"He's definitely a player who's more and more becoming an alternative. He’s not a blind sub. We’re talking about a top quality young striker. I'd also trust his use when things are not settled on the pitch.”
Those were the words of Bayern Munich boss Julian Nagelsmann on Malik Tillman before he sanctioned a loan move to Rangers. But the million dollar – or £5million for Rangers – question is what the German thinks of him now. Michael Beale’s fears are that his success so far during his loan move to Ibrox could tempt the Bundesliga giants and leaders to give him another shot at making it in the first team.
The 20-year-old admitted himself at the weekend that one of the aims of moving to the Scottish Premiership was to improve the physical side of his game before returning to the Allianz Arena to see if it could help his chances of gatecrashing the Bayern first team. There seems to be a general agreement among the Rangers hierarchy and fans that taking up the reported £5m option to buy the USA international is a no-brainer.
So it leaves the one hurdle being whether he is likely to be part of Bayern Munich’s first team plans. But how big is that hurdle? Well, fairly big when you consider some of the players in their star-studded squad. Sadio Mane, Leroy Sane, Serge Gnabry, Jamal Musiala and Thomas Muller are just a few of the attacking options available. Not a bad list, it has to be said. A few factors are involved in what happens with Tillman. Will Rangers meet the agreed fee, do Bayern Munich see him as part of their plans and what does the player himself fancy? Here, Record Sport looks at what the key players have said.
Speaking after his goal in the weekend win over Ross County, Tillman said: “I came here having played just a few games of professional football before. I had to get used to it as well. I can still improve a lot. I have improved but there is still a lot to come, I think. I would say the biggest lesson I’ve learned has been about the mentality and physicality of Scottish football. You do have these demands at Bayern. They told me already it was something I was kind of still missing and it’s one point I can still improve on. It’s a reason why I came here as well, so I can learn from Scottish football and maybe come back and do it better. It’s from the way we play, or the way the Scottish league plays. The team helps me a lot. Also, the teams we play against, most of them try to make life difficult for us and be as physical as they can to defend their goal and not let us score. That’s one big point I had to get used to at the beginning.”
Beale is in no doubt that he wants to keep the Bayern Munich starlet. He said: “Malik’s a no-brainer for me. I would like Malik to be here for a number of years. He’s an excellent young player and he’s enjoying his football here. Again, that’s for the people above me to organise. We have the first opportunity to buy him. Bayern have a decision whether they feel he’s going to play for them.
"There’s a number, we know what it is and we’re comfortable with the number. Also, we wouldn’t just want to buy a boy that maybe wants to be elsewhere. At the moment, everything is fine. I’ll be honest, I haven’t even had that conversation with Malik. It’s not like you get him in a room and put a gun to his head and ask, 'Do you want to be here?' I think he has to show you that in his performances and the way he’s playing.”
Heiko Niedderer covers Bayern Munich for Bild and he Record Sport: “I don’t see him as coming back to Bayern and having a real chance to play for the first team because they have so many options with Sadio Mane, Leroy Sane, Serge Gnabry and whatever. So I think it’s going to be difficult but at the same time I’m not sure if Bayern really want to sell. It’s always the same - do they still see him as having the potential to return to Bayern and have the chance to play, even as back up? I don’t know what the situation is right at this moment but they always saw him as a player with good potential and have noted he’s doing well in Glasgow but I can’t say what the plans are. But if any of the real big names leave I don’t think they’ll so ‘Okay, we’ll replace them with Tillman’. If Bayern see a chance to get him back in the squad then they would just see how he develops and would be a back up, getting some minutes off the bench. But not in the first team right away. The club will make the decision. They have a youth manager and decide what’s the best for the player and the club. It’s February, so I don’t think they will have decided what to do so far."
The former player
Record Sport columnist and ex Ibrox captain Barry Ferguson is in no doubt about Tillman’s qualities. He said: "The reported fee is around the 5 million euro mark. For me, I think it's a no-brainer. He's a game changer, no doubt about it. When games are sticky and they're stuffy, he can come up with that bit of magic. He's improved in each game. There was never any danger in his technical side of the game - brilliant feet, he can see a pass, he can score a goal - it was the other side of the game that I look at, when he loses the ball, and I've seen him a difference in him over the last four weeks. When he's lost possession, his first thought is, 'can I try and get that ball back', or, 'can I go and help my teammates get it back?”