Mats Hummels set to return to Bayern Munich, where it all began for him
Mats Hummels was a name known in Munich long before he was close to making it into Bayern's first team. In 2005, club bosses at Sabener Strasse were privately praising him as the greatest defensive talent to come through the ranks in decades. "Wait until you see him!" one FC Bayern official said in March of that year. At the time, Hummels was 16-years-old and playing for the U17s.
By the time the centre-back was deemed good enough to get promoted to the first-team squad, Ottmar Hitzfeld had taken back the managerial reigns from Felix Magath. Hitzfeld had overseen the development of Owen Hargreaves, a Canadian-born Briton, who had come to Munich as a 16-year-old and was initially managed by Hummels' father Hermann, a youth coach at the club.
But Hitzfeld, a cautious, calculated manager with more than one eye on dressing room politics, didn't really trust in young players, especially at the back. As such, Hummels only made it onto the bench twice during the first half of the 2007-08 season. During the winter break he was loaned for 18 months to Borussia Dortmund and became an instant regular.
"I quickly realised that it was the right decision to go to Dortmund, because I was allowed to play there," he told Die Welt in 2011. "I was able to show that I was good".
Not good enough for new Bayern coach Jurgen Klinsmann, however, who sold the defender for €4.5 million in 2009.
"[Klinsmann] didn't want me at Bayern; that's why the question of a return never came up," Hummels said. "If a manager doesn't want you, there's no point".
Bayern soon didn't want Klinsmann anymore, though, and realised the error of their ways: "We should have never let go of him, he's the bomb," assistant coach Hermann Gerland lamented at the time.
But attempts to bring Hummels back to Munich, with the help of an €8m option in his contract, were thwarted by the player in 2012. Dortmund had become German champions under Jurgen Klopp and were about to win the double, with Hummels as the unofficial dressing room spokesperson.
No one personified the special of togetherness at the Black and Yellows as much as he did: "I don't care about Bayern," he said. During Euro 2012, there were huge tensions between the Dortmund camp he led and the Munich contingent.
Bayern took rejection extremely badly and the relationship between the club and Hummels senior, who had continued to work there as a youth coach at the same time as being his son's agent, deteriorated to the point that he lost his job. He took Bayern to court and won compensation.
Now, only Mats Hummels truly knows what has made him change his mind, after much agitating, and seek a return to his hometown. In Dortmund, many believe that the dramatic 4-3 Europa League defeat away to Liverpool might have had a negative impact.
If true, it would be ironic because Klopp, now in charge at Anfield, and Hummels didn't get well on together towards the end of their time togther in Westphalia; the defender was believe to be ready to move abroad if Tuchel hadn't arrived last summer.
Whether Hummels' "family ties" to the Bavarian capital are really so strong, as to influence his decision, is doubtful. Financially, too, there would have been little difference between a new contract at the Westfalenstadion and signing a four-year deal at Bayern.
It thus points to Hummels making a "football decision," based on a pessimistic view on Dortmund's mid-term prospects to win trophies and his assumption that Bayern will continue to amass silverware and challenge for the Champions League under Carlo Ancelotti.
Tuchel seemed to admit as much on Friday: "We have to accept that there is a category of clubs above us," he said. "Bayern belong to that category."
Assuming the move does happen, Hummels' return will speak to the narcissistic streak of Bayern, who'll feel much better about themselves when their long pursuit is finally successful. (It was a similar story with last year with Arturo Vidal, who'd turned them down to go to Juventus in 2011.)
Unlike the Mario Gotze deal -- an impulse buy in 2013 made in an effort to upstage Dortmund and hurt their CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke -- the impending move for Hummels is not specifically designed to damage Dortmund's chances. Bayern, in typically ruthless fashion, have simply decided to go for the one available top-class centre-back on the market, just as they did when they targeted centre-forward Robert Lewandowski in 2013.
The fact that Dortmund will lose their captain and that the Bundesliga might be even less competitive as a result is not Bayern's concern. They simply need someone to replace and upgrade Medhi Benatia, who will be sold back to Italy after failing to settle in Munich. That Hummels is German and the regular national-team partner of Jerome Boateng is an additional bonus.
Now the haggling will start. Suddeutsche Zeitung's well-connected BVB reporter Freddie Rockenhaus wrote on Friday that Dortmund were expecting an offer of around €40m and might even make Hummels run down his contract, which expires in 2017.
At the same time, Rockenhaus implied the club have little intention to pay a fee for Gotze, preferring to take him back on a free when the forward's deal at the Allianz Arena expires, also next year.
The Gotze part to the story is interesting. Dortmund want the Germany international back, despite anger from supporters still bitter that he left in the first place, and the talk is that he has agreed to a return. The club are obviously attempting to leverage that deal to get better terms for Hummels.
Meanwhile, Hummels' position in Dortmund will be close to untenable -- jeers are expected in the stadium on Saturday when he leads his team against Wolfsburg -- and that will force Bayern to act swiftly.
There'll be some more posturing from both sides over the course of the next few days but there is also a foreseeable outcome: A part-exchange for Gotze, plus €10-15m on top from Bayern, will make Hummels a big name in Munich again.
Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC's German football expert and a regular guest on ESPN FC TV. He also writes for the Guardian. Twitter: @honigstein.