None of this makes much sense. Barcelona’s debt exceeds $1 billion. He must cut his annual payroll by $144 million to comply with La Liga’s strict financial rules. He has announced the signing of two players he has not yet been able to sign while he sorts out the budget. And yet, somehow, Barcelona went further and decided to spend a reported $50 million on a player who turns 34 next month, had just one year left on his contract and was desperate to leave his previous club.
The fact that Robert Lewandowski is a brilliant football player can hardly be doubted. He has scored 312 goals in his last 12 seasons in the Bundesliga. In 78 Champions League games for Bayern Munich, he scored 69 goals (including two against Barcelona in last season’s group stage and one against Barca in the infamous 8-2 quarter-final defeat in 2020). He is the epitome of a modern centre-forward, as he is agile, enjoys going deep and attacking from the flank, and is deadly in front of the net. He can head and he can press. If he wasn’t almost contemporary with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, he probably would have won several Ballons d’Or. He has currently won the last two FIFA awards for the best male player.
And he is 33 years old. He is clearly in great shape. His dietitian wife is known to force him to have dessert before the main course, which apparently helps the body burn fat more efficiently. Based on the available data, Lewandowski might seem like a pretty compelling example. Age hits all players sooner or later – even Ronaldo started to slow down in the mid-30s – but Lewandowski should have spent at least a couple more years somewhere at the peak of his form. In his eight seasons at Bayern, he only missed 23 games due to injury.
But it is hardly the case as Lewandowski. When Joan Laporta took over from Josep Bartomeu as Barcelona president in 2020, it seemed like his main job was to sort out the club’s finances. Barcelona have been blessed with a plethora of talented young players including Gavi, Pedri, Ansu Fati, Sergino Dest, Ricky Puig who seemed to be able to provide a profitable, interesting, mostly local core that could support club like budgets. were cut off. If things went really badly, the pair could be sold. When Ferran Torres, now 22, was signed from Manchester City for €55m ($62m at the time) with the potential to go up to €65m, it seemed like a more ambitious move, but it was based on the same logic: Buy young, develop, and then potentially sell.
Lewandowski does not fit 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 can be considered a priority given the club’s financial instability. Barça could already have chosen a striker from Ansu Fati, Torres, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Memphis Depay and Ousmane Dembele (the latter’s contract had just been renewed when his release would have been an easy way to cut the payroll), and what came before how a $58 million deal was negotiated for Leeds United Brazilian star Rafinha. And when Lewandowski arrives, Barcelona are trying to oust Frenkie de Jong, despite the fact that they owe him $17 million in wages he 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 terrible it all looks, at least according to the story in El Pais that Lewandowski’s fee is actually $60 million, and Barcelona agree to pay extra to push through the deal in exchange for keeping quiet about the additional $10 million.
This summer seems like a huge gamble for Barcelona. Perhaps some argument could be made that Lewandowski is as close to any transfer as any other. His acquisition reinforces the idea of business as usual. But against the backdrop of a larger amount of spending this summer, this seems completely unjustified. Barcelona hopes to be able to afford it by selling off a percentage of future television revenues and almost half of the company set up to manage marketing. However, mortgaging the future is a very dangerous approach. It feels like Barcelona is betting that some kind of European Super League will be created soon (a case is currently pending in European courts to see if UEFA is abusing its monopoly position), which could theoretically be a cure. to their financial problems and make any current issues moot.
And that looks like a risk for Lewandowski too. His relationship with Bayern – always businesslike rather than especially warm – is clearly broken and beyond repair. He wanted to leave and often talked about his desire to play in La Liga. The Clasico featuring him and Karim Benzema boasts a new level of appeal. But he needs to know what the risk is and what he got himself into. And maybe that’s part of the lure. After eight years of easy league titles at Bayern, perhaps the task of resurrecting Barcelona is what he needs.
On the field, Barcelona is building a squad that will be interesting to watch this season. Beyond that, however, the meltdown seems alarmingly close.
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