After Borussia Dortmund 's second-round cup win over 1860 Munich on Tuesday, Robert Lewandowski was asked by German TV station Sport1 if he could confirm his move to Bayern Munich in January. "Yes, because then I can officially sign the contract," said Lewandowski.
This indirect announcement -- Lewandowski now claims he simply wanted to say he can sign a new contract at that time, not specifically with Bayern -- is nothing new; his intent to sign with Bayern has been soccer's worst-kept secret for many months. Still, the timing and casualness of his plans indicated there's still bad blood between him and his current employer. Remembering that Dortmund blocked Lewandowski's much-desired summer transfer to Bayern, many were quick to point the finger at the player for stirring up more trouble.
Indeed, grumblings over the Polish striker's unhappiness since the summer have unfairly labeled him as a moody, money-grabbing grouch in the public eye. Similar to Luis Suarez at Liverpool , Lewandowski seemed to be just another star looking to force his way out for greener pastures, and giving stink once no deal materialized.
Turns out, Lewandowski is not the one to blame here.
A series of leaked emails between Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke, Sport Director Michael Zorc, and Lewandowski's agents, released earlier this week by news magazine Spiegel , paint a quite different picture altogether. Based on that correspondence, Dortmund did -- contrary to month-long denying -- openly discuss a Lewandowski transfer as early as March, and explicitly lied to the player about their intention to negotiate a deal. This is made clear in the following email, sent to Lewandowski's management team in March by attorney Tom Eilers.
Robert Lewandowski's goal-scoring form at Dortmund raised eyebrows at Bayern Munich. (Image: WhoScored.com ).
"As discussed, I've asked (Dortmund Sport Director) Michael Zorc to confirm, in writing, the fixed release clause of 25 million euro and the agent's share of the transfer proceeds, as agreed upon," said Eilers in the reported email message. "In that regard, he's made it clear to me and confirmed that the BVB is prepared to let Robert walk in the summer if a transfer is contrived by May 15 at the latest [...] He assured me that this commitment shall apply, but that it won't be confirmed in writing by BVB."
But just a month later, Lewandowski -- who by that time had already agreed to personal terms with Bayern -- learned he would not be allowed to leave. "Robert has a contract until 2014 and there is no exit clause like with Mario Gotze," Watzke told Sky Sports . "It is our explicit wish to keep him until 2014. That is why we are saying no to a transfer fee."
What made Dortmund go back on their word? It's pretty simple: it all changed in the span of 48 hours. On the eve of Dortmund's Champions League semifinal against Real Madrid , news leaked that Mario Gotze, Dortmund's other coveted superstar, was intent on using his exit clause for a summer move to Bayern. The next night, Lewandowski scored all four goals in a stunning performance that paved Dortmund's way to the Champions League final.
Suddenly, faced with the prospect of losing both stars to their main rivals, neither Watzke nor Zorc were particularly ready to let Lewandowski go. Sounds weird, right? It gets better.
Lewandowski's agents remained adamant that a solution would materialize over the summer, but it never did. The Pole remained a black-and-yellow, and to him and his team, a promise was broken. But when asked by Spiegel about the exposing email, Watzke called the negotiations a misunderstanding. "We acknowledge that we may have invited certain expectations with such wording," Watzke offered. "In the future, that won't happen to us again."
Lewandowski must deal with such lousy explanations as he continues to ride out his contract with Dortmund, against his will but with the utmost professionalism. While nobody would have blamed him for airing out his frustration, he's instead gone stoically about his job, scoring goals and being a good teammate.
His agents haven't been as quiet. Over the summer, Cezary Kucharski sent the club a damning email that stirred the pot. "We find what you are doing to Robert as inhumane," said Kucharski in a leaked email published by Spiegel. "He badly wants to get away from you. His heart and thoughts are with a different club."
To diffuse the tension, Watzke tried to restore some good faith by offering Lewandowski a pay raise. It didn't go very well, not least because of Watzke's imperious clause to end the offer: "Of course, the changed conditions come with the expectation that we can agree on a united, harmonic public image in which we leave the past behind," he wrote according to Spiegel.
Lewandowski did receive a second offer weeks later, which was then accepted, but the damage had been done. There is no harmony between the two parties, and Dortmund's to blame. For a club that prides itself on loyalty and earns praise for its shrewd dealings in the transfer market, the front office grossly mismanaged the affair.
Sure, it's well within Dortmund's legal rights to have retained Lewandowski. A player has a duty to obey his contract, and one can certainly understand Dortmund's reluctance to sell. But does that give BVB the right not to honor their agreements?
The ethical answer is no. With the facts now out on the table, Dortmund hasn't just lost credibility, but leverage with future players as well.