David Verhoff is a reporter for Bild who has interacted with Robert Lewandowski since the Pole’s arrival in Munich and has seen at first hand how Lewandowski has changed during his time with Bayern Munich, from an exuberant arrival at Säbener Straße to the grim present.
Verhoff recalls how joyful Lewandowski was he arrived in Munich, a destination where he desperately wanted to play:
His first day in July 2014: on the way to his presentation, I meet him outside the cafeteria at Säbener Straße. “Lewy” absolutely wanted to come to Bayern; now he’s there. He greets me, flashes a smile, is relaxed. He’s always that way in the early days. We laugh later at interviews, talk about life in Munich.
But now it seems that the thrill is gone for Lewandowski. Verhoff believes several circumstances led to Lewandowski's desire to leave the club he once so eagerly joined:
After three years and certain that he won’t win the Champions League with Bayern, he’s changed. He grumbles after the 34th matchday of 2016/17 that his teammates did not serve him every ball for the Torjägerkanone. His rival, Aubameyang, snatches it instead.
The malaise may indeed have even affected Lewandowski's performances lately. Verhoff was particularly stunned by Lewandowski's late-season slump:
Five Champions League games in a row and no goal by Robert Lewandowski (29)—that really surprised me! In his four years with Bayern, I have experienced the striker as a goal-machine.
The player paradoxically is desperate to win the Champions League yet no longer seems to want it with Bayern. At the least, Lewandowski seems to lead a joyless existence at the Allianz:
Lately, Lewandowski usually leaves the stadium without saying a word. He feels that he is criticized too harshly after matches with no goals. But he was the one who slacked off in training during the crucial phase of the season. Given his ambition, that surprised me even more than his scoring slump. It seems as if he’s already checked out with Bayern in his mind.
Thus, in Verhoff's view, Lewandowski seems to have given up on Bayern Munich. He does not say so explicitly, but he implies that the striker's recent struggles may not be some ordinary slump, but a direct consequence of lack of effort and dissatisfaction.
So what? Lewandowski is just like many other star players
Is that the entire story, though? Some of Verhoff’s points are valid. Lewandowski was genuinely diasappointed not to win the Torjägerkanone in the 2016/2017 season, and his claim that his teammates did not do enough to help him is defensible.
But it is highly unlikely that Lewandowski is still harboring ill-will over that. Frankly, if Lewandowski, as a striker, did not strive to be the leading scorer in the league, it would be a reason for concern.
Lewandowski no doubt has changed since 2014, but does it matter? The fact is that Lewandowski has been extremely productive while at Bayern and has become an international star of sorts. While Lewandowski—and his brand—may not be on the level of a Ronaldo, Messi, or even a Gareth Bale at this point, his performance and reputation permit us to assume that his ego might have expanded a bit. Okay, a lot! Alright, maybe a WHOLE LOT.
He’s arrogant, he places high demands on his teammates, and he has an attitude that could be described as prickly at best given his demeanor on the pitch...and that is fine.
I recently espoused that even though the Polish striker might be a jerk, that’s okay. It is naive to think every global star has the easy going, fan-friendly demeanor of a Thomas Müller or a Mats Hummels. Frankly, it’s okay if Lewandowski is high-maintenance and has an inflated estimation of his brand and his standing among soccer’s stars worldwide. His self-confidence should be that high.
When Lewandowski becomes a problem
If Lewandowski's teammates were put off by his behavior, there probably would not be quotes like this statement by Niklas Süle:
In the time he played for Bayern Munich, Lewy always scored his goals. He is a very important player for us. Throughout the season there were many rumors about him, but we all stayed calm, Lewy as well. From the outside there is always more talk than it actually is inside the team. He was always motivated and scored again 30 goals this season in the Bundesliga. I don’t think anyone should say his head was somewhere else than with the team. What his agent said or what the situation is with Lewy – only he knows best. But the club will handle this situation. All I can say is that Robert Lewandowski is highly respected within the team, he is a great guy and he always scores goals for us.
For me, Lewandowski's behavior and attitude are the least of Bayern's concerns about his current state. It comes down to whether he wants to be in Munich or not. If he does not want to stay, then—and only then—do his on-field antics and practice field cockiness become an issue and linger in the locker room.
If Lewandowski wants out, Bayern’s management should figure out how to maximize their return. If he wants to stay, then terrific; Bayern will have one of the best strikers on the planet. But a change in attitude over the years or jerk-like tendencies make Lewandowski no different from most other professional athletes.