The departure of Robert Lewandowski leaves Bayern Munich with the unenviable task of finding a replacement for the Bundesliga’s most prolific contemporary striker after his relationship with the club turned sour.
Following eight glorious years in Munich, winning the Bundesliga each season and lifting the Champions League trophy in 2020, Lewandowski announced in late May that “my story with Bayern comes to an end”.
The forward turns 34 in August, yet Lewandowski is showing no signs of slowing down and now embarks on a fresh challenge to make as much impact on Spain’s La Liga as he did in the Bundesliga.
He scored 35 times last season in Germany’s top flight, after breaking the single-season scoring record in the previous campaign with 41 Bundesliga goals, snatching the record from Gerd Mueller who held it for 49 years.
The Polish striker quits Germany’s top flight having scored 312 goals in 383 Bundesliga games for Bayern and former club Dortmund.
Only German legend Mueller, who scored 365 goals for Bayern in 427 Bundesliga games during the 1960s and 1970s, netted more.
But since Lewandowski won FIFA’s best male player award for the second year running in January, his relationship with Bayern has progressively unravelled.
With Lewandowski’s contract expiring in 2023, Bayern sports director Hasan Salihamidzic insisted at the start of the year that the star striker was central to their plans.
Yet when a Sky reporter relayed the message in a post-match interview in February, Lewandowski dropped the first hint that communications had broken down. “I’m hearing that for the first time,” he said.
As reports emerged that Barcelona were eager to fulfil the striker’s wish of playing at the Camp Nou, Salihamidzic and Bayern CEO Oliver Kahn could only insist Lewandowski would be held to his contract.
He finished last season banging in goals for Bayern, earning the trophy as the Bundesliga’s top-scorer for the fifth straight year.
Despite winning a 10th straight Bundesliga title last season, there was a lingering air of disappointment after Bayern’s shock Champions League exit to Villarreal in the quarter-finals.
A defeat in Spain and draw at home showed how far Bayern currently are from the summit of European football, fuelling Lewandowski’s desire to leave.
As tensions simmered between the player and club, head coach Julian Nagelsmann admitted he wanted the matter resolved to plan for next season.
Lewandowski’s team-mate Leon Goretzka said it was important to “find a good solution for everyone involved”.
Yet the prolific poacher will not be easy to replace.
His 55 goals in all competitions in 2019/20 were key to Bayern winning the treble, as Lewandowski became the first player to be top-scorer in the Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup competitions in a single season.
He has made a career out of stunning goal-scoring feats.
In 2015, he needed just under nine electrifying minutes off the bench to score five goals, leading the charge as Bayern roared back from a goal down against Wolfsburg to dish out a 5-1 thrashing.
Two years earlier, Lewandowski scored four goals for Borussia Dortmund in the 2013 semi-final first leg against Real Madrid, helping his former club into the final, where they were beaten by Bayern at Wembley.
Lewandowski was spotted as a raw 21-year-old playing for Polish club Lech Poznan, where he scored 41 goals in 82 games, and joined Dortmund in 2010.
He made his breakthrough under Juergen Klopp, helping Dortmund win back-to-back Bundesliga titles in 2010/11 and 2011/12.
Lewandowski put himself firmly on Bayern’s radar with a hat-trick against them in the prestigious surroundings of Berlin’s Olympic Stadium as Dortmund romped to a 5-2 win in the 2012 German Cup final.
Two years later, Bayern signed him on a free transfer and, thanks largely to Lewandowski’s ruthlessness in front of goal, the Bavarian giants have since dominated the Bundesliga.
His departure to Spain is perhaps the biggest threat to Bayern’s monopoly of Germany’s top flight with the hunt for a new star striker potentially now on.