Why Robert Lewandowski Should Have Stayed at Borussia Dortmund

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Why Robert Lewandowski Should Have Stayed at Borussia Dortmund
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"I want a new challenge next season," Robert Lewandowski told Sport Bild earlier in November. The coveted striker has made up his mind to leave Borussia Dortmund.

Although Lewandowski will not officially announce his new club until January, as Jose Mourinho recently said, his future has long been written. In April, Bild broke the news that Lewandowski had agreed to two deals with Bayern Munich: The first, a contract that began ahead of the 2013-14 season; the second, one that would take effect on July 1, 2014. The German tabloid's narrative has been consistent ever since, and it now seems certain that the Poland international will move to Munich next summer.

If it's a challenge that Lewandowski wants, it's a challenge he'll get at the Allianz Arena. But the striker may have taken on too great a task in choosing to move to Munich...

Lewandowski needs only to look at Bayern's recent history with strikers to be alarmed. Current striker Mario Mandzukic is a fan favorite for his tireless work rate and for scoring in the Champions League final in May. But the Croat was benched in Bayern's biggest game of the season against Manchester City and has started just one Champions League fixture in 2013-14. His opting not to celebrate scoring against Viktoria Plzen was a silent protest at having started only half his team's matches despite his fine goalscoring form.

Before Mandzukic there was Mario Gomez, signed for a Bundesliga record €35 million in 2009. But 93 goals in 2010-11 and 2011-12, including 20 in the Champions League, were not enough for Uli Hoeness, who blamed the striker for Bayern's loss in the 2012 Champions League final. Gomez was benched the following season and sold to Fiorentina for just €15.5 million.

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Gomez had replaced Luca Toni, who in 2007-08 and 2008-09 scored and assisted at just under a goal per Bundesliga game but who was benched in the fall of 2009 and promptly offloaded in January of 2010. The list goes on and on: Even club legend Giovane Elber, who was voted by fans into the Bavarians' "Greatest Ever" squad in 2005, was sold to Lyon for a modest €4.2 million shortly after concluding the most prolific season of his career.

Every precedent suggests that Lewandowski can never feel assured that he will be valued at Bayern, at least not for long. He, at best, can expect to share his playing time with any of a number of attacking midfielders, given Pep Guardiola's latent propensity to play without a natural striker. At worst, he'll have Mandzukic as further competition.

At Dortmund, Lewandowski has the full trust and support of fans, teammates and coach Jurgen Klopp. He's played almost every minute of every game for nearly two-and-a-half years. No player has been signed to rival him and, moreover, Klopp does not use a rival system that omits a striker. At Bayern, it may not even matter whether he can outperform Mandzukic: Lewandowski may be dropped purely because he is a classic striker, not "false nine" material.

Lewandowski is not the first Dortmund star to leave the Westfalenstadion in pursuit of a "new challenge." Nuri Sahin, Shinji Kagawa and Mario Goetze before him were eager to explore the greater football world. Sahin, who apart from a brief loan at Feyenoord in his youth, had only ever known Dortmund, flopped at Real Madrid and Liverpool before returning to the club that made him a star. The midfielder's homecoming validated a point CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke made in December of 2012:

"Which player who has left us is happier now: Kagawa? Sahin? Barrios? No one," he told Bild.

Kagawa, too, has had little joy since moving to Manchester United in the summer of 2012. The Japanese playmaker, like Sahin at Liverpool, has only been used sparingly and often out of his natural position.

Even Goetze, ostensibly the most talented player to leave Dortmund, has had teething problems. He has been used in the center—although deeper than his deployment at BVB—and on the right, injuries and uncertainty in his role making him less effective than he was under Klopp. At Dortmund, he was the main star with Reus; the club's attack was built around their creativity and the pair was given free license to work its magic. At Bayern, he's just another player whose qualities may and may not be emphasized in any given game.

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Lewandowski has developed by leaps and bounds since joining Dortmund in 2010. The same summer Kagawa was snapped up from the Japanese second division, the resoundingly ordinary Lewandowski left Polish Ekstraklasa side Lech Poznan. It took him a year to settle at Dortmund—one he won't have at Bayern—but when he did, he flourished under Klopp's tutelage.

It was the perfect situation for the Warsaw native, who has since scored 74 goals in two seasons and is well on his way to another 30-goal haul in 2013-14. But, like Kagawa, Lewandowski had nothing before Dortmund. And like Kagawa, Sahin and Goetze, he's set to enter an environment in which he is not only not a main star, but also filling an already-filled position.

With Guardiola often opting not to use a striker and having Mandzukic available already, Lewandowski's absence from BVB will serve Bayern more than his presence within the club's ranks. This is hardly the stuff from which legendary careers are made.

Time will tell whether Lewandowski's Bayern adventure was worth the risk, but right now his only guarantees are a high paycheck and being part of a strong team. The magnitude of his role remains entirely up in the air, although the precedent with Bayern strikers and stars to leave Klopp's Dortmund puts his future in question even months before his transfer.

As exemplified by his play on the pitch, Lewandowski is a fighter, one who is ready for a challenge. He showed this in rebounding from a poor first season at Dortmund. But in joining Bayern, he may be biting off more than he can chew.

 

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