Sports

Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich and the Bitter End

Robert Lewandowski doesn’t, in his personal phrases, prefer to make “too much show.” He is, and all the time has been, a contact extra emotionless than the common celebrity. He doesn’t greet his objectives, the ones which have come for therefore lengthy in such unbelievable portions, with a roar, or a leap, or a scream. Instead, he grins. For the actually good ones, he may go as far as a beam.

He is the identical off the area. Lewandowski is heat, sensible, instantly likable, however his charisma is extra refined, extra regular than that possessed by his friends, the best gamers of his era. He doesn’t have the bombastic streak of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He doesn’t relish the highlight fairly like Cristiano Ronaldo.

His Instagram account encapsulates it. There are, in fact, occasional glimpses of yachts and supercars and picture-postcard tropical holidays — he’s nonetheless a millionaire soccer participant, and it’s nonetheless Instagram — however they’re interspersed with photos of Robert Lewandowski, the purest striker of the trendy period, pushing a baby’s stroller at Legoland, and Robert Lewandowski, serial German champion, tickling a small canine.

The impression he has cultivated, over the years, is of a participant who regards all of the consideration, all of the glamour, all of the noise not as an unavoidable consequence of his work, and even as an unwelcome distraction. Instead, he has all the time handled it as an energetic hindrance. Lewandowski’s job is to attain objectives. He is sweet at it, and he’s good at it as a result of he takes it extraordinarily severely.

All of which has made the final two weeks one thing of an outlier. For maybe the first time in his career, at the age of 34, Lewandowski has immediately gone rogue.

It began final month, not lengthy after the ticker-tape that accompanied Bayern Munich’s tenth straight Bundesliga had been cleared away, when he declared — publicly — that he needed to depart the membership the place he has spent eight seasons, the peak of his glittering career, immediately. “What is certain at the moment is that my career at Bayern is over,” he stated.

That was surprising sufficient, the silent, reluctant celebrity immediately leveraging all of his renown, all of his affect, all of his clout to make as a lot noise as attainable. But it didn’t finish there. Instead, Lewandowski has doubled down, once more and once more. He has insisted that he doesn’t wish to “force” his means out of Bayern. As ever with Lewandowski, his actions communicate for themselves.

In a sequence of interviews — at virtually any given alternative — he has chastised Bayern for its lack of “respect” and “loyalty,” its obvious refusal to discover a “mutually agreeable solution,” its failure to “listen to me until the very end.” He stated that “something inside of me died, and it is impossible to get over that.”

Perhaps most severely, he intimated that his remedy may make different gamers reluctant to hitch the membership. “What kind of player will want to go to Bayern knowing that something like this could happen to them?” he requested. Of all the sideswipes, all the jabs, that felt the most damaging, the most irretrievable. “I want to leave Bayern,” he has stated, in varied codecs, over and over. “That is clear.”

From the outdoors, it’s not instantly obvious why that must be, why Lewandowski — with a year left on his Bayern contract — would have taken such a provocative path with a purpose to safe his launch.

After all he has achieved in Germany — eight league championships in a row at Bayern, to go together with two he gained at Borussia Dortmund, a Champions League title, sundry home cups, and greater than 40 objectives throughout all competitions in every of the final seven seasons — he can be forgiven for wanting a change of surroundings, a special problem, to finish his career at Barcelona, say. His strategy, although, suggests one thing deeper is at play.

As is conventional, soccer has tried to answer that question by imbuing trivial particulars with super narrative energy. Just a few weeks in the past, a report in the German outlet TZ revealed, Lewandowski had exchanged indignant phrases with Julian Nagelsmann, Bayern’s younger coach, when it was instructed that the latter may like to vary his striker’s positioning when competing to win headers.

Lewandowski, not unreasonably, identified that his career statistics moderately instructed that he knew what he was doing. Yet when the inevitable meta-analysis of the incident was performed, it was concluded that not solely did Lewandowski not respect Nagelsmann — whose enjoying career prolonged no additional than his teenagers — most definitely the remainder of the Bayern squad didn’t, both.

It isn’t with Nagelsmann, although, that Lewandowski’s relationship has collapsed. Such encounters will not be precisely uncommon. Nagelsmann is, by all accounts, broadly widespread with Bayern’s gamers, who admire his verve and his concepts, even when they continue to be barely skeptical about his effectiveness after his first season.

Instead, the downside has its roots elsewhere in Bayern’s hierarchy. Amid the blizzard of phrases produced first by and then about Lewandowski, the most incisive got here from his agent, the not-exactly-wildly-popular Pini Zahavi. “He hasn’t felt respected by the people in charge for months,” Zahavi advised the German outlet Bild. “Bayern didn’t lose the player Lewandowski. They lost the person, Robert.”

