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Robert Lewandowski vs Bayern: The measure of transfer culture’s hold over Football

It’s not too often you see a star player from a colossal club get involved in a public slanging match with the CEO. Last week Robert Lewandowski gave an interview to Der Spiegel in Germany, during which he touched on assorted issues, from Paris St Germain’s prospects for the season, pre-season tours, the commercialisation of Bayern’s title celebrations and their transfer policy over the summer.

It was the last bit that seemed to get under Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s skin. “It would be a shame if he sees things that way,” Rummenigge said. “Loyalty is in the Bayern DNA and important to our fans. Rather than Lewandowski, I share the viewpoint of Chancellor Merkel, who says we should regulate and reduce the amounts…I regret his comments. Anybody who criticises the trainer, the club or his teammates will immediately be in trouble with me personally.”

It’s not the first time that a director of a big European club has sounded more like a mafia don than an football administrator, but it was clear Lewandowski had touched a nerve. What the Pole had said to attract his employer’s ire was this:

“Bayern will have to come up with something and be creative if the club wants to keep bringing world-class players to Munich. And if you want to compete at the top, you have to have those kinds of quality players. To this day, Bayern Munich have never spent more than around €40 million for a player. In international football that has long since been more of an average than a peak price.”

In some respects, Lewandowski might have a point. The way Bayern have started this season, losing to Hoffenheim and producing a lacklustre performance in beating ten-man Anderlecht in the Champions League this week, certainly suggests a team who may have gone stale and require additional investment. Add to that Thomas Muller recently hinting at some dissatisfaction within the squad, Carlo Ancelotti facing questions and the retirement of Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso in the summer, and it’s easy to start thinking of Bayern as a waning superpower.

But all of that doesn’t necessarily mean spending Neymarian sums on a star player will solve things. Indeed, Rummenigge and the Bayern hierarchy are almost certainly doing the sensible thing in not laying out astronomical fees. Even though most have expected football’s financial bubble to burst for some time now, and it remains ostensibly strong, the current level of spending surely cannot possibly be sustained.

By abstaining from the madness, Bayern’s top brass are potentially protecting them from a crash, should it arrive in a couple of years. One of the attractive things about the Bundesliga is that money isn’t as big a factor as it seems to be in the Premier League: whether that’s in terms of ticket prices, transfer fees or money gathered in by greedy owners. If the division doesn’t get involved in the current inflated prices in the transfer market, should that not be something to be pleased about?

But that’s hardly the point in this case. Among the previous 500 words of this piece we haven’t addressed the giant, water-spraying, trunk-honking elephant in the room, which is that this is Bayern Munich – Bayern Munich! – being on the receiving end of a coating for not spending enough money. Bayern Munich. It’s tough to get your head around.

Lewandowski is right to say that Bayern have barely spent over €40million on a single player (they broke their transfer record this summer, for midfielder Corentin Tolisso who cost around €41.5million), but it’s also worth pointing out that in the last eight years Bayern have spent €35million plus nine times. They make it their business to hoover up all of the relevant talent from any of their competitors, routinely buying the star player of their nearest rivals, of which Lewandowski was one. They are a financial behemoth, a bully of a football club that dominates their league and is one of the biggest clubs in Europe.

Suggesting Bayern suffer from a long pockets-short arms problem is a little like saying Jose Mourinho should be a little nastier in his comments about opposing managers. And more than that, this is surely a sign that the mentality of transfers being the only way to improve a team, and the mania of the transfer window, has gone too far. If even Bayern, this colossus of European football, can be accused of parsimony, then nobody else has any hope.

Nick is a freelance writer who has featured in The Guardian, ESPN, Eurosport and The Independent


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