FC Bayern and Robert Lewandowski: What’s next?
The Polish superstar has played for FC Bayern for eight years. Eight years in which the symbiosis of a perfectionist striker and a hugely ambitious club inFC Bayern has been enormously successful for both sides. In addition to a dozen club titles, including the Champions League victory that Lewandowski in particular had worked towards persistently for years, it was also a successful time for him personally. During his eight years, he almost had a monopoly on the Bundesliga top scorer trophy, broke goal record after record and developed into one of the best strikers in the world. Along the way, RL9 became a global superstar with more than 50 million followers on social media.
This symbiosis is coming to an end. This is what Robert Lewandowski has announced. He will not extend his contract with FC Bayern, which expires in the summer of 2023, and will leave Munich after the 22/23 season at the latest. He would even prefer a move this summer already.
Lewandowski moves to a European top club in the summer. According to reports, he has already reached an agreement with FC Barcelona, only FC Bayern still have to agree.
A transfer fee of 40-60 million euros seems conceivable.
Not least the games in the Europa League against Eintracht Frankfurt have made it clear that Lewandowski’s preferred target FC Barcelona have a number of problems. Problems that Lewandowski could help with.
On the one hand, there is the on-pitch performance: despite young and hopeful players like Pedri or Ferran Torres, the team is doing poorly by its own standards. For the first time since 2004, “La Rambla” has not seen a championship title celebration for three years in a row. Instead, Barcelona have finished the season with the lowest number of goals in 19 years. Lewandowski would immediately lift the ailing offence to a new level and also could be an important mentor for talents like Torres for the next two or three years.
On the other hand, there is the glamour factor: Barça need attractions. Barça need players who are recognised as world stars outside just professional circles and who function as a brand. Barca need a signature player. Lewandowski is no Ronaldo or Mbappé, but he is not far off, and the Catalan club does not really have many better alternatives to him waiting in the wings.
But there are also good arguments for FC Bayern to push for an early move. A transfer fee of €50 million and savings of about €25 million in annual salaries would free up considerable financial headroom for FC Bayern to invest in the squad and a successor to Lewandowski. Three players of the axis Neuer-Kimmich-Müller-Lewandowski are 32 years old or older. Sooner or later FC Bayern have to face the reality of a radical squad overhaul anyway.
For a five-year plan with Nagelsmann, now would be the best time to initiate this change instead of putting it off just another year and having even less money available then.
From Robert Lewandowski’s point of view, his desire for a move is also understandable. With Kylian Mbappé having just signed a €100 million per year contract, Lewandowski’s €25 million annually at Bayern suddenly appear underpaid in comparison, as absurd as that may sound with these dimensions.
It is also understandable from a purely sporting point of view. The Pole has lived in Germany for twelve years and played only in the Bundesliga. Who can blame him for wanting to experience a different country and a different club as his career peters out?
This is the straightforward solution. Everyone does exactly what they said they would do. Lewandowski does not extend his contract. FC Bayern do not let him leave early. Lewandowski joins a new club in the summer of 2023.
FC Barcelona cannot or will not pay enough for FC Bayern to give in and let him go. After all, they have already signed a major centre-forward in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Also, Barça might yet find another signature signing. Or the Catalans will remain patient despite all the pressure and wait until Fati and Pedri develop into world stars.
FC Bayern remains firm, not least because the potential transfer has important non-sporting implications. Internally, Hainer, Kahn and Salihamidžić can demonstrate strength by barring a Lewandowski move. They can set an example. A sign that they are not a selling club. A sign to the fans. A sign to the other players: this club is on the attack.
Lewandowski himself should also be able to acquiesce in this decision. He is not the type of player who presses for a departure by unfair means. He is intrinsically motivated anyway. A transfer free of charge in the summer of 2023 and the expected sign-on bonus after Mbappé has just readjusted the market could sweeten the waiting period for him.
FC Bayern stand firm and do not let Lewandowski leave. The Barcelona window subsequently closes. No new one opens. Lewandowski still feels too young for a move to the MLS. FC Bayern approaches him in the winter of 2022/23 and convinces him to stay two more years.
Not much. Lewandowski has so far shown himself to be as rational as he is ambitious. He has often flirted with the idea of leaving the club, but he has never been as determined as he is this time. Moreover, his biological clock is ticking. For him to change his mind would be a big surprise as of today. Especially since FC Bayern remain an unknown quantity in his calculations.
Not only does the striker’s contract expire in the summer of 2023, but sporting director Hasan Salihamidžić also has only 13 months left in FC Bayern’s service as of today.
The Bosnian also has the same three options: separation in the summer of 2022, separation in the summer of 2023, or extension of the cooperation.
In his capacity as sporting director, Salihamidžić has managed to keep the squad’s personnel standards high over the last five years. What might appear as a matter of course afterwards was not. Replacing players like Lahm, Hummels, Boateng, Alaba, Vidal, Alonso, Thiago, Robben and Ribéry is not easy, especially during a pandemic that overshadowed more than half of his tenure.
On the other hand, Salihamidžić has not yet managed to put his stamp on the squad. Despite the large number of transfers, the squad is still dominated by the Neuer-Kimmich-Müller-Lewandowski axis. Four world-class players. Four players who were already there before Salihamidžić. It is not possible to clearly define which playing and player philosophy the Bosnian stands for. Accordingly, it is not straightforward to say how he plans the time after Müllerowski in sporting terms.
Against this background, it is difficult to assess whether Bayern’s board, which could recall him, will let his contract expire or extend it. But this decision should be linked to Lewandowski’s future.
The decision on Robert Lewandowski’s future is not an easy one for FC Bayern. The sporting, financial and club-political dimensions make the issue an exercise in three-dimensional chess.
If FC Bayern trust sporting director Hasan Salihamidžić and coach Julian Nagelsmann and plan to work with them for the long term, then the club should trigger the inexorable transition in the squad now. It should let Lewandowski go and authorize the Salihamidžić/Nagelsmann duo to manage the succession. It would be up to them to decide whether to replace Lewandowski 1:1, for example with Patrik Schick or Darwin Núñez, or whether to replace Lewandowski indirectly and spread out the scoring threat among several players, for example Serge Gnabry, Christopher Nkunku or Florian Wirtz.
If FC Bayern do not want to extend Hasan Salihamidžić’s contract or are still unclear about their course of action – and after the disappointing debut season also have slight doubts about coach Julian Nagelsmann – then the club should keep Lewandowski for another year. The year would bring valuable time to plan the future for the time after RL9 and Salihamidžić. Time that should then also be used to arrange for Salihamidžić’s succession. It would then be up to his successor to restructure the offensive after Lewandowski is gone.
Either way, the decision should be made as early as possible. Because of the World Cup in December, the Bundesliga season already starts on 5 August 2022. It would be good if FC Bayern started the season with their personnel on and off the pitch sorted out.