The supply of that rigidity may be present in Bayern’s ill-concealed, and in the end futile, pursuit of Erling Haaland. Hasan Salihamidzic, a adorned participant in Munich at the flip of the century now put in as the membership’s sporting director, had earmarked Haaland as Lewandowski’s eventual substitute. When it turned clear to Lewandowski that the membership was considering his demise whilst he closed in one more record-breaking season, he felt an unstated covenant had been damaged.

It might not soothe Lewandowski’s ego, however it will be remiss of Bayern to not be contemplating who will, sooner or later, step into his sneakers; it doesn’t matter what order you eat your meals in, sooner or later time comes for us all. Where Salihamidzic erred was in permitting his imaginative and prescient to develop into public; or, extra precisely, in permitting it to develop into public and then not succeeding in signing Haaland. All of a sudden, Bayern had a disaffected celebrity and no substitute.

That might have ramifications past Lewandowski’s fast future: As he has made abundantly clear, barring an unlikely change of coronary heart, that can now lie elsewhere. “Breakups are part of football,” he stated.

For Bayern, although, which will solely be the first concern. For a membership that has spent the final decade amassing trophies so serenely that it has develop into attainable to think about a world through which it wins the Bundesliga in perpetuity, this can be a delicate time. Not by way of its home primacy — that, sadly, is now hard-wired into the system — however most definitely in its makes an attempt to compete in Europe.

Bayern has been in a position to experience out the rise of the petro-clubs, Manchester City and Paris St.-Germain, higher than the likes of Juventus, Barcelona and to some extent Real Madrid not solely due to its industrial efficiency, its operational experience and its company enchantment, however as a result of it capabilities primarily as a Bundesliga Select XI.

Every year, Bayern has cherry-picked the finest expertise from the remainder of Germany — typically utilizing the lure of assured trophies and an inevitable place in the latter phases of the Champions League as leverage to pay a lower cost — to fill out its roster. This has a twin profit: It weakens home competitors, and permits Bayern to match, and often to beat, the arriviste elite elsewhere.

Lewandowski, plucked on a free switch from Dortmund, stood as a logo of that strategy when he arrived; at the second of his departure, he might nicely sign the want for its abandonment. The Bundesliga’s golf equipment, in any case, have by no means needed to promote to Bayern, and now, provided that Germany is the cash-soaked Premier League’s bazaar of selection, they don’t have to. English groups pay extra, and they don’t insist on beating you twice a season afterward.

Bayern will, as a substitute, should plot one other course. It might should begin to supply extra profitable salaries — its strategy for Liverpool’s Sadio Mané means that realization has arrived — and it might even have to establish different markets, different demographics, from which to supply its recruits.

It must do this at a time when its institutional information is in the fingers of Oliver Kahn, an clever, imposing determine however nonetheless comparatively inexperienced in his function, and Salihamidzic, whose report in the switch market was combined even earlier than his half in the impending lack of Lewandowski.

Bayern has weathered the adjustments in soccer’s ecosystem by sticking, unabashedly, to an strategy that produced outcomes, and by entrusting its destiny to a grizzled, revered set of executives. For a decade, it has labored. Without a lot fuss, with out an excessive amount of present, Bayern Munich has constructed the most profitable interval in its historical past. The public, poisonous departure of Lewandowski is the first trace of rust at the coronary heart of the large purple machine.

You might not have observed — you might, in actual fact, have taken very deliberate steps to keep away from it — however, even deep into June, soccer refuses to be stopped. As nicely as a raft of exhibition video games and qualifying matches for the subsequent African Cup of Nations, there have, at the time of writing, already been two rounds of Nations League video games in Europe.

And the excellent news is, in case you missed them, there are two extra to come back: After an extended, arduous season that got here on the again of one other lengthy, arduous season and a sprawling European Championship, Europe’s elite males’s gamers will lastly get a trip beginning on June 15.

All of this was deemed crucial, in fact, as a result of somebody determined to squeeze a World Cup into the center of the conventional European season. They did it for totally honorable causes, although, in order that’s all advantageous. Likewise, it’s laborious to begrudge the coaches of the planet’s varied nationwide groups for feeling that they may prefer to have at the least a little bit of time working with their gamers earlier than they resolve who will, and who won’t, be a part of their plans for Qatar in November.

