free so soon, so as we often do on Window Shopping, it's time to figure out who Konrad Laimer is on the field, and whether he's worth a proactive purchase or whether teams should wait until next year.
What Are The Rumors?
Laimer is a great player in a Bundesliga side not named Bayern Munich, which obviously means Bayern Munich is interested in his services. This is no surprise; the Bavarian giants love to take the best players on their rivals, partly because they have seen them play quite often and partly, though perhaps not publicly stated, to weaken their opposition. For this reason, it's hard to believe that Laimer's next club will reside anywhere outside of Munich. Bayern isn't mega-wealthy like most of its peers in the elite, but it surely has €30 million kicking around to match Leipzig's reported asking price.
And then there's Manchester United. Though the links have been softer here, they make almost as much sense as those tying Laimer to Bayern. United needs a player of his profile in midfield, the club has a good amount of money, especially if Cristiano Ronaldo's wages come off the books, and Laimer is the type of signing that could steady the team's defense on its climb back into the top four of England.
Are These Rumors Bullshit?
Not bullshit at all! At least, the links to Bayern are as real as can be, and the only question is when Laimer makes his move. The fit is almost too perfect, especially since Leon Goretzka's preseason knee injury will sideline him for around two months. Laimer would seamlessly slide into Bayern's tactical setup, in no small part because Julian Nagelsmann, Bayern's current manager, was previously Laimer's manager at Leipzig up until the start of last season.
The only remaining question, then, is whether Bayern ponies up to solidify its midfield now, or waits until next summer. It looks like it will happen now, but remember, these types of transfers are among the most volatile, and things could change quickly. By the start of the 2023–24 season, though, I fully expect to see Laimer in Munich.
What Does He Do?
Though it might not be the most exciting of skills to watch, Laimer is a master defender at the base of the midfield. He's a tireless presser who covers a good portion of the field ahead of a backline, and he's not scared of mixing it up, averaging 1.5 tackles per game. Whereas some other defensive midfielders might rely on positioning to intercept the ball, Laimer prefers to let his superb athleticism do the work for him (he only averaged 0.2 interceptions per game last season).
On the other side of the ball, Laimer is strong in possession, particularly when he makes ventures up the field to join the attack. He's a stellar dribbler for a No. 6-type midfielder, averaging over two dribbles per game. And though he's not the most creative midfielder in the world, he can drift to the outer parts of the field to receive pressure-relieving passes from his teammates. That then allows him to have space in front and charge into for combination plays that can often lead him into an open area in the box:
Finally, the man has a rocket for a foot. He's able to score from anywhere inside thirty yards, particularly when he has a few steps to wind up his power:
Though even the most accurate of distance shooters only score a few goals like that in any given season, it's still a valuable skill to have, particularly as a defensive midfielder who generally will be miles from the goal with the ball at his feet.
What Doesn't He Do?
Well, as stated above, Laimer is not the best midfielder in the world in terms of defensive positioning. This isn't a flaw in Leipzig's system, but rather a designed tactical decision that allows him to do his whirlwind press. In a different system, though, such as Bayern's more possession-heavy deployment, Laimer would have to improve his positioning and instinct for interceptions. Possession teams usually have more men forward than those with a rigid pressing system, and Laimer would often be the second line of defense, with only center backs behind him. A missed tackle there would punish his team a lot more than a missed interception and recovery.
Additionally, though he can and has shown a nose for goal and assists, that's not what Laimer will ever really bring to a team. Last season was about his level on that side of the field: four goals and four assists, good for sixth in the former category among Leipzig players and fourth in the latter. Once he moves to a team that has a bit more creative firepower on the field, I'd expect his contributions in attack to be limited to rare runs up and set pieces.
Speaking of set pieces, he's . . . fine in that role, though maybe not as good as one would expect for a strong and nearly six-foot defensive bedrock. His jumping lets him down there, though a smart team might position him at the deep edge of the box to uncork that aforementioned rocket foot.
