FOX Soccer Exclusive
Lewandowski priceless for Bundesliga
Wait a minute. For free?
Yes, free. Alas, Dortmund could have cashed in on their star striker for big bucks last summer (as Lewandowski very publicly hoped they would) but in the end, declined. In order to remain as competitive as possible against the gluttonous Bayern -- who had already swooped up teammate Mario Goetze -- Dortmund felt retaining Lewandowski for another season was worth more than any amount of money. He was, again, priceless.
But the striker won’t hold as much value at his next club. Bayern have no shortage of world-class difference makers in their ranks, and in Mario Mandzukic, the Bavarians already have a forward who nearly matches the Polish goal machine in terms of work rate and effectiveness. The Croatia international won’t readily give up his spot as Josep Guardiola’s first-choice No. 9, either.
"We're very happy with Mario," Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said on his club's website. "He made a major contribution to us winning so many titles last year. I just have to think back to the goal in London. He's a fantastic player who has come on leaps and bounds with Bayern. His contract runs until 2016 and I told his advisor in Marrakech that we would be willing to talk about an extension. We have absolutely no intention of selling Mario."
So Lewandowski’s move is freighted with a certain risk -- if not for the club, then at least for the player’s career. While Lewandowski further strengthens what is already the world’s deepest, most talented roster this deal may be of the greatest worth to the Bundesliga, who for once have kept a rising world star away from the rest of Europe. The Bundesliga has long been considered a good league and producer of talent, but not one that attracts -- and keeps -- the biggest stars. Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira, Mario Gomez, Shinji Kagawa, and Andre Schurrle: all left Germany in their prime for greener pastures abroad. Julian Draxler, Ilkay Gundogan and Marc-Andre Ter Stegen are strongly tipped to follow.
But Lewandowski is staying. He would have looked just as good in Madrid -- every footballer’s “childhood club” – where they were ready to break the bank. He could have earned far more in Manchester or London. Yet, Lewandowski long ago made up his mind to play for Bayern. Arsene Wenger acknowledged as much Monday when he said that while Arsenal wanted him, the deal had been done some 18 months ago. His decision to stay in Germany is a resounding, rare victory for the league.
Of course, the deal does nothing to change the perception that Bayern remains the only Bundesliga club capable of luring the very best players. Rising stars in Germany will generally only stay there if Bayern come calling. Recent examples include Michael Ballack, Lukas Podolski, Miro Klose, Manuel Neuer and again, Gomez. The one notable exception has been Marco Reus, who returned to his roots in Dortmund after gaining fame in Moenchengladbach.
Nor does the transfer provide any more hope that the league can remain competitive at the top. Bayern seem to have put an emphatic end to the parity of the 2000s, which saw five different champions between 2004 and 2011. Barring any major summer coups, Bayern look primed to tighten their grip -- or is it stranglehold? -- on the rest of the league.
"We must, we want to and we will invest in the summer," Dortmund's general manager Hans-Joachim Watzke told Sport Bild magazine. "It will remain our secret to what extent. We're not going to panic about finding a suitable successor to Robert Lewandowski and we're not going to put ourselves under any pressure either," he said.
At the very least, however, one of Europe’s best players wanted to stay in the Bundesliga -- and the hope is that he will just be the first.
And you can’t put a price on that.