The choice to plow on with the Nations League, although, feels counterproductive. The event is UEFA’s nascent satisfaction and pleasure — at the least at the worldwide stage — and, when the season’s schedule was being mapped out, it made clear that it was not ready to position it on hiatus with a purpose to afford the gamers a relaxation. Doing so, the group frightened, would stifle all the momentum the occasion had constructed.

Sadly, the various could also be even worse. The Nations League is being performed out to a backdrop of full indifference from followers and barely-concealed irritation from the gamers; Kevin De Bruyne, for one, has made it clear he thinks it’s a full waste of his, and everybody else’s, time. All of a sudden, the Nations League has develop into precisely what it was meant to exchange: a sequence of meaningless video games which might be met with apathy or resentment.

It appears that there’s a broad vary of views amongst the On Soccer Newsletter group about the fiasco that marred final month’s Champions League closing, and I’ll do my finest to characterize them.

Let’s begin with Christopher Smith. “At the African Cup of Nations, there was a stampede at the Olembé Stadium in which eight people died,” he wrote. “I don’t recall seeing anything like the indictment of France and UEFA being leveled at Cameroon and C.A.F. In fact, at least in your newsletter, this event doesn’t seem to have merited a mention at all.”

These are legitimate factors. I might counsel that there was loads of condemnation of each Cameroon and African soccer’s authorities, however I might agree that UEFA attracted extra. This isn’t a straightforward sentiment to specific, however I think that’s just because the Champions League closing is a much more high-profile occasion. That doesn’t make it proper, in fact, however it’s (most definitely) the figuring out issue.

That the Olembé tragedy didn’t seem on this publication was an oversight, however I might at the least direct you to the protection of each the catastrophe and the event elsewhere in The Times.

Others centered, as a substitute, on the rigidity between the French authorities’ model of occasions close to Paris and the experiences of the followers themselves. “My only thought is how close we came to another Hillsborough,” wrote Alicia Lorvo. “The fans were traumatized at what was supposed to be a happy, fun event. The people who were there with real tickets must be compensated. France must be forced to hold an independent inquiry. The situation is intolerable.”

Teresa Olson, sadly, was not stunned. “It was not the fans, but the utter indifference to accommodating the sellout crowd effectively,” she wrote. “We had the same experience during the Women’s World Cup in 2019. Gates were not opened until there was physically no way they could process everyone, and there was complete indifference as to whether the fans could get to their seats in time for the games.”

It is vital to keep in mind that, I feel: The means the Champions League closing was policed isn’t uncommon in France. The authorities adopted their playbook, with one slight twist, defined by Javier Cortés. “With all due respect, most of us still think that English fans are (for the most part) unbearably arrogant who tend to violence once they have a few beers in their bellies,” he wrote. “English fans are generally not well-liked outside their islands.”

Or inside them, because it occurs. Nobody enjoys criticizing the English greater than the English, Javier, and there isn’t a question that the habits of some English followers on overseas journeys may be abominable. That clearly performed into the pondering of the French authorities.

The counterargument would run that Liverpool has been to 2 different Champions League finals lately, in Kyiv and Madrid, with no bother in any respect. Problems don’t path in its followers’ wake. More vital, that line of argument prompts the question as as to if funneling all of those threat components into one place, and then locking them outdoors of a stadium, is absolutely the finest method to allay your worst fears. I’d counsel that it’s not.

Larry Machacek noticed the state of affairs alongside comparable traces. “I conjure up images of drunk and cocaine-fueled young men, particularly the one with a flare lodged in a personal space, and the stories of Italian fans kicked in the head,” he wrote. “A few bad apples can and do tarnish the lot. France has successfully hosted many major sporting events and will continue to do so. How about advising readers of the outcomes of last year’s Euro 2020 fiasco at Wembley? Are there any profound learnings from the U.K. you would recommend?”

My intuition on the first level is much like my response to Javier: I’m undecided there may be any proof of gaggles of Liverpool followers partaking in the form of mayhem we noticed in London, and I’m not satisfied that it’s truthful to decree them responsible till they’ve arrived. Doing so belies an ignorance of the variations between followers’ following a membership and (a minority of) followers who observe England. They aren’t the identical individuals, and they don’t behave in the identical means.

On the second, it’s indeniable that what occurred at Wembley final year was no roughly appalling than what occurred in Paris. The downside, in each circumstances, was with the method of response: Where the French have been too heavy-handed, the English have been too laissez-faire. There was no try to regulate the crowd in any respect till it was too late.

The lesson, then, is that neither of these approaches work, and that UEFA wants to acknowledge that. It ought to have a way of finest practices for a way these events are managed, and central to it must be the precept that followers, wherever they’re from, are welcome friends to be handled with respect, moderately than an issue to be confronted.

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