Robert Lewandowski has become one of the most polarizing figures on the Bayern Munich roster over the past three months. From the hiring of agent Pini Zahavi to the practice scuffle with Mats Hummels, to the “will he or won’t he” transfer drama, to his underwhelming Champions League performance against Real Madrid, and finally to the Saturday report that his last two weeks of training have been “lazy and listless.”
We pulled a sampling of our writers together and asked them: “Do you still have faith in Lewandowski’s ability during big games and is he worth fighting to retain given all of the rumors?”
Personally, I think Lewandowski is the best striker in Germany. I mean, the man has 28 goals in the Bundesliga, five in the Champions League, and 39 total. Yes, I agree that he had an underwhelming game in the first leg against Madrid. In all honesty though, only Ribery and Kimmich had a good day. We know what Lewy is capable of; we have seen it time and time again. The problem we would run into if he left is whether the person we replace him with would be better? Is that an easy question? No. Unless it is Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar, Salah (ATM), or Kane. But still in my opinion Lewandowski is better than Salah and Kane. So I think we should just settle down and enjoy him while we have him.
To me, the essential issue of this nascent Lewandowski controversy is whether or not Lewandowski is “clutch.” This is one of the favorite dead horses that the people yelling on ESPN or FS1 like to beat; conversely it is one of the least productive debates to have about an athlete. Let’s remember: Alex Rodriguez was not clutch, then he was. LeBron James? Not clutch; now he has three rings. The fundamental issue with this conversation is that being “clutch” is subjective.
Whichever side of the debate you fall on, you will find the evidence to back you up; we all suffer from confirmation bias. We also end up looking at a much smaller sample size (like, say, four Champions League matches) to assess a player who is competing in upwards of fifty matches in a season. The more big matches Lewandowski plays in, the statistics will inevitably bear out. So back to the original question: Is Lewy worth it? Of course he is. Strikers of his quality are not a dime a dozen. He gets Bayern Munich into the big matches. If his performance on those stages fails to live up to our expectations as fans, it is not a problem with him; it is with us, since we are being impatient while waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Contrary to what I presume to be popular opinion, I still think that Robert Lewandowski 100% has the ability to be a difference maker in big matches. I personally think that so much of the hype surrounding him supposedly wanting to move to Real Madrid is just that: hype. I think the one problem he has is that he sometimes believes that he’s one of the only players who can make a difference when everything’s going against Bayern. He shouldn’t think that way, but at times he certainly does. With that aside, though, I still think he’s one of the best number 9 strikers in the game right now, and his goal-scoring record speaks for itself.
Had there never been heavy transfer rumors, people may not have made as much of Lewy’s lackluster performance in the first leg against Real Madrid, to be quite honest. There also were quite a few players in the squad that night who played far worse than Lewy. Lastly, in my opinion, this is the worst possible time to question our number 9; we have a deficit to overturn midweek in Madrid and Bundesliga matches to win between now and the end of May. If his attitude is crappy at that point, fine, then we can really have a go at him, but right now, we should be fully backing him and his incredible ability in front of goal.
Conclusion by Chuck Smith
It has been fiercely debated here and elsewhere since Zahavi’s hiring, whether or not Bayern would ultimately cave to Lewandowski’s alleged demands and sell. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has gone as far to say he would bet that Lewandowski would be back.
[Lewandowski’s] an extremely important element of our team and perhaps the best number nine in Europe. I would readily take the bet that Robert will 100 percent be playing for Bayern next season.
It is against the mold of Bayern to sell players that they do not want to unload; especially in the case of Lewandowski whose contract runs through 2021. If the recent reports of Lewandowski’s training habits are true, however, the team will have to closely examine a similar question to what we are asking: “Is he worth the headache?”
If they sell, Bayern would be left trying to compete against Champions League competition with Sandro Wagner as the primary scoring option. And while Wagner has been nothing short of brilliant in his return to Bayern, he is already 30 and not a viable long-term option.
The potential solution if Bayern decides to sell
Given the German-centric focus of the Bayern Munich management team, the two primary options that fit the bill as young, German, and dynamic are Jann Fiete Arp and Timo Werner. Werner, who is just 22, battle-tested and potentially headed for a breakthrough summer with Die Mannschaft and Arp (18) possibly represent the best German strikers of the next generation.
Arp is already rumored to be headed to Munich if his release clause becomes activated upon Hamburger SV being relegated; while Werner has steadily hinted that he is ready to move on to bigger and better things than Leipzig.
Like many world-class athletes, Lewandowski is high maintenance and has an amplified view of himself and his “brand.” Complicating matters is that Lewandowski is at the stage of his career that makes this period incredibly difficult to manage for Bayern: The Pole is too young and too insanely productive to be considered over the hill; while not young enough to say you can pencil him in safely for the next five years. Quite simply, this whole situation would be a lot easier to solve if Lewandowski was 34 or 24 instead of 29.
The reality, however, is that Lewandowski is one of the best—if not the best—no.9 on the planet. Those types of players and that type of production are not easily replaced. Lewandowski is invariably worth the recent the trouble he’s had surrounding him, but it might be time to have a fallback plan if things gets worse.