In the end, Robert Lewandowski was forced to sneak through a bakery. A woolly hat on his head and a scarf almost covering his face, the Polish striker avoided the assembly of cameras and microphones by disappearing through “brot&butter” and into the building where he would undergo his medical. Several hours later, with Bayern doctor Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt satisfied, he was announced as Bayern's first major signing of 2014.
For that moment, as the (still technically) Dortmund player was harried along Dienerstraße, the old “FC Hollywood” moniker so liberally and often unfairly applied to FC Bayern seemed more just than it had done since the nineties. The announcement of the deal was certainly greeted with a sigh of relief. This transfer saga had rolled on for nearly two years. Now, finally, a line could be drawn under it. From the summer of 2014, Robert Lewandowski will wear the red of Bayern Munich. His five year contract is longer than that of any other Bayern player, and his estimated 8m Euro wages sets him only a little way off the top earners at the club.
At almost every turn in this story, his comments – along with those of every other tenuously involved actor in the farce – have been rigorously scrutinised. His remark last September that he would announce a move in January prompted everything from reports confirming the deal with
Bayern to be done, to speculation over whether he might, in fact, move to Manchester City.
In truth, though, there was never any doubt. None of the rumours which emerged linking Lewandowski to the Premier League or La Liga were ever substantially justified, and most ran out of steam before they'd even gone to print. The Bayern angle endured.
After the Champions League Final, Jupp Heynckes seemed to confirm that Lewandowski would be joining in the summer, and was greeted with the usual snarly reaction from the Dortmund camp. He was not for sale in the summer of 2013, was the clear message from Dortmund. Indeed, by refusing to let him go until his contract expired, BVB not only forsook the opportunity to make any money on his transfer fee, they also allowed the player to negotiate a pay rise.
Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke, though, insisted in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung that the price the club paid to keep Lewandowski for one more season was justified. “When you don't have so much money, you can't brashly declare a player irreplaceable. But he scores goals for us, and works unbelievably hard, and we couldn't have replaced him in the summer”.
It's a fair point. Even with Lewandowski, Dortmund have struggled this year, with newcomers such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan showing promise, but unable to make up for the loss of Götze and the myriad of injuries. Without Lewandowski, they could be worse off than they are now – fourth in the Bundesliga, and through to the next rounds of the Champions League and the DFB Pokal.
Watzke and BVB Director of Sport Michael Zorc have been putting on a brave – or rather resigned – face these last 24 hours. They claim there is no ill feeling between the club and the player, and that they are sure he will continue to perform for Dortmund in the coming months. Even the anger from the fas has been muted, with a few vicious comments on facebook just about the worst of it. If Götze's departure was a shock and a betrayal, Lewandowski's was the anti-climactic end of what had become a marriage of convenience.
That doesn't mean there is any less ill feeling towards Bayern. The club is re-establishing itself as the bullying, unassailable power of the Bundesliga, and with Lewandowski and Götze, they have put two cherries on that cake. It is a cliché which, like FC Hollywood, is often dished out without consideration. Bayern are not the only big club who buy players from other German teams. At the Champions League Final, for example, only three of Bayern's first eleven had been purchased from a German opponent, compared to seven Dortmund players.
Nevertheless, there is an ostensible difference between buying a young talent like Sven Bender from 1860 Munich and poaching an already established, globally coveted superstar from a major title rival. Lewandowski's exit may confirm the trend this season that Dortmund are by no means miles ahead of the rest of the Bundesliga, but it will also only strengthen the one enduring power of German football.
Two years ago, kicker magazine ran a front page with a quote from Lewandowski: “I'm playing for the German Champions,” he said, “why would I want to go to Bayern?” With a seven point lead and a game in hand at the winter break, with a squad deeper, more expensive and more talented than any of their Bundesliga rivals, it doesn't take too much to imagine that Lewandowski will shortly be playing, once again, for the German Champions.
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