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 targets, 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 discipline. Lewandowski is heat, good, 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, after all, 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 toddler’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 targets. He is nice at it, and he’s good at it as a result of he takes it extraordinarily significantly.
All of which has made the final two weeks one thing of an outlier. For maybe the first time in his profession, at the age of 34, Lewandowski has all of a sudden 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 profession, immediately. “What is certain at the moment is that my career at Bayern is over,” he mentioned.
That was sudden sufficient, the silent, reluctant celebrity all of a sudden 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 collection 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 mentioned that “something inside of me died, and it is impossible to get over that.”
Perhaps most significantly, he intimated that his remedy may make different gamers reluctant to affix 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 mentioned, in varied codecs, over and over. “That is clear.”
From the exterior, it isn’t instantly obvious why that ought to be, why Lewandowski — with a 12 months left on his Bayern contract — would have taken such a provocative path so as to safe his launch.
After all he has achieved in Germany — eight league championships in a row at Bayern, to go along with two he gained at Borussia Dortmund, a Champions League title, sundry home cups, and greater than 40 targets throughout all competitions in every of the final seven seasons — he could be forgiven for wanting a change of surroundings, a unique problem, to finish his profession at Barcelona, say. His method, although, suggests one thing deeper is at play.
As is conventional, soccer has tried to reply that query by imbuing trivial particulars with large narrative energy. A number of weeks in the past, a report in the German outlet TZ revealed, Lewandowski had exchanged offended phrases with Julian Nagelsmann, Bayern’s younger coach, when it was steered that the latter may like to vary his striker’s positioning when competing to win headers.
Lewandowski, not unreasonably, identified that his profession statistics somewhat steered 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 taking part in profession prolonged no additional than his teenagers — probably the remainder of the Bayern squad didn’t, both.
It will not be with Nagelsmann, although, that Lewandowski’s relationship has collapsed. Such encounters will not be precisely uncommon. Nagelsmann is, by all accounts, broadly common 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 instructed the German outlet Bild. “Bayern didn’t lose the player Lewandowski. They lost the person, Robert.”
The supply of that rigidity might be present in Bayern’s ill-concealed, and finally 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 grew to become clear to Lewandowski that the membership was considering his demise at the same time as he closed in yet one more record-breaking season, he felt an unstated covenant had been damaged.
It could not soothe Lewandowski’s ego, however it might 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 change into public; or, extra precisely, in permitting it to change into public and then not succeeding in signing Haaland. All of a sudden, Bayern had a disaffected celebrity and no substitute.
That could have ramifications past Lewandowski’s speedy 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 mentioned.
For Bayern, although, that will solely be the first subject. For a membership that has spent the final decade accumulating trophies so serenely that it has change into attainable to think about a world wherein it wins the Bundesliga in perpetuity, it is 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 journey 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 business efficiency, its operational experience and its company enchantment, however as a result of it features basically as a Bundesliga Select XI.
Every 12 months, Bayern has cherry-picked the greatest 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 cheaper price — to fill out its roster. This has a twin profit: It weakens home competitors, and permits Bayern to match, and sometimes to beat, the arriviste elite elsewhere.
Lewandowski, plucked on a free switch from Dortmund, stood as a logo of that method when he arrived; at the second of his departure, he could effectively sign the want for its abandonment. The Bundesliga’s golf equipment, in spite of everything, have by no means needed to promote to Bayern, and now, provided that Germany is the cash-soaked Premier League’s bazaar of alternative, 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 could should begin to provide extra profitable salaries — its method for Liverpool’s Sadio Mané means that realization has arrived — and it could even must establish different markets, different demographics, from which to supply its recruits.
It should do this at a time when its institutional data is in the palms of Oliver Kahn, an clever, imposing determine however nonetheless comparatively inexperienced in his function, and Salihamidzic, whose document 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 method 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 massive crimson machine.
You could not have seen — you could, in truth, have taken very deliberate steps to keep away from it — however, even deep into June, soccer refuses to be stopped. As effectively 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, should 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 vital, after all, as a result of somebody determined to squeeze a World Cup into the center of the conventional European season. They did it for fully honorable causes, although, in order that’s all wonderful. Likewise, it’s onerous to begrudge the coaches of the planet’s varied nationwide groups for feeling that they could prefer to have not less than a little bit of time working with their gamers earlier than they determine who will, and who won’t, be a part of their plans for Qatar in November.
The resolution to plow on with the Nations League, although, feels counterproductive. The match is UEFA’s nascent satisfaction and pleasure — not less than at the worldwide stage — and, when the season’s schedule was being mapped out, it made clear that it was not ready to put it on hiatus so as to afford the gamers a relaxation. Doing so, the group fearful, would stifle all the momentum the occasion had constructed.
Sadly, the different 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 change into precisely what it was meant to exchange: a collection of meaningless video games which can be met with apathy or resentment.
It appears that there’s a broad vary of views amongst the On Soccer Newsletter neighborhood about the fiasco that marred final month’s Champions League ultimate, and I’ll do my greatest to signify 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 recommend that there was loads of condemnation of each Cameroon and African soccer’s authorities, however I might agree that UEFA attracted extra. This will not be a straightforward sentiment to specific, however I think that’s just because the Champions League ultimate is a much more high-profile occasion. That doesn’t make it proper, after all, however it’s (probably) the figuring out issue.
That the Olembé tragedy didn’t seem on this e-newsletter was an oversight, however I might not less than direct you to the protection of each the catastrophe and the match 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 shocked. “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 necessary to keep in mind that, I feel: The means the Champions League ultimate was policed will not be 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 any query that the habits of some English followers on international journeys might be abominable. That clearly performed into the considering of the French authorities.
The counterargument would run that Liverpool has been to 2 different Champions League finals in recent times, in Kyiv and Madrid, with no bother in any respect. Problems don’t path in its followers’ wake. More necessary, that line of argument prompts the query as as to if funneling all of those danger elements into one place, and then locking them exterior of a stadium, is de facto the greatest solution to allay your worst fears. I’d recommend that it isn’t.
Larry Machacek noticed the state of affairs alongside related 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 unsure 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 comply with England. They aren’t the identical folks, and they don’t behave in the identical means.
On the second, it’s indeniable that what occurred at Wembley final 12 months 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 anyway 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 greatest practices for the way these events are managed, and central to it ought to be the precept that followers, wherever they’re from, are welcome company to be handled with respect, somewhat than an issue to be confronted.