None of this makes much sense. Barcelona remains over $1 billion in debt. It must cut its annual wage bill by $144 million to satisfy La Liga’s stringent financial regulations. It has announced the signings of two players it has not yet been able to register while it sorts out the budget. And yet Somehow Barcelona has gone ahead and decided to spend a reported $50 million on a player who turns 34 next month, who had only one year left on his contract and was desperate to leave his previous club.
That Robert Lewandowski is a brilliant footballer can hardly be doubted. He has scored 312 goals over the past 12 seasons in the Bundesliga. In 78 Champions League games for Bayern Munich, he scored 69 times (including two against Barcelona in last season’s group stage and one against Barça in the infamous 8–2 quarterfinal drubbing in 2020). He is the model of the modern center forward, as he is mobile, happy dropping deep and attacking from wide and Lethal in front of goal. He can head, and he can press. Had he not been a near-contemporary of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, he would probably have won multiple Ballons d’Or. As it stands, he has won the last two FIFA Best Men’s Player awards.
And he is a young 33. He is clearly supremely fit. His nutritionist wife, famously, has him eat dessert before the main course, which apparently helps the body burn fat more efficiently. As evidence goes, Lewandowski would seem like a pretty convincing case study. Age hits all players eventually—even Ronaldo began to slow in his mid-30s—but Lewandowski should have at least a couple more years at somewhere near his peak. In his eight seasons at Bayern, he missed just 23 games through injury.
But Lewandowski’s quality is hardly the issue. When Joan Laporta succeeded Josep Bartomeu as Barcelona president in 2020, his prime job seemed to be sorting out the finances of the club. Barcelona was Blessed with a raft of Talented young players—Gavi, Pedri, Ansu Fati, Sergiño Dest, Riqui Puig among them—who it seemed might provide a cost-effective, exciting, largely locally based core that could tide the club over as budgets were trimmed. If things got really bad, a couple might have been sold. When Ferran Torres, now 22, was picked up from Manchester City for €55 million ($62 million at the time) with the potential to rise to €65 million, it seemed like a more ambitious move, but one rooted in the same logic: Buy young, develop, and then potentially sell on.
Lewandowski does not fit that model. They will have no resale value. He will almost certainly improve Barcelona, but it’s very hard to see how a signing of his heft could be considered a priority given the club’s financial instability. Barça could already select a forward line from Ansu Fati, Torres, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Memphis Depay and Ousmane Dembélé (the latter’s contract has just been extended, when releasing him would have been an easy way of reducing the wage bill), and that was before a $58 million deal was agreed upon for Leeds United’s Brazilian star Raphinha. And as Lewandowski arrives, Barcelona is trying to force Frenkie de Jong out, despite owing him $17 million in wages he deferred during the Pandemic (and it’s not clear at all that de Jong is the only player in that situation).
Scroll to Continue
Barcelona even seems aware of how dreadful this all looks, at least if you believe the story in El País that the fee for Lewandowski is actually $60 million, with Barcelona agreeing to pay extra to force the deal through in return for silence about the additional $10 million.
This summer seems like an enormous gamble for Barcelona. Perhaps some argument can be raised that Lewandowski is as close to a sure thing as any transfer ever is. His acquisition reinforces a message of business as usual. But amid the greater amount of spending this summer, it seems entirely unjustified. Barcelona hopes to be able to afford it by selling percentages of future television revenues and nearly half of the company it set up to run its marketing. Mortgaging the future, though, is a very dangerous approach. It feels as though Barcelona is Rolling the dice on some kind of European Super League being established sometime soon (with a case currently going through the European courts to test whether UEFA is abusing a Monopoly position), which, in theory, could present a Cure to its financial woes and render any current concern moot.
And this seems like a risk for Lewandowski, too. His relationship with Bayern—always businesslike rather than especially warm—is clearly fractured beyond repair. He wanted to get out, and he has often spoken of his desire to play in La Liga. Clásicos featuring him and Karim Benzema would boast a new layer of appeal. But he must know what a risk this is and what he forced his way into. And perhaps that is part of the lure. After eight years of easy league titles at Bayern, perhaps the challenge of resurrecting Barcelona is what he needs.
On the pitch, Barcelona is building a squad that could be fascinating to watch this season. Off of it, though, Meltdown feels worryingly close.
More Soccer Coverage: