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January 22, 2023

Jhe 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 no one believes he will lower the tools and create a fuss if they choose to keep him for another year. He loves his job. He loves his colleagues. He has a level of self-respect that means he will continue diligently even if his bosses treat him outrageously. He doesn’t want to disappoint anyone, let alone himself.

This, after all, is a striker so dedicated to his craft and self-improvement that he eats his meals upside down, dessert first, because he thinks it lowers his body fat. He turns 34 in August, but looks younger. Since 2013, he has only missed 24 games through injury. He’s not going to go on strike or be disruptive. He’s not going to go through the steps while concentrating on his golf. When he stayed one more season than he wanted at Borussia Dortmund before joining Bayern, he registered 20 out of 31 league starts.

That makes him exploitable – and football is a dirty world in which, at the end of the day, everyone seeks to exploit everyone else. Loyalty and team spirit are celebrated, players are hailed for being great servants to a club, but no one should doubt that the masters will fire them if need be.

That’s why players need protection and agents are a necessary evil – even though the current economic situation in football may increasingly mean that the best do what Kylian Mbappé did and cancel their contracts to raise salaries .

Lewandowski signed up with Pini Zahavi in ​​February 2018 and since then there have been repeated whispers about him wanting to leave Bayern. Zahavi is a former journalist who realized early on that the best way to maximize his income was to switch newspapers every four or five years.

Money is part of it, of course, but there’s also the feeling that Lewandowski needs a new challenge. He won 10 Bundesliga titles, including eight 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. There’s also no sense of unfinished business or a quest awaiting completion: Bayern won the Champions League in 2020. Maybe he could stay another two or three years. , score another 100 goals, pick up a few more medals, but what would that mean?

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

But the truth is that it concerns Bayern as much as Lewandowski. Their handling of the situation was typically clumsy. 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 had the slightest chance to give his opinion.

Lewandowksi has been unsettled by Bayern’s pursuit of Erling Haaland during negotiations over his contract extension. He made his unease known after the last league game of the season, saying no “concrete offer” had been made. Salihamidzic’s response only fanned the flames. “He had 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 conditions. turned his head and turned it all year It’s not clean.

That same weekend, Bayern CEO Oliver Kahn bluntly stated that Lewandowski had one year left on his contract and should fulfill it. He only replaced Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in the role last summer and, while there was never too much diplomacy at Bayern, there is a feeling his predecessor may have behaved differently. Lewandowski, who scored 50 goals last season, was injured. “Bayern”, said a source close to Lewandowski, “lost him not as a football player but as a human being”.

It may be a version of events shaped by Lewandowski and his people, all part of a longer negotiation process. But what is clear is that Lewandowski’s tone changed two weeks ago. Where Zahavi had rejected offers, they are suddenly welcome. Barcelona appear to be the preferred destination (although it’s unclear how they could afford it given their financial situation), but Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal have also shown interest – although it is unlikely to move to a club that is not in the Champions League. League.

“As of today, my story at Bayern is over,” Lewandowski said on Tuesday. “After what’s happened in the past 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 scored for Bayern Munich against Arsenal in November 2015, in his second season at the Bavarian club. Photography: Boris Streubel/Getty Images

Kahn fired back. “Public statements like that get you nowhere,” he said, in a public statement that ignored the fact that he had stoked the unease. “He should know what he has at Bayern. Appreciation is not a one-way street.

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

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

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

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