Robert Lewandowski leaves FC Bayern – whose bet will pay off?
The FIFA world footballer leaves the club. With what emotions will the move itself but also Lewandowski’s entire time at Bayern be associated? What is your personal Lewa moment?
Maurice: For me, the most memorable moment will always be the game in the Allianz Arena against Wolfsburg, when Lewandowski was substituted on at the break and scored a completely unhinged five goals in nine minutes. Five goals in nine minutes – that sounds like U8 or New Zealand’s second league, but not like a top game in the Bundesliga. These raw numbers were a novelty for the German league. The ecstasy in the stadium also knew no limits. Just think of the expression on Pep Guardiola’s face, which became a meme straight away.
Georg: I associate mostly positive emotions with Lewandowski. The circumstances of his departure were not ideal, but his motivation was understandable to me. In this respect, it is perhaps only logical that my personal Lewy moment is not one of his 344 goals for FC Bayern, but his jubilation after the success in the 2020 CL final against Paris in the Estádio da Luz. His doggedness, reminiscent of Oliver Kahn, his raw ambition with which he subordinated everything to his sporting career, and the redemption when he finally held the trophy in his hands. Goosebumps.
Christopher: Goal number 41 in the 2020/21 season. Gerd Müller’s 40 goals seemed forever unreachable and yet he managed to break the record. He did it having played only 29 games. That really was a crazy season. Especially if you followed the Bundesliga in the 90s and 00s. That there was a player with more than 25 or 30 goals seemed unthinkable.
A deal earning Bayern up to €50 million including bonus payments for an almost 34-year-old with one year left on his contract. Is that a good deal for the Bayern brass?
Maurice: If you look at the figures alone, you can only come to this conclusion. A transfer fee of up to 50 million euros plus the rumoured salary costs of 25 million euros is a hefty sum for a soon-to-be 34-year-old who also had little interest in spending another season at the club.
However, there are three counter-arguments to this narrative: First, there are the costs for an adequate replacement, which could possibly be even higher than the income form this sale. For a world-class player at a younger age, a total package of around €150 million is probably the lower bound. In addition, the club is showing itself to be susceptible to blackmail with this sale, because a resounding “no” from the top brass will henceforth probably always be regarded as more of an unsubstantiated threat rather than a final say. How this will affect future contracts remains to be seen in the coming years. Lastly, there is probably only a handful of players who are as professional as Lewandowski, who can be expected to have several more seasons at the highest level in him. Just look at a certain Tom Brady in the USA. Having said that, even a model professional like Cristiano Ronaldo has fallen off noticeably in recent years.
In the end, it is a difficult question to answer whether Lewandowski was sold at the right time.
Christopher: Only time will tell. If Lewandowski delivers at a very high level for another two or three years in Barcelona, the board will have to accept the reproach of not having done everything to keep him. If Lewandowski declines sooner, is injured more often (which is not something we should wish on him) or simply does not work in the Catalan team, then Bayern could feel like the winners of the deal. Mind you, only if they manage to be more successful than in the last two years. The domestic double and the semi-finals of the Champions League would be necessary for that. Is that achievable without an out-and-out striker? If you look at Liverpool and Manchester City in recent years, it is. Is it easier with a striker of Lewandowski’s calibre? Most probably.
Daniel: No, it’s not a good deal. Because only reinvested money shoots goals and there is no one FC Bayern can sign at the moment. All that money is of no use at the end of the day if THE key position is vacant, you fail in the cup competitions and have to take stock of having wasted another year of the little time with Müller, Neuer, Kimmich and recently Mané at their peaks remaining.
Perhaps some people are dreaming of wiring the money directly to Turin to park the bus with De Ligt, but this FC Bayern will never again become a Hitzfeldian 1-0 team. You need a top player up front, and playing with Sadio Mané and Serge Gnabry there for at least a year can actually work out fine – but even more likely, the whole thing can go horribly wrong. And then you’re standing there in February, €50 million richer but starving for a centre-forward.
How can the departure be compensated for in sporting terms? Do Bayern have to sign a replacement centre-forward? What could a system without Lewandowski look like?
Georg: The system question is the key question, also with respect to further signings in the summer. With Mané and Gnabry, FC Bayern have goal-scoring wingers in the squad who could indirectly replace Lewandowski. Be it in a 4-3-3, comparable to Liverpool, or in a 3-5-2/4-2-2 with Mané and Gnabry as a fluid duo up front. For a 4-3-3, the squad needs another central midfielder, for a 3-5-2 more depth for the three-man backline. To maintain the traditional 4-2-3-1, a classic centre-forward would be needed. In any case, Hasan Salihamidžić still has work to do.
Christopher: Some key ideas for the offensive have already been mentioned. But maybe FC Bayern want to try a different tack and shift focus to the defence. With a signing of De Ligt, the central defence could be massively strengthened. With 44 or 37 goals conceded in the Bundesliga and sometimes disastrous performances, it is usually difficult to win titles. In addition, De Ligt would help strengthening the team’s build-up play and thus add variety to playing out from the back. Nevertheless, the question remains as to who should score the goals. Mané and Gnabry, possibly Sané, would have to score 15 to 20 goals each to make up for Lewandowski’s numbers. I’m curious to see if that works.
Cristiano Ronaldo is being considered as a potential successor. Would the appointment make sense from a sporting point of view?
