Sunday , July 3 2022

Robert Lewandowski deserves better than being told to shut up by Bayern Munich | Robert Lewandowski

The big problem for Robert Lewandowski is that he is a professional. He has one year left on his contract at Bayern Munich and he wants to leave, but nobody believes he will down tools and create a fuss if they choose to hang on to him for another year. He likes his job. He likes his colleagues. He has a level of self-respect that means he will carry on diligently even if his bosses are treating him outrageously. He doesn’t want to let anybody down, least of all himself.

This, after all, is a forward so dedicated to his trade and to self-improvement that he eats his meals in reverse, dessert first, because he believes it keeps his body fat down. He turns 34 in August, but seems younger. Since 2013 he has missed only 24 games through injury. He’s not going to go on strike or be disruptive. He’s not going to go through the motions while focusing on his golf. When he stayed a season longer than he wanted at Borussia Dortmund before moving to Bayern, he banged in 20 in 31 league starts.

That makes him exploitable – and football is a dirty world in which, ultimately, everybody is out to exploit everybody else. Loyalty and team spirit are celebrated, players hailed for being great servants of a club, but nobody should have any doubt that the masters will turn them over if it comes to it.

Which is why players need protection and agents are a necessary evil – even if football’s present economic situation may increasingly mean the very best doing what Kylian Mbappé did and running down their contracts to drive up wages.

Lewandowski signed up with Pini Zahavi in February 2018 and since then there have been repeated murmurings about him wanting to leave Bayern. Zahavi is a former journalist who realised early that the best way to maximise his earnings was to change newspaper every four or five years.

Money is part of it, of course, but there is also a sense that Lewandowski needs a new challenge. He has won 10 Bundesliga titles, eight of them in a row with what is by far the richest club in Germany. An 11th is unlikely to add much to his sense of satisfaction. Nor is there any sense of unfinished business or a quest waiting to completed: Bayern picked up the Champions League in 2020. Maybe he could hang around for another two or three years, knock in another 100 goals, collect a few more medals, but what would any of it mean?

Robert Lewandowski celebrates with the European Cup after Bayern Munich’s victory against PSG in the 2020 Champions League final
Robert Lewandowski celebrates with the European Cup after Bayern Munich’s victory against PSG in the 2020 Champions League final. Photograph: M Donato/FC Bayern/Getty Images

But the truth is this is as much about Bayern as it is about Lewandowski. Their handling of the situation has been characteristically clumsy. The sporting director, Hasan Salihamidzic, has always struggled with the political side of the job. When Hansi Flick left to become national coach last summer, it was notable that Salihamidzic’s name was omitted from the long list of people he thanked.

Their relationship broke down when Jérôme Boateng was not offered a new contract, the decision being presented to Flick as a fait accompli without him having any chance to offer his opinion.

Lewandowksi was unsettled by Bayern’s pursuit of Erling Haaland during negotiations over his contract extension. He let his unease be known after the final league game of the season, saying that no “concrete offer” had been made. Salihamidzic’s response only fanned the flames. “He got an offer,” the sporting director told Sport 1. “We had a conversation and explained very clearly how we imagined the future, with a very clear sum and terms. He has an adviser who has turned his head and has turned it all year round. It’s not clean.”

The same weekend, Bayern’s CEO, Oliver Kahn, bluntly stated that Lewandowski had a year left on his contract and would be expected to fulfil it. He replaced Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in the role only last summer and, while there has never been a surfeit of diplomacy at Bayern, there is a feeling that his predecessor may have behaved differently. Lewandowski, who scored 50 goals last season, was hurt. “Bayern,” a source close to Lewandowski said, “lost him not as a football player but as a human being.”

Perhaps that is a version of events shaped by Lewandowski and his people, all part of a longer process of negotiation. But what is clear is that Lewandowski’s tone changed two weeks ago. Where Zahavi had been dismissing offers, suddenly they are being welcomed. Barcelona appear the preferred destination (although it’s not clear how they could afford him given their financial situation), but there has also been interest from Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal – although it’s unlikely he would move to a club not in the Champions League.

“As of today my story at Bayern is over,” Lewandowski said on Tuesday. “After what happened in the last few months I don’t see any chance to continue my career at the club. I hope they don’t make me stay just because they can.”

Robert Lewandowski scores for Bayern Munich against Arsenal in November 2015.
Robert Lewandowski scores for Bayern Munich against Arsenal in November 2015, during his second season at the Bavarian club. Photograph: Boris Streubel/Getty Images

Kahn hit back. “Public statements like that don’t get you anywhere,” he said, in a public statement that ignored the fact that he had stoked the ill-feeling. “He should know what he has at Bayern. Appreciation is not a one-way street.”

Perhaps not, but the way Bayern fell out with David Alaba and Niklas Süle before losing both on free transfers suggests that the problem with traffic flow may not be in the direction they believe.

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Uli Hoeness, the club’s honorary president, has made clear that he thinks Bayern should hold Lewandowski to his contract and keep him for another year (and, at 34, he may have fewer suitors and be more likely to sign an extension). But that is rooted in the belief that Lewandowski will continue to play to his utmost.

Perhaps it’s not unreasonable to expect players to honour the contracts they have signed but, after eight hugely productive years at Bayern, it’s also reasonable to think that Lewandowski deserves better than being told to shut up and do as he’s told. It’s a miserable world in which decency and professionalism should count against a player.

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