How Bayern Munich beat Chelsea to end their six-year Upamecano chase

Dayot Upamecano RB Leipzig Bayern Munich
Getty/Goal
The RB Leipzig centre-back first came on the Bundesliga champions' radar back in 2015, and the 22-year-old will now join them at the end of the season

It ended like all Valentine's Day love stories. After years of 'will they, won't they' and a lengthy pursuit, they finally got together at the end and became official on February 14.

After chasing their man for half a decade and watching him blossom with a different partner, Bayern Munich swept Dayot Upamecano off his feet on Sunday after promising him a beautiful future together.

Upamecano had no shortage of suitors, but Bayern always gets to be the hero in these stories, coupling up with someone they had their heart set on.

The Bundesliga champions first made their interest known in the coveted centre-back back in July 2015, intercepting the defender at the airport as he was about to leave France to fly to Austria.

The then-16-year-old had just become European champion with France's Under-17 side and was lining out for Valenciennes' U19 team when Red Bull Salzburg approached him and invited Upamecano and his family to visit the club's training grounds.

Before he took off from Paris, an agent arrived on the scene, intending to change his mind and get him to take a detour to Munich to see what Bayern had to offer before making a decision about his future.

"It was surprising that he showed up," Upamecano's advisor Thierry Martinez told L'Equipe.

After a brief discussion, Bayern's offer was rejected and the teenager travelled onwards to Austria, agreeing a €2.2 million (£1.9m/$2.7m) deal to join Salzburg just two days later.

"We were sure of our decision," Martinez insisted. "We were looking for a project with a solid foundation. How many talents go to big clubs and don't play? It's important to start well in a new club."

GFX Upamecano Haaland

That decision did not come easily though, Bayern were not the only team eager to attract Upamecano. Manchester United were also keen, and Upamecano could have relocated to England if not for some logistical disagreements.

“An intermediary met with us, but there were differences between the project she presented us and what was actually going to happen. A flat was promised, but that changed to a host family with only six return trips for his parents," Martinez told SoFoot.

“When you uproot a player at such a young age, that isn’t enough. I wanted Dayot to have a stable emotional balance off the pitch.”

Arsenal, Marseille and Rennes were also eager, but Salzburg's attention to detail won Upamecano and his entourage over with a PowerPoint presentation that displayed a clear career path as well as how the club would nurture him on and off the field, catering for his accommodation and educational needs as well as his footballing ones.

That career path brought him initially to feeder club Liefering, where he played 16 times in the Austrian 2 Liga before stepping up to Salzburg's first team, giving him a taste of top-flight football as well as a chance to prove himself in the Europa League.

As with many Salzburg graduates, the next step on the ladder was a move to RB Leipzig, where Upamecano raised his profile as one of the best young defenders in European football under Ralph Hasenhuttl and Julian Nagelsmann.

With his contract running out, Leipzig were able to tie him down for another year at the end of last season by inserting a realistic release clause into his extension, which was set to come into effect in the summer of 2021.

It was this €42.5m (£37m/$51m) clause that Bayern activated to finally get the fairy-tale ending they wanted, but once again, they had to fend off a lengthy list of admirers and win him over.

Arsenal held talks in 2020, but a move never materialised and the Gunners did not return in January as they are set to wait until the end of this season before continuing their rebuild.

A move to Barcelona was mooted in the Spanish media, but any transfer to Camp Nou was impossible due to the club's financial position, which leaves them struggling to afford the minimal fee for defender Eric Garcia.

GFX Salihamidzic on Upamecano

Liverpool turned to fellow Bundesliga defender Ozan Kabak to solve their crisis at the back, initially signing the Schalke centre-back on loan to cover their lengthy injury list. The Reds did consider a move for Upamecano, but he was never a serious target as both him and Virgil van Dijk are left-sided defenders, with the Netherlands international set to be back in action next season.

On the other hand, Chelsea's interest was very serious, but Bayern's gain could prove an opportunity for the Blues as Thomas Tuchel's side are also considering both Niklas Sule and David Alaba in their search for a centre-back.

Sule has not been a guaranteed starter under Hansi Flick thanks to the form of veteran Jerome Boateng, while Alaba will leave in the summer on a free transfer after turning down a new deal with the Champions League holders. 

Alaba's impending exit hastened Bayern's move for Upamecano, with the Bavarians learning from their first failed attempt and outlining their own career plan to convince him to choose them over Chelsea and others.

"We had very good, intensive and professional discussions with Dayot and his agent Volker Struth for many months," sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic told Bild

"We knew we had very tough competition. Upamecano is a young player, 22, whose qualities are already extraordinarily developed.

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"I was always convinced that we came up with a good concept. We presented him our vision of his career at Bayern. During the past week in Doha, I spoke to everyone involved again. At the end of a long process, the player, his family and management were convinced that Bayern was the right partner."

Struth visited Bayern's offices in January, even confirming that Chelsea and Liverpool had contacted him about the defender, but after months of discussions, everyone was convinced that Bayern was the right partner.

Just in time for a Valentine's Day announcement.

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