The Bayern Munich forward has again struggled for Poland at a major tournament, meaning his dream move to Santiago Bernabeu does not look on the cards
Robert Lewandowski is one of European club football’s most lethal strikers. A proven goalscorer for over half a decade, there should be clubs queuing up to sign him following his agent’s admission that he wants to leave Bayern Munich this summer.
And yet, with just over six weeks left until the start of the domestic season, his only real option away from the Allianz Arena seems to be Chelsea – a move that would force him to give up on playing Champions League football for at least one season.
Lewandowski has previously been in contact with Paris Saint-Germain, while his decision to bring in Pini Zahavi – the man who brokered Neymar’s world record move to PSG – as his agent was followed by intense rumours that he had his sights set on replacing the misfiring Karim Benzema at Real Madrid.
But after an end to the 2017-18 campaign that saw him fail to net in any of Bayern’s final five Champions League matches – including two woeful showings against Madrid as the Bundesliga champions crashed out in the semi-finals – he has followed that up with two underwhelming performances for Poland at the World Cup.
Lewandowski arrived in Russia having netted 16 goals in qualifying – the most of any European player and only matched around the globe by Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Al-Sahlawi. Such form had helped Poland earn a place among the top seeds, with the draw handing them a more than manageable group.
However, Lewandowski has been anonymous in defeats to Senegal and Colombia. As such, those who suggest the former Borussia Dortmund hotshot is something of a big game bottler have only seen their claims receive more credibility.
The statistics on which such accusations have been made do not make pretty reading for those who wish to defend Lewandowski. Since the start of the 2013-14 season he has scored just a single goal in seven international tournament appearances compared to his 30 successful strikes from 23 qualifying matches.
Meanwhile over the same period in the Champions League he has thrived in the group stages and last 16, netting 29 goals in 39 matches. His record in the latter stages pales in comparison, however, with just five goals to his name from 14 matches in the quarters, semis and final of Europe’s premier club competition.
Such a record will no doubt have played a part in Madrid et al being put off splashing out on Lewandowski this summer, but perhaps what is even more concerning are suggestions that he has started to become a divisive figure inside the dressing room for both club and country.
Lewandowski spent a good part of the first half of last season complaining that Bayern did not have a viable back-up striker within their squad whose presence would allow the Pole to be rested once in a while.
In a bid to keep their top goalscorer sweet, the Bavarians forked out €13 million (£11.5m/$15m) to bring Sandro Wagner to the Allianz Arena from Hoffenheim. Did that make Lewandowski happy? The fact that just months later he is jockeying for a move suggests otherwise.
Fast-forward to the World Cup and Lewandowski is at the heart of reports suggesting mass fall-outs among the Poland squad that have played a key role in their surprise early elimination.
It is claimed Lewandowski himself has complained at the lack of professionalism within the camp, while the likes of Jakub Blaszczykowski and Grzegorz Krychowiak have lead a splinter group who are firmly against Lewandowski staying on as the national team’s captain, such is his power over manager Adam Nawalka.
Those reports have been played down by those involved. Speaking ahead of Thursday’s match with Japan, Blaszczykowski said: “When negative results appear and when we lose matches, there are problems. Then some fake information is available. We don’t have a lot of arguments. Personally I believe, as a player who has spent some time in the national team, that the atmosphere has not changed. What has changed is that we lost.”
Whether true or not, there is no doubt that the reasons to not sign Lewandowski less than two months before his 30th birthday are beginning to rack up. A fine striker he might be, but as he exits his prime years is it really worth the risk for clubs looking to win the biggest competitions on the planet?
“Robert feels he needs a change and a new challenge in his career. The managers of Bayern know about it,” Zahavi said in May. As come and get me pleas go, it was pretty blatant. And yet chances are that new challenge might not be the one Lewandowski was quite expecting.