Georg: Hardly, if you look at it purely from a sporting point of view. Ronaldo now plays a very classic centre-forward role and strictly focuses on the duty of scoring goals. Without the ball, he is only marginally involved in defensive play. According to statistics provider fbref, he is in the bottom one percent of all strikers in Europe’s top 5 leagues in terms of pressing actions. That did not suit Rangnick at Manchester, that does not suit Nagelsmann at Bayern. FC Bayern cannot afford the luxury of a defensively uninvolved player when it comes time to challenge Liverpool, Manchester City and Co. for Europe’s crown.
He could, however, be useful in a backup role as a substitute or rotation player. The question here is whether he would be willing to do that (the answer is: probably not at all).
Daniel: No offence, Georg, but you see things far too theoretically. Pressing actions!? Kahn and Hainer couldn’t care less! (laughs) Bayern needs a player who can score. Ronaldo can score. That alone is enough to make Ronaldo interesting. I agree that it’s quite possible that Nagelsmann is getting nervous because he knows exactly what Cristiano’s shortcomings are. And I wouldn’t put it past Salihamidžić to be sceptical either. For all his mistakes in the past, Brazzo certainly seems to have an idea of what skill set a Bayern player needs (see veto against Timo Werner or various Kovač players).
But if Ronaldo II. doesn’t find another club soon, this will simmer all summer because he himself would certainly walk all the way to Munich for this transfer and precisely because it makes sense. It makes sense because Bayern need new goals quickly and some time to find a suitable successor for Lewandowski, and Ronaldo would provide both. Everyone, including Ronaldo, knows that he’d be just a temporary fix. And it also makes sense because Hainer and Kahn are likely to get very big €-eyes at the hype that will surely arise around CR7. No, wait, CR9, Gnabry has fortunately extended his contract.
Despite all the justified criticism that Ronaldo costs his team too much by playing de facto with ten players, that he no longer offers the numbers of the good ol’ days when it comes to scoring, there are also crystal-clear advantages with him. Bayern now have the ball a lot, and Bayern’s second-best striker this millennium, Mario Gómez, showed that you don’t necessarily always have to be in the game to be worth your weight in gold. Often, simply being a sneaky, cold blooded poacher is enough.
Above all, however, Ronaldo’s advantage lies in his aerial game. No matter how beautiful such a fluid attacking system with half-forwards may work on paper, it would take a very talented exorcist to exorcise Bayern’s ability to cross. When they don’t know what to do, Bayern players will always opt for a cross. Even Guardiola understood that in his third year, bought Costa and Coman, went for inverse wingers, and let them whip cross after cross into the box. If Mazraoui works out, this tactic is likely to be used even more. Anyone who believes that without a strong header in attack, things will automatically change is mistaken. I’m reminded of various international matches around 2016, where the DFB team put high cross after high cross towards the giant of aerial play Mario Götze. With Ronaldo up front, the whole story would play out very differently. Crosses would not only make complete sense, they would even have to be classified as assets rather than liabilities, since he is quite simply the best header ever to play the sport.
Yes, I do catch myself thinking that in another world I would like to see the Ronaldo II. experiment at Bayern for a year. And yet I object to this idea. Vehemently, even. The reason is obvious, it is the rape accusation and even more, his confirmed response to this accusation, which in my eyes is like an admission of guilt. That weighs so heavily for me that I don’t care about anything else. I don’t want to see this player at FC Bayern.
Christopher: I think the idea is a flight of fancy, nothing more. Georg has already mentioned the sporting reasons. It can’t work with Julian Nagelsmann’s style. You mustn’t forget – it’s going to be a difficult second year for the young Bayern coach. The second half of the season was lousy. For Nagelsmann, it’s now about managing the transition. In the past, the Bayern team managed to compensate for the departures of Schweinsteiger, Lahm, Ribéry, Robben and Alaba. Nagelsmann now has the Herculean task of replacing almost 100 competitive goals in the last two seasons. But it won’t be Ronaldo, even if Herbert Hainer would like to sell a few more Adidas shirts with a CR7/CR9 print.
With some distance – is Robert Lewandowski the best striker FC Bayern have ever had?
Christopher: I always quickly get a little tired of the GOAT debates. I find it difficult to compare the different decades. The game has changed fundamentally. Various rules have been adapted to favour offensive play. Players are straightout “bred”. The game of today has little to do with the football of the 50s, 60s or 70s. Gerd Müller spent fifteen years at FC Bayern as a player, and later for a long time in various roles at the club. Even if he no longer holds all the records, that will prevail. Robert Lewandowski’s demeanour has been too aloof and pristinely professional over all these years.
Maurice: With the comforting distance of a day, Lewandowski definitely belongs in the pantheon of the best Bayern strikers of all time. He can’t challenge Gerd Müller for first place, the Bomber was too great and important for the club for that. Perhaps breaking the sound barrier of 365 league goals and/or clutching a Champions League title with Lewandowski scoring a goal in the final could have done it, but this is idle speculation. What will damage Lewandowski’s legacy in the long run is his lack of love from the fans. In the end, he was a record breaker, not a heartbreaker.
Daniel: No, absolutely not. There are good arguments to see Gerd Müller as the best centre-forward ever, regardless of the club. It’s a different story with Lewandowski. He will go down in history as the second best striker at this club and in the league, which is a huge achievement in itself, when his former boss Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was so incredibly good. He even managed to do twice what Lewandowski deliciously failed to do: win the Ballon d’Or. It is possible, however, that one consequence of Lewandowski’s unseemly, indeed unacceptable, behaviour is that he has dropped to third place here with some time to spare. Rummenigge was connected to the club even after his career, thus strengthening his legacy. But things will never be the same again between Lewandowski and FC Bayern; he has unnecessarily damaged his legacy.