The Lewandowski Case: All against Hamann?
In Unterföhring at the German Sky headquarters, they probably had a smile on their faces. The statements of their pundit Dietmar “Didi” Hamann in the channel’s own football talk Sky90 have made a lot of waves and have become a topic in gazettes, the pubs and in the internet. On the weekend the leadership team of the Reds responded in the form of sporting director Hasan “Brazzo” Salihamidžić. The Bosnian accused Hamann of leading a “campaign” against his centre forward.
Since the discussions in the media in some cases have been conducted only polemically, we want to examine Hamann’s statements here on the basis of facts.
“I believe that Robert Lewandowski will become a problem for FC Bayern”.
With this sentence Didi Hamann started his criticism of the Bayern centre forward on Sunday after the loss against Leverkusen. It can be seen in the faces of his discussion partners that they do not necessarily share his opinion. When asked by moderator Patrick Wasserzieher, he begins to explain his point of view in more detail.
First of all, he discusses Lewandowski’s attitude. Explicitly he mentions the “waving and sometimes listless behaviour on the court”. He also quoted the story that emerged in the summer of 2017, according to which Lewandowski had complained about lack of support in the team. The Pole had only finished second behind BVB striker Aubameyang in the race for the goal scorer cannon.
This criticism from Hamann is not new. Already in May 2018, Bayern legend and former club ambassador Paul Breitner had held a similar opinion in the Doublepass and accused the number 9 of egoism.
It can certainly be said that Lewandowski, like no other Bayern player in the recent past, has criticised not only other players but also the transfer behaviour of FC Bayern. The transfer saga about the striker, who is always willing to change, began anew every year after the end of the season.
But this summer, the Warsaw-born striker finally pledged his allegiance to the red-and-white. He wants to “give everything for the club” and is “with his heart again in Bavaria”, he said in an interview. The Polish player was particularly impressed by how the Munich team tried to keep him there and always emphasized his importance to the club. In general it seemed as if the transfer discussion was often triggered by the advisor and then carried out on the back of the striker. Here one should differentiate in the judgement.
On the pitch, Lewandowski’s waving gestures towards his teammates are often noticeable. But the striker has been showing this behaviour for a long time, even during his time with Dortmund and in the Polish national team. The waving seems to be almost reflex. Of course it doesn’t make the best impression, but it shouldn’t be overrated at the same time. In general, one should not let oneself be influenced too much by a professional athlete’s posture on the pitch.
This season, however, it also appears that he has reduced the frequency with which he has waved. Again and again it gives way to an encouraging clapping. Lewandowski has now been appointed third captain by Kovač not without good reason. His word also seems to have internal weight. It is hard to believe that he is controversial among his fellow players.
Hamann’s next accusation: “Lewandowski, from three, four years ago, who goes behind the defensive line and […] brings down the long balls and then brings [the other players] into play, hasn’t been seen for a long time”.
That’s an interesting point of view because Lewandowski is more central to the Bayern game this season than ever before. Quite often he is sought as the first point of play at the top and then has to secure the ball. This season he is also often looking for a way into the depths, even if most runs are in vain.
The statistics support this view. In the current Bundesliga season, the Pole has 1.6 key passes per game. This corresponds to the highest value during his time at Bayern and the second highest value of his career. A fact that Tobias Escher also brought forward for the striker.
He also has top scores for the current season in the metrics key passes and created big chances that can be viewed on LigaInsider.
His 25 key passes are the third most of a classic number nine in the league and his highest score since the start of data collection in 2014, per 90 minutes. He is only behind the Gladbacher Hazard in the league in terms of the big chances created.
In addition, Lewandowski has already assisted seven goals for his team-mates this season – once again his personal best in the Bayern jersey and only one assistant behind his best season ever.
Even with the long balls, he is not to be blamed for his lack of commitment. Per game the Pole goes in 4.5 air duels, whereby he wins 1.9 of them. He goes into as many duels in the air as in his first season on the Isar.
In addition to his top scores in assists, Lewandowski has scored thirteen goals in the league, eight in the Champions League and one in the DFB Pokal. With 25 competitive goals – including the triple in the Supercup – he is only behind Lionel Messi, who already scored 29 times.
But Hamann raises questions about “who did he score against” and why “he didn’t score in the decisive Champions League games”. Is that so?
