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Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich and the Bitter End

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Robert Lewandowski doesn’t, in his own words, prefer to make “an excessive amount of show.” He’s, and all the time has been, a touch more impassive than the common superstar. He doesn’t greet his goals, those which have come for thus long in such improbable quantities, with a roar, or a leap, or a scream. As a substitute, he grins. For the really good ones, he might go thus far as a beam.

He is similar off the sector. Lewandowski is warm, smart, immediately likable, but his charisma is more subtle, more regular than that possessed by his peers, the best players of his generation. He doesn’t have the bombastic streak of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He doesn’t relish the highlight quite like Cristiano Ronaldo.

His Instagram account encapsulates it. There are, after all, occasional glimpses of yachts and supercars and picture-postcard tropical vacations — he continues to be a millionaire soccer player, and it continues to be Instagram — but they’re interspersed with images of Robert Lewandowski, the purest striker of the trendy era, pushing a toddler’s stroller at Legoland, and Robert Lewandowski, serial German champion, tickling a small dog.

The impression he has cultivated, over time, is of a player who regards the entire attention, the entire glamour, the entire noise not as an unavoidable consequence of his work, or whilst an unwelcome distraction. As a substitute, he has all the time treated it as an lively hindrance. Lewandowski’s job is to attain goals. He is nice at it, and he is nice at it because he takes it extremely seriously.

All of which has made the last two weeks something of an outlier. For perhaps the primary time in his profession, on the age of 34, Lewandowski has suddenly gone rogue.

It began last month, not long after the ticker-tape that accompanied Bayern Munich’s tenth straight Bundesliga had been cleared away, when he declared — publicly — that he wanted to go away the club where he has spent eight seasons, the height of his glittering profession, immediately. “What is for certain in the mean time is that my profession at Bayern is over,” he said.

That was unexpected enough, the silent, reluctant superstar suddenly leveraging all of his renown, all of his influence, all of his clout to make as much noise as possible. However it didn’t end there. As a substitute, Lewandowski has doubled down, repeatedly. He has insisted that he doesn’t need to “force” his way out of Bayern. As ever with Lewandowski, his actions speak for themselves.

In a series of interviews — at almost any given opportunity — he has chastised Bayern for its lack of “respect” and “loyalty,” its apparent refusal to search out a “mutually agreeable solution,” its failure to “hearken to me until the very end.” He said that “something within me died, and it’s inconceivable to recover from that.”

Perhaps most seriously, he intimated that his treatment might make other players reluctant to hitch the club. “What form of player will need to go to Bayern knowing that something like this might occur to them?” he asked. Of all of the sideswipes, all of the jabs, that felt probably the most damaging, probably the most irretrievable. “I need to go away Bayern,” he has said, in various formats, again and again. “That is evident.”

From the surface, it just isn’t immediately apparent why that ought to be, why Lewandowski — with a 12 months left on his Bayern contract — would have taken such a provocative path with the intention to secure his release.

In spite of everything he has achieved in Germany — eight league championships in a row at Bayern, to go together with two he won at Borussia Dortmund, a Champions League title, sundry domestic cups, and greater than 40 goals across all competitions in each of the last seven seasons — he can be forgiven for wanting a change of scenery, a distinct challenge, to finish his profession at Barcelona, say. His approach, though, suggests something deeper is at play.

As is traditional, soccer has tried to reply that query by imbuing trivial details with tremendous narrative power. A number of weeks ago, a report within the German outlet TZ revealed, Lewandowski had exchanged indignant words with Julian Nagelsmann, Bayern’s young coach, when it was suggested that the latter might like to vary his striker’s positioning when competing to win headers.

Lewandowski, not unreasonably, identified that his profession statistics quite suggested that he knew what he was doing. Yet when the inevitable meta-analysis of the incident was conducted, it was concluded that not only did Lewandowski not respect Nagelsmann — whose playing profession prolonged no further than his teens — almost definitely the remaining of the Bayern squad didn’t, either.

It just isn’t with Nagelsmann, though, that Lewandowski’s relationship has collapsed. Such encounters usually are not exactly rare. Nagelsmann is, by all accounts, broadly popular with Bayern’s players, who admire his verve and his ideas, even when they continue to be barely skeptical about his effectiveness after his first season.

As a substitute, the issue has its roots elsewhere in Bayern’s hierarchy. Amid the blizzard of words produced first by after which about Lewandowski, probably 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 told the German outlet Bild. “Bayern didn’t lose the player Lewandowski. They lost the person, Robert.”

