Rumours of a Real Madrid approach for Robert Lewandowski are as regular as winter snow in Bavaria, the Bayern Munich striker having been the subject of Bernabeu-based speculation since his days at Borussia Dortmund. Florentino Perez has long been a devotee of Lewandowski, an admiration dating back to Die Schwarzgelben’s 4-1 thrashing of Madrid at the Westfalenstadion in the 2012-13 Champions League: the Poland international hit all four as Dortmund progressed at Real’s expense.
However, Perez’s “Cupid’s arrow” did not share Lewandowski’s accuracy and inevitably he was poached by Bayern Munich in 2014 on a free transfer, a move which has to rate as one of the best bits of business ever completed in European football. Lewandowski has scored 139 goals in 181 games for Bayern and has managed 20 in 23 Bundesliga appearances this season at a rate of one every 88 minutes.
Given Real Madrid’s struggles in front of goal this season, and Karim Benzema’s in particular, it is little wonder that the Lewandowski to Real Madrid bandwagon is rolling again. And on this occasion it is not his former agent, Cezary Kucharski, cracking the reins. In a move that has done little to dampen speculation, Lewandowski parted company with his agent of 10 years last week and hired Pini Zahavi, who is no stranger to big-money deals and is rumoured to have had a hand in the transfer of Neymar from Barcelona to PSG