Timing is part of the striker’s art. Robert Lewandowski can time his arrival in the penalty area better than virtually anyone. So many times has he been first to the ball, most recently he was reportedly last in practice, apparently late for three days in a row.
A pouting striker appeared to be sending a message. It was noticed. One day later, Bayern Munich announced a deal had been agreed. Lewandowski will join one of the worst Barcelona teams over the past four decades.
Maybe not that he would put it that way. But when Bayern Munich’s status as a target club feels threatened, when talismans drift to Spain’s superpowers, Lewandowski follows in the footsteps of David Alabawho joined Real Madrid last year suggests they might get bored if they win the Bundesliga.
In this context the summer signing Sadio Mane and the likely recruit Matthijs de Ligt a meaning that goes beyond the addition of an attacker to bolster an attacking line that will soon be robbed by Lewandowski and a defense that has seen first Alaba and then Niklas Sule make free transfers in back-to-back summers.
Bavarian President Herbert Hainer’s thoughts on the Senegalese were revealing. “Sadio Mane is a world star who underlines the attractiveness of FC Bayern and will increase the attractiveness of the Bundesliga overall,” he said. “Fans come to stadiums to see players like that.”
With the predictability of their title wins, Bayern have probably damaged the attractiveness of the Bundesliga. But it was noteworthy that Hainer felt the need to mention Bayern’s attractiveness. It hinted that it was in doubt amid a sense of rejection from a player second only to Gerd Muller in history and at a time when there were doubts about Serge Gnabry’s future; Instead, the winger has now signed a new contract.
But these are strange times at Bayern Munich. The Continuity Club is changing. It may be an exaggeration to speak of an identity crisis – it certainly wasn’t enough to sign Cristiano Ronaldo – but without Lewandowski there will be a very different feeling, especially if, as seems feasible, a 153-goal striker is better off than an average of one not replaced per game in the last three seasons when false nines are replaced by the strongest No. 9 of his generation. Perhaps part of this change is an inevitable consequence of appointing a manager with the youth of Julian Nagelsman.
Yet just two years after Bayern emerged as a potentially epoch-making team, it appears to be a time of transition instead. They became the first team to win the Champions League in 2020 by winning every game. The trebles included a historic 8-2 win over Lewandowski’s future employers Barcelona, a 7-1 aggregate win over Chelsea and a 7-2 away win over Tottenham, a 30-match unbeaten run and a century of Bundesliga goals .
Two seasons later they left the Champions League for Paris Saint-Germain and most notably Villarreal. Manuel Neuer and Thomas Müller are survivors of the 2013 triumph, but a Champions League win feels like an underachievement in Lewandowski’s eight years; a lonely semi-final entry into the last four is certain.
Bayern seemed best positioned to benefit from Real and Barcelona’s decline; Instead, an aging Real has made a surprising resurgence while Liverpool have surpassed Bayern.
Perhaps a guarantee of domestic glory wasn’t enough for some of their players. If Bayern also felt caught up in the modern problem of successful clubs, that of being unable to renew the contracts of all their key players at the desired level, they were also unwittingly reminded that the allure of the Spanish duopoly was even growing stretches her loyal fans.
It means their recruitment serves as an ego boost, a testament to their attraction. It has become a cliché that they crush opponents in Germany by raiding Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig, but it has been relatively rare for them to sign first-team players from Europe’s top flight: Kingsley Coman was never a regular at Juventus, perhaps only Atletico Madrid’s Lucas Hernandez and Manchester City’s Leroy Sane have met that definition since Arturo Vidal in 2015. Unlike many of their Bundesliga buys, neither Sane nor Hernandez have been a flashy success.
Had the French fared better, his defensive record might not have needed to be addressed. Nevertheless, there has been a change of course at Bayern. At 30, Mane feels an atypical transfer for her, albeit a player who is still four years younger than Lewandowski. He joins a forward line with a number of wingers and longtime constant Muller. He comes as the high-profile finisher who eliminated Bayern from the Champions League in 2019. Perhaps more relevant, he arrives as Liverpool’s catalytic striker in 2022.
He could be a strategic signing, or simply the kind of superstar Bayern cannot overlook at a time when Lewandowski’s departure could relegate them to second-place favorites in the Champions League.
But a summer of changes has added to the allure. Because if there was any doubt whether Bayern would win an 11th Bundesliga, maybe it disappeared when Dortmund sold Erling Haaland. Instead, the problem feels different. It’s more about who Bayern are now.