Why Rafinha’s contract extension makes so much sense

Bayern have re-signed Brazilian right-back Rafinha until 2018. Even though some have criticised the move, extending Rafinha is the right call for Die Bayern.

Lahm’s uncertain future

Bayern Munich’s captain, Philipp Lahm, has been toying with our emotions as of late.

Lahm has the tendency to quit while he is ahead. We saw this when he retired from the German National Team after winning the World Cup in 2014. We are likely seeing this again right now, as Lahm has stated he will retire from football when his current contract runs out at Bayern; however, the skipper is even considering retiring after this season. The talk from Karl-Heinz Rummenigge that there is a position at the club for him after he retires from the pitch only fuels talk of early retirement.

Lahm retiring early means that at least in terms of transfers, Bayern will have a bit of a conundrum on their hands. There is no way that they can go into the next season with just Rafinha at right-back as they would seriously lack squad depth. This also means that they will need to act a little faster when it comes to signing a replacement.

Rafinha signing on through 2018 adds a little insurance to the line-up and takes some pressure off of the club to scramble to find an immediate solution. If Lahm retires in 2017, the club will still have to make a signing, but if they sign a younger player who needs a season or two to adjust, they can rely on Rafinha to fill the void left by Lahm on the right flank.

Rafinha is a known quality

You cannot really quantify it, but there is a certain importance to the familiarity that Rafinha brings to the table. He knows the system, and he knows the players that he works with, and he does his job particularly well. Given that he is so settled, it makes sense for Bayern to invest in some insurance just in case a new right-back does not hit the ground running and they can have someone who already functions well as a stop gap.

As a player, Rafinha is used to playing a bench role. Any other right-back at Bayern Munich had to be, considering that the perhaps the greatest right-back of all time was not only playing but also the captain of the team. Should Bayern splurge or get lucky and sign someone who is an immediate starter, this is something Rafinha will be content with.

At the age of 31, he is not trying to get playing time to get minutes with the Brazilian National Team and would be content to sit behind a younger, better talent. (Or Philipp Lahm, if he decides not to retire.)

Rafinha is also friendly with the team, and well liked in the dressing room. Even though ultimately it is the performance on the pitch that makes or breaks you at a club like Bayern, this does not hurt. If Rafinha can still play at a high level, it makes sense to keep a potential back-up who is friends with the rest of the team.

Rafinha is underrated

For some reason, Rafinha is constantly overlooked – even by many Bayern fans. If the Brazilian even puts one cross out of place, he is immediately blamed for a poor performance by the team, by large sections of fans and the media.

While it is true that at one point, Rafinha was not performing at the highest level, some cannot seem to forget the past and accept that Rafinha has certainly improved.

Pep Guardiola had to play Philipp Lahm in midfield during several games in his first season at Bayern Munich, and therefore had to rely on Rafinha. Because he needed the little Brazilian, he worked closely with him. Since then, Rafinha has been playing at a very high level, and this season at times he has frequently been better than Philipp Lahm.

Here are some of the key statistics of Rafinha just this season in the Bundesliga:

Statistic 2016/17
Appearances 5(4)
Tackles/game 1.2
Fouls 0.3
Interceptions/game 1.2
Clearances/game 0.6
Crosses/game 0.3
Long balls/game  1.7
Total chances created  6
Average pass accuracy  90%
Average duels won  67%

These numbers may not seem like much, but considering that we are working with a fairly small sample size in a league where Bayern has to do less defending, they are not poor. (It is also worth noting that Lahm’s numbers, while better, are not significantly higher.)

Rafinha’s numbers are actually a little higher in the Champions League, but considering that he has only made three appearances in the tournament it is a little dishonest to use such a small sample size.

The fact remains that if need be, Rafinha is a perfectly acceptable right-back for Bayern Munich. He is a very good passer of the ball and a capable crosser as well, and he has developed a good chemistry with the wingers for overlapping runs. He is also a good hold-up player and can keep the ball when required, which has still been important under Carlo Ancelotti.

Of course like almost all players, he has aspects of his game that are not as strong. Only 1.2 tackles per game is not a number that screams world class, and last season he only averaged 1.3 tackles per game. But while we cannot expect Rafinha to get any better, he has at least maintained this level for the last few seasons. Given that Rafinha is 31 and plays more as a wing-back than a right-back, that is impressive.

Obviously Rafinha is not a long-term solution, but the club are well aware of this, which is why the contract is only a two year extension. This gives the club plenty of time to use Rafinha as a stop-gap or a back-up while they figure out how to replace one of the best players to ever grace the game in Philipp Lahm.

Pragmatism is the key

Bayern Munich have for years been the most pragmatic super club in the world. The fans have a great trust in the board. This is another situation in which case we should trust the Bayern Brass, because this deal shows lots of signs of being a good one.

Related stories