Here, too, a look at the numbers will help. This season Lewandowski has only scored once in the league if his opponent was in a position that would justify international business at the time of the match. The Munich team has played a total of five such games so far and lost three of them. In the 16/17 and 17/18 seasons he scored eight goals from eleven games and nine games respectively.
However, in the defeat in Dortmund, the supposed top game, the Pole scored twice for the lead. He was certainly not the cause of the collapse, he had even achieved the equalizer in injury time, which was not given due to an offside position.
Three of his thirteen goals were the important 1-0, two more led to another lead in a game. In the Champions League, he only missed in the 1-1 first leg against Ajax. All in all, he also served as a can opener there three times.
Now to the important games in the past. His biggest evening in the Champions League is a long way off with four goals against Real Madrid. The performance was also in the black and yellow jersey of the permanent Bayern rival.
Since then, the Reds in Europe have been in the semi-finals at best. Three goals in the seven matches against Barcelona, Atlético and Real (x2). One of them in the return leg against Barcelona after losing 3-0 to the Catalans in the first leg.
However, the striker also had to play two of these duels injured, as he had previously suffered several fractures in the face in 2015 and injuries on the shoulder in 2017 in duels with Dortmund goalkeepers.
Lewandowski can therefore be accused of not having scored often in the important games for Bayern so far. However, the analysis here should not end with a single player who is simply limited in his ability to play against a better-minded collective. Football is too much team sport for that. Rather the question should be why Lewandowski’s strengths could not be brought to the fore in the big games.
In two weeks against Liverpool at the latest, Lewandowski will have the chance to teach his critics a better lesson. A good omen: He has scored six goals in eight appearances in the last 16 of the Champions League.
And finally, Hamann said that Bayern “have always had good players in the last ten years who have scored thirty goals in the league”, as Lewandowski last did in 2016 and 2017.
Elber, Makaay, Toni, Gomez, Mandzukic – of course the Reds had strong strikers in the time mentioned, but also before that. However, Munich’s best goalscorer since 1980 has scored more than 25 goals in the Bundesliga only seven times so far. Lewandowski was granted the privilege three times. Between Rummenigge 1984 and Makaay 2004, only two strikers managed to score more than 20 goals in one year at FC Bayern in twenty years.
When it comes to goals, Lewandowski plays in a very exclusive league with the Munich team. Since 2000 there have been three seasons in which a Bayern striker has scored more than 40 goals across competitions and at the same time was involved in more than 40 percent of the team goals in his time: 2011/12 Gomez (41.7/40), 2015/16 Lewandowski (43.3/42), 2017/18 Lewandowski (44.5/41).
His goal quota of 0.79 goals per game is only surpassed by Gerd Müller, and he is also fourth in the club’s team in the competitive goals. If one only counts the goals of the Bundesliga, he has surpassed Roland Wohlfahrt on the weekend with 119 goals on the third place – mind you in 108 games less.
Also, the fact that he has already scored 12 goals this season is anything but to be taken for granted. While in previous years he might have benefited from a strong team and a pronounced tactic, this year he is always on his own. The fact that he still scores reliably underlines his special quality once again.
Lewandowski was the first Munich player to speak personally about Hamann. The 30-year-old replied that he “was not interested in what others said. Especially when it’s just stupid.”
While a few days after the original statement and directly after a game such a little reflected statement is forgiven, a sporting director of the Munich team should be able to express himself more sophisticated.
Towards Sky Salihamidžić reacted after the victory over Schalke however rather imprudently. The manager novice tried to discredit Hamann as an expert (“Hamann is a problem for Sky”) and to accuse him of having a personal war with Lewandowski (“Hamann is campaigning and that’s not good”).
But it should be easy for a sporting director, as happened in this column, to illuminate all Hamann’s points individually and thus clarify that he is simply wrong in the majority of his points. Namely that Lewandowski is respected and accepted internally, that the Pole statistically plays his most team-friendly season and that he also helps the team in important matches.
Once again FC Bayern are not doing well in their dealings with the media. Criticism of players, the coach or other processes in the club should be understood and analysed internally. Not every external criticism should be dismissed as nonsense in advance. A TV expert should be able to pursue his profession as a critical mind, even if the opinion, as in this case, may be inappropriate or uncomfortable.
That you want to protect your players is certain and undisputedly the right way. However, this only works if you respond to polemics with facts. On the other hand, those who, like FC Bayern, respond to personal attacks with hostility leave behind the feeling of not being in control of the situation.