The source of that tension might be present in Bayern’s ill-concealed, and ultimately futile, pursuit of Erling Haaland. Hasan Salihamidzic, a decorated player in Munich on the turn of the century now installed because the club’s sporting director, had earmarked Haaland as Lewandowski’s eventual alternative. When it became clear to Lewandowski that the club was contemplating his demise whilst he closed in yet one more record-breaking season, he felt an unspoken covenant had been broken.

It might not soothe Lewandowski’s ego, but it surely can be remiss of Bayern to not be considering who will, in some unspecified time in the future, step into his shoes; irrespective of what order you eat your meals in, in some unspecified time in the future time comes for us all. Where Salihamidzic erred was in allowing his vision to develop into public; or, more accurately, in allowing it to develop into public after which not succeeding in signing Haaland. Unexpectedly, Bayern had a disaffected superstar and no alternative.

Which will have ramifications beyond Lewandowski’s immediate future: As he has made abundantly clear, barring an unlikely change of heart, that may now lie elsewhere. “Breakups are a part of football,” he said.

For Bayern, though, that will only be the primary issue. For a club that has spent the last decade collecting trophies so serenely that it has develop into possible to assume a world wherein it wins the Bundesliga in perpetuity, this can be a delicate time. Not by way of its domestic primacy — that, sadly, is now hard-wired into the system — but most actually in its attempts to compete in Europe.

Bayern has been in a position to ride 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 only due to its industrial potency, its operational expertise and its corporate appeal, but since it functions essentially as a Bundesliga Select XI.

Every 12 months, Bayern has cherry-picked one of the best talent from the remaining of Germany — often using the lure of guaranteed trophies and an inevitable place within the latter stages of the Champions League as leverage to pay a cheaper price — to fill out its roster. This has a twin profit: It weakens domestic competition, and enables Bayern to match, and infrequently to beat, the arriviste elite elsewhere.

Lewandowski, plucked on a free transfer from Dortmund, stood as a logo of that approach when he arrived; in the mean time of his departure, he may perhaps signal the necessity for its abandonment. The Bundesliga’s clubs, in spite of everything, have never desired to sell to Bayern, and now, provided that Germany is the cash-soaked Premier League’s bazaar of selection, they wouldn’t have to. English teams pay more, they usually don’t insist on beating you twice a season afterward.

Bayern will, as an alternative, need to plot one other course. It can have to start out to supply more lucrative salaries — its approach for Liverpool’s Sadio Mané suggests that realization has arrived — and it might even must discover other markets, other demographics, from which to source its recruits.

It should have to try this at a time when its institutional knowledge is within the hands of Oliver Kahn, an intelligent, imposing figure but still relatively inexperienced in his role, and Salihamidzic, whose record within the transfer market was mixed even before his part in the approaching lack of Lewandowski.

Bayern has weathered the changes in soccer’s ecosystem by sticking, unabashedly, to an approach that produced results, and by entrusting its fate to a grizzled, respected set of executives. For a decade, it has worked. Without much fuss, without an excessive amount of show, Bayern Munich has constructed probably the most successful period in its history. The general public, toxic departure of Lewandowski is the primary hint of rust at the guts of the massive red machine.

It’s possible you’ll not have noticed — it’s possible you’ll, in reality, have taken very deliberate steps to avoid it — but, even deep into June, soccer refuses to be stopped. In addition to a raft of exhibition games and qualifying matches for the subsequent African Cup of Nations, there have, on the time of writing, already been two rounds of Nations League games in Europe.

And the excellent news is, in case you missed them, there are two more to come back: After an extended, arduous season that got here on the back of one other long, arduous season and a sprawling European Championship, Europe’s elite men’s players will finally get a vacation starting on June 15.

All of this was deemed obligatory, after all, because someone decided to squeeze a World Cup into the center of the normal European season. They did it for entirely honorable reasons, though, in order that’s all high-quality. Likewise, it is tough to begrudge the coaches of the planet’s various national teams for feeling that they may prefer to have no less than a little bit of time working with their players before they determine 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, though, feels counterproductive. The tournament is UEFA’s nascent pride and joy — no less than on the international level — and, when the season’s schedule was being mapped out, it made clear that it was not prepared to position it on hiatus with the intention to afford the players a rest. Doing so, the organization nervous, would stifle all of the momentum the event had built.