How Does He Fit Into A Top Team?
The great thing about a player like Laimer is that he is mostly formation agnostic, in that he can slot into the main two midfield layouts without a problem. In a double pivot formation, Laimer would allow his partner to maraud forward more often, safe in the knowledge that he has a wide-ranging protector behind him. If his partner is, instead, an even more defensive player, Laimer can move up and use his dribbling to play a carrilero role, shuttling the ball to his more creative teammates up the field.
If a team deploys a three-man midfield, then Laimer has a solid role at the base of that triangle. Players that can lock down an entire layer of the field without much help from his positional partners are worth their weight in gold, as they allow teams to overload the opposing defense in more dangerous parts of the pitch. This role might be a better fit for Laimer, given some of his creative deficiencies, though he'd surely be anywhere from good to amazing regardless of the formation.
On the other hand, he's a bit of a tougher fit in terms of tactics. Any team that buys Laimer should be prepared to up their pressing intensity to match his, or risk losing some of his best attributes. The lucky thing for Bayern, a team that presses as much as any top team but perhaps not as much as other German sides, is that Nagelsmann already has experience adjusting his tactics from game-to-game with Laimer in the fray. Plus, the existence of Kimmich would help cover for any of Laimer's weaknesses in a more interception-laden system.
Who Would Hate This Move?
Expensive transfers tend to shake things up, be it the dressing room, the roster hierarchy, the manager's position, the fans' outlook, and the domestic and international landscape. With that it mind, this section tries to determine who stands to lose from the potential transfer.
As is the case with pretty much any transfer Bayern Munich makes, the rest of the Bundesliga would likely groan in unison if the Bavarians scoop up Laimer. That starts with Leipzig, a consistent presence in the title race up until the traditional moment when Bayern pulls away. Similarly, Borussia Dortmund would likely not love that Bayern would reinforce its midfield, though if there's a bit of a silver lining it's that it would weaken Leipzig.
Internally at Bayern, Laimer's arrival would likely spell the end of Marcel Sabitzer's spell in Munich. Though the two players are wildly different—Sabitzer is more of a creative/offensive midfielder—the midfield can only support so many players, and Sabitzer has disappointed since moving to Bayern from, where else, Leipzig last summer. Former Ajax prospect Ryan Gravenberch would also have stiffer competition for playing time, though given that he is just 20 years old, that's probably fine for everyone involved.
Though this is not the point of this section, I will say that no one would love this move more than Joshua Kimmich. Bayern's best midfielder, and probably its best player, would be able to move further up the field with Laimer covering for him, and that would allow his creativity to burst through. Kimmich is already an excellent defensive midfielder, but playing more of an attacking role would only make him more valuable for Bayern.
I'll spare a quick word for the possibility that Laimer moves to Manchester United instead. Given the gap in United's midfield, it's likely that no one on the squad would be displaced by Laimer, at least no one who plays regularly as a pivot midfielder. If the Austrian is looking to join a team with as few disruptions as possible, then this might be the move. It still seems unlikely, though.
Important signings are bound to be controversial, so here we include a representative example at each end of the spectrum of sentiments.
[Fact check: Corentin Tolisso is not in fact five times better than Konrad Laimer.]
Where Does He Rank On The Defector Boom/Bust Scale?
The chances that Laimer is a bust are pretty low. The type of things he brings to a team rely less on bursts of form and more on consistency, which is one of the hallmarks of his game. His fit on both of the teams linked to his signature makes it easy to see him slot in from day one, giving either Bayern or United solidity and pressing intensity. If there is a chance for Laimer to not take the next step in his development, it would come from him staying at Leipzig one more year before moving for free next year. Even then, it's only because of any potential injury risk more than his ability (he fractured his ankle two seasons ago and missed nearly eight months). Otherwise, whoever ends up with Laimer will be a very happy club. For these reasons, Konrad Laimer grades at a 80.2 on the Defector Boom/Bust Scale.