None of that makes much sense. Barcelona remain in debt over $1 billion. It must cut its annual payroll by $144m to meet La Liga’s strict financial regulations. It has announced the signing of two players it has yet to register while sorting out the budget. And yet Barcelona somehow moved on, deciding to reportedly shell out $50m for a player, who will turn 34 next month, who had just one year left on his contract and was desperate to leave his previous club.
There can be little doubt that Robert Lewandowski is a brilliant footballer. He has scored 312 goals in the past 12 seasons in the Bundesliga. In 78 Champions League appearances for Bayern Munich, he has scored 69 goals (including two goals against Barcelona in last season’s group stage and one against Barça in the infamous 8-2 quarter-finals loss in 2020). He is the quintessential modern centre-forward as he is agile, likes to drop low and attack from distance and is deadly in front of goal. He can ball his head and he can press. If he hadn’t been almost a contemporary of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, he probably would have won several Ballons d’Or. It looks like he has won the last two FIFA Best Men’s Player Awards.
And he’s a young 33. He’s clearly outstandingly fit. His wife, a nutritionist, is known to make him eat dessert before his main course, which appears to help the body burn fat more efficiently. As far as evidence goes, Lewandowski seems like a pretty compelling case study. Age hits all players eventually – even Ronaldo started to slow down in his mid-30s – but Lewandowski should stay near his peak for at least a few more years. In his eight seasons at Bayern, he only missed 23 games due to injury.
But Lewandowski’s quality is hardly the issue. When Joan Laporta succeeded Josep Bartomeu as Barcelona’s president in 2020, it seemed his main role was to manage the club’s finances. Barcelona have been blessed with a slew of talented young players – Gavi, Pedri, Ansu Fati, Sergiño Dest, Riqui Puig among them – who it seemed could provide a low-cost, exciting, mostly locally-based core to bridge the club as a budget were trimmed. If things got really bad, maybe a few were sold. When Ferran Torres, now 22, was picked up by Manchester City for €55m ($62m at the time) with the potential to rise to €65m, it seemed a more ambitious move but it was rooted in the same logic : Buy young, develop and then possibly resell.
Lewandowski does not fit into this model. It will have no resale value. He will almost certainly improve Barcelona but it’s very hard to see how signing his weight could be seen as a priority given the club’s financial fragility. Barça could already pick a forward line from Ansu Fati, Torres, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Memphis Depay and Ousmane Dembélé (the latter’s contract was just renewed when his sacking would have been an easy way to cut wage bills), and that was, before agreeing a $58m deal for Raphinha, Leeds United’s Brazilian star. And when Lewandowski arrives, Barcelona are trying to push Frenkie de Jong out despite owing him $17m in wages he has deferred during the pandemic (and it’s not at all clear that de Jong is the only player in this situation ).
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Barcelona even seem to be aware of how awful it all looks, at least if history is to be believed El País that the fee for Lewandowski is actually $60m, with Barcelona agreeing to make an additional payment to go through with the deal in exchange for remaining silent on the additional $10m.
This summer seems like a huge gamble for Barcelona. Perhaps it can be argued that Lewandowski is as safe as any transfer. His acquisition reinforces the “business as usual” message. But given the increased spending this summer, that seems totally unjustified. Barcelona are hoping to afford it by selling off percentages of future TV earnings and nearly half the company they set up to run their marketing. However, burdening the future is a very dangerous approach. It feels like Barcelona are rolling the dice to soon set up some sort of European Super League (with a case currently going through the European courts to test whether UEFA is abusing a monopoly), which in theory is a cure could pose to his financial woes and make any current concerns moot.
And that also seems to be a risk for Lewandowski. His relationship with Bayern – more factual than particularly cordial – is clearly irreparably shattered. He wanted out and has often spoken of his desire to play in La Liga. Clásicos with him and Karim Benzema would show a new level of attractiveness. But he needs to know what the risk is and what he’s wedged himself into. And maybe that’s part of the lure. After eight years of easy league titles at Bayern, the challenge of reviving Barcelona may be just what he needs.
On the pitch, Barcelona are building a squad that could be fascinating to watch this season. That aside, however, meltdown feels worryingly close.
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