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Lewandowski must rebuild his brand in Munich

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Everything has changed since the Polish striker started to flirt abroad. From MVP to pariah, Robert Lewandowski now must win back his fans in Munich as he returns to the fold.

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Robert Lewandowski has spent the better part of 2018 flirting with the likes of Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, Manchester United, and Juventus — anyone hypothetically bigger than Bayern Munich — but to no avail. Per a report by Bild (via TZ), Pini Zahavi told Lewandowski that a transfer to the Santiago Bernabau or anywhere else is unlikely. For better or for worse, the Polish hitman will be back plying his high-scoring trade in Munich under new boss Niko Kovač.

If, indeed, this arduous and complicated journey is over, Lewandowski, the Bayern front office, and the fans will all need to forgive and/or forget the months of unrest that have passed since Lewandowski inked a deal with Zahavi to architect his exit from Munich this summer.

The beginning of a road to nowhere

The primary objective for “Operation: Pole Vault” was to slide Lewandowski over to Real Madrid to join the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modrić, and Toni Kroos. But the courtship was never more serious than an on-again, off-again flirt:

The primary goal of the general leadership of Real Madrid, headed by José Ángel Sánchez, is signing of a classic goal-scorer to complement Cristiano [Ronaldo]. And the Pole Robert Lewandowski is the European champion’s first choice. Kane is the second option. Mo Salah would only be a third choice, since his price would be massive, and for that investment they would take Neymar, Real Madrid’s dream, but a very difficult acquisition that they will attempt until August 31. Lewandowski is the most affordable hiring in every way, economic and logistical. The starting point is ideal for both parties, club and footballer: both want to marry their futures.

But things never really progressed.

Per a report by SkySport (Germany), Real Madrid has broken off talks with Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski. Robert Lewandowski’s great dream has finally burst! According to the information of Sky, Real Madrid has broken off all negotiations and talks with the Pole and his agent, Pini Zahavi. The transfer is completely off the table as far as Madrid is concerned.

Worse, Lewandowski and Zahavi were reported to be at odds as recently as May 31st when the duo seemed out of sync about the end goal of this whole experiment:

The latest twist in the Robert Lewandowski saga has arrived. According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Pini Zahavi’s recent claims that Robert Lewandowski wants a “new challenge” with a new club were not in fact cleared with the striker himself before Zahavi went public. If SZ is to be believed, Lewandowski is not as dead-set on a transfer as Zahavi’s claims imply.

Zahavi’s magic touch fails him

Zahavi, the man who miraculously convinced PSG that Neymar was worth a record-breaking €222 million transfer fee, had little success marketing an older, less famous star. If Lewandowski tallied 50 goals across all competitions for Bayern and led Poland to the World Cup semifinals while scoring six goals along the way, there may have been more buzz surrounding his willingness to leave Munich, but Lewandowski came nowhere close to achieving any of those feats.

Simply put, the market was not there for Lewandowski, and no amount of selling was going to convince Real Madrid or any other world power that Lewandowski presented a better option — at a potential asking price over €100 million — than what was already in house. In the end, former Polish national team coach Franciszek Smuda knew all along how this would play out:

In an interview with Sport Bild, however, the former national coach of Poland Franciszek Smuda says that he believes Lewandowski will stay with Bayern. In Smuda’s view, only Bayern can give Lewandowski the best chance at a Champions League title:

“I continue to think that Robert will stay at Bayern. If the club gets one or two super-players this summer, I think it will win the Champions League next season. He has more of a guarantee of success in Munich than at Real Madrid. He should stay.”

The man and his brand

Even in this tumultuous time, Lewandowski kept focused on building his brand, most evident in his extensive interview with The Guardian and the web series he released featuring his most trusted confidants:

Even if I weren’t famous, it wouldn’t be that easy to get close to me. I have my old friends and I keep them very close to myself. I know who I can trust. I don’t change my friends like socks. When there is someone I think I may like, I can open the door, but I do it very slowly. Trust has to be there before I open my heart.

Lewandowski is not a bad guy — far from it. He is just a guy who wanted to capitalize on his fame while he could, even if it meant drawing the ire of the Bayern faithful with a push to leave. He may never achieve the fame and fortune of CR7, but in Munich, RL9 actually means something. Now it is up to him to ensure that brand’s promise stays true.

Moving forward

As recently as last week, Kovač laid out his ideas on keeping Lewandowski and how the striker will fit under his regime, which could help ease Lewandowski’s transition back to the Bayern locker room.

The decision to stay also opens the door more decisively to invest in Jann-Fiete Arp. The Hamburger SV dynamo will be primed and ready for Champions League soccer by the time Lewandowski’s contract ends in 2021.

Arp aside, all eyes will be on Lewandowski and how he handles his return to a place he so eagerly wanted to leave. Back when Bild reporter David Verhoff detailed how Lewandowski’s mood shifted from energetic to apathetic toward Munich, it appeared that the Pole was truly just ready to try something new.

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.

But it was more than wanting a new challenge; the theme of criticism was clearly something that weighed heavily on Lewandowski, which is something he’s going to have to overcome...quickly.

Speaking to SportBild, Lewandowski’s agent Maik Barthel said that the criticism was completely unprecedented, especially for a striker who scored 29 goals for Bayern Munich this season in the Bundesliga:

“You can always criticize players, but doing it this way isn’t right. Robert has scored 30 and 29 goals in the Bundesliga and is now held responsible for the team’s exit against Madrid. That’s really is pretty strange.”

Pointing the finger at Lewandowski for the lack of goals against Real Madrid, Barthel feels, is ridiculous and he’s shocked that so many pundits joined in on denigrating the striker:

“It’s strange and unfair that these so-called experts are putting all the blame for the loss to Madrid on just one player.”

Whether it was truly a lack of suitors or a just reminder of why Lewandowski was drawn to Bayern in the first place; the star center-forward looks like he is coming home. With Lewandowski, it is time for fans to put the bitterness behind and look forward to 2018-2019. The man might be a jerk sometimes, but he’s supremely talented and a player who will play a key role this season for Bayern.

And hey, just maybe he’ll run into CR7 and the boys again to give the Madridistas another look at what they could have had in white this season if only Pini could have closed the deal.

Need to brush up on the Lewandowski saga? We’ve got you covered: