It’s not often that the reigning world player of the year is a consolation prize.
With Erling Haaland off to Manchester City and Kylian Mbappé due to announce his future plans—stay at PSG or head to Real Madrid on a free transfer, with the latter reportedly imminent—prior to joining France’s national team later this month, the two biggest transfer sagas of the summer should be sorted before the spring ends. But the crescendo of noise surrounding Robert Lewandowski, the two-time reigning FIFA Best Men’s Player winner, and his future is reaching unavoidable levels. And what’s unique about this transfer soap opera is that everyone’s cards are on the table. It’s an open hand game of poker.
Lewandowski has confirmed both his rejection of a new contract and his desire to leave Bayern Munich, and those developments have been echoed by Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidžić.
“I can confirm that I spoke to Hasan and informed him that the decision was made and that I am not extending my contract with Bayern,” Lewandowski told Sky Germany after Bayern’s last Bundesliga game of the season, in which he scored his Bundesliga-leading 35th goal of the campaign. “Both sides have to think about the future. It’s best if we find the best solution for both sides.
“I said to Salihamidžić that if an offer comes, then we have to think about it—also for the club. Both sides have to think about the future. That’s all I can say.”
Salihamidžić followed up by saying, “I spoke with Lewa. In that discussion he informed me that he does not want to accept our offer to extend the contract and that we would like to leave the club. He said he wants to do something else. But our position has not changed. The fact is he has a contract by June 30, 2023.”
That contract line seems to be the primary Bayern talking point, as everyone involved tries to leverage up in the situation. Bayern knows it doesn’t have to sell, and it knows Lewandowski enough to know he won’t sandbag next season—especially as he gets into World Cup shape leading into November. It is also keenly aware of the past, in which he previously desired a move to Real Madrid, only for it to not develop. Nobody will want this very successful marriage to have a bitter ending, but Bayern doesn’t appear to have any interest in outwardly helping to accelerate and facilitate its star’s exit.
“Robert Lewandowski has a contract until June 30, 2023, and will play for us until then,” Bayern president Herbert Hainer told Sport1 on Sunday. “When you sign a contract, and I’ve been doing that my whole career, both parties know what’s in it. We can’t speak of ‘forcing’ someone to fulfill their contract.”
Oliver Kahn, the club’s CEO, told German TV station BR, “We know this alarmism from the past. It’s not something that causes us a headache. We made an offer to his agent. He rejected this offer. That’s his right. The fact is: He has a contract and he will fulfill it.
“We are very clear and consistent about that. That’s the way things are here at Bayern. There is no player above the club.”
Not even Lewandowski, apparently, a player who has won everything possible at Bayern, claiming a Bundesliga title in all eight seasons since leaving Dortmund for Bayern in one of the most definitive and impactful free transfers ever. If he is forced to play out his contract, he could leave for free once again. You never know what’s going through a player’s mind in a given moment unless it’s explicitly spelled out, but the way Lewandowski applauded Bayern’s traveling supporters after the season finale at Wolfsburg sure looked like a player who planned on being elsewhere next season.
The possibilities, should he leave, range from confusing to mildly intriguing, but eight years is a long time, and as Lewandowski enters the final stage of his career—one that could last for quite a while given his physique, track record and ability— he’s contemplating a change of scenery.
Joining Barcelona—the apparent frontrunner—and attempting to be the centerpiece of the club’s revival at 33 would certainly represent a challenge (and a contrast to the club’s nucleus of young talent), but Barça coming up with the necessary fee to pry him loose while also funding his wages could prove to be an obstacle.
Going to PSG as Mbappé’s nominal replacement and teaming with Lionel Messi and Neymar would surely be desirable for the French club and soften the blow of losing Mbappé to Real Madrid, but Ligue 1 is a demonstrative step down from the Bundesliga, and after already playing for a club where the Champions League is the end-all, it’s difficult to envision him wanting PSG and another league where domestic achievements are played down.
Reuniting with Jürgen Klopp, his former manager at Dortmund, at Liverpool would be quite the counter to City’s signing of Haaland, but it only makes sense if the club offloads one of Sadio Mané or Mohamed Salah (who are also out of contract after the 2022 –23 season), and if Liverpool is going to do that, spending big on an older alternative doesn’t really fit the club’s recent model (see: Diogo Jota, Luis Díaz).
Should Chelsea find a buyer for Romelu Lukaku one summer after making him the most expensive player in club history, it would create a glaring opening at Stamford Bridge, and what better way for incoming owner Todd Boehly to make a statement than by plucking the Polish star and plugging him in? The confluence of a move to England to a club with title hopes both domestic and continental, could make Chelsea an attractive solution—provided its sale goes through without an issue and restrictions are removed.
But all of these hypotheticals can become reality only if Bayern will acquiesce. It knows first-hand what comes of giving away Lewandowski for free, but it also knows what losing such a prolific goalscorer could mean for the short-term without a clear successor ready to step in and fill the void.
“From what I hear and it’s also my opinion, you don’t give him away,” honorary Bayern president Uli Hoeneß said amid Bayern’s Bundesliga title celebrations. “The whole circus will be finished on Sept. 2 [after the transfer window closes]; we can live with that. I’ve always known Robert to be a top professional. He also knew for a year beforehand in Dortmund that he would go to Bayern and he played an outstanding season at the time. That’s why I’m 100% certain that Robert will play very well for us next year.”
Sunday brought the announcement of two significant farewells, with Atlético Madrid confirming Luis Suárez’s departure, while Paulo Dybala penned a note explaining how he wouldn’t be coming back to Juventus next season. Paul Pogba is out of contract at Man United and also reportedly headed elsewhere, to either PSG or back to Juventus for a second stint in Turin. Haaland is already gone, and Mbappé is close behind. The winds of change are blowing across Europe and sweeping up some of the finest talents on the planet. And the one who is the most accomplished of them all is hoping to be caught up in it.
“He’ll be difficult to replace,” Bayern star Joshua Kimmich said. “On the other hand, if a player says he wants to leave the club, then the club has to prepare for that and look around.”
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