Sadly, the choice could also be even worse. The Nations League is being played out to a backdrop of complete indifference from fans and barely-concealed irritation from the players; Kevin De Bruyne, for one, has made it clear he thinks it’s an entire waste of his, and everybody else’s, time. Unexpectedly, the Nations League has develop into exactly what it was meant to exchange: a series of meaningless games which can be met with apathy or resentment.

Evidently there’s a broad range of views among the many On Soccer Newsletter community concerning the fiasco that marred last month’s Champions League final, and I’ll do my best to represent them.

Let’s start with Christopher Smith. “On the African Cup of Nations, there was a stampede on the Olembé Stadium wherein eight people died,” he wrote. “I don’t recall seeing anything just like the indictment of France and UEFA being leveled at Cameroon and C.A.F. In actual fact, no less than in your newsletter, this event doesn’t appear to have merited a mention in any respect.”

These are valid points. I might suggest that there was loads of condemnation of each Cameroon and African soccer’s authorities, but I might agree that UEFA attracted more. This just isn’t a straightforward sentiment to specific, but I believe that’s just because the Champions League final is a way more high-profile event. That doesn’t make it right, after all, but it surely is (almost definitely) the determining factor.

That the Olembé tragedy didn’t appear in this text was an oversight, but I might no less than direct you to the coverage of each the disaster and the tournament elsewhere in The Times.

Others focused, as an alternative, on the stress between the French authorities’ version of events near Paris and the experiences of the fans themselves. “My only thought is how close we got here to a different Hillsborough,” wrote Alicia Lorvo. “The fans were traumatized at what was alleged to be a completely satisfied, fun event. The individuals who were there with real tickets should be compensated. France should be forced to carry an independent inquiry. The situation is intolerable.”

Teresa Olson, sadly, was not surprised. “It was not the fans, however the utter indifference to accommodating the sellout crowd effectively,” she wrote. “We had the identical experience in the course of the Women’s World Cup in 2019. Gates weren’t opened until there was physically no way they may process everyone, and there was complete indifference as as to if the fans could get to their seats in time for the games.”

It’s important to do not forget that, I feel: The way in which the Champions League final was policed just isn’t unusual in France. The authorities followed their playbook, with one slight twist, explained by Javier Cortés. “With all due respect, most of us still think that English fans are (for probably the most part) unbearably conceited who are inclined to violence once they’ve just a few beers of their bellies,” he wrote. “English fans are generally not well-liked outside their islands.”

Or inside them, because it happens. No one enjoys criticizing the English greater than the English, Javier, and there isn’t a query that the behavior of some English fans on foreign trips might be abominable. That clearly played into the considering of the French authorities.

The counterargument would run that Liverpool has been to 2 other Champions League finals in recent times, in Kyiv and Madrid, with no trouble in any respect. Problems don’t trail in its fans’ wake. More vital, that line of argument prompts the query as as to if funneling all of those risk aspects into one place, after which locking them outside of a stadium, is actually one of the best technique to allay your worst fears. I’d suggest that it just isn’t.

Larry Machacek saw the situation along similar lines. “I conjure up images of drunk and cocaine-fueled young men, particularly the one with a flare lodged in a private space, and the stories of Italian fans kicked in the top,” he wrote. “A number of bad apples can and do tarnish the lot. France has successfully hosted many major sporting events and can proceed to accomplish that. How about advising readers of the outcomes of last 12 months’s Euro 2020 fiasco at Wembley? Are there any profound learnings from the U.K. you’d recommend?”

My instinct on the primary point is comparable to my response to Javier: I’m unsure there’s any evidence of gaggles of Liverpool fans engaging within the kind of mayhem we saw in London, and I’m not convinced that it’s fair to decree them guilty until they’ve arrived. Doing so belies an ignorance of the differences between fans’ following a club and (a minority of) fans who follow England. They aren’t the identical people, they usually don’t behave in the identical way.

On the second, it’s indisputable that what happened at Wembley last 12 months was no kind of appalling than what happened in Paris. The issue, in each cases, was with the way of response: Where the French were too heavy-handed, the English were too laissez-faire. There was no try and control the group in anyway until it was too late.

The lesson, then, is that neither of those approaches work, and that UEFA needs to acknowledge that. It must have a way of best practices for a way these occasions are managed, and central to it ought to be the principle that fans, wherever they’re from, are welcome guests to be treated with respect, quite than an issue to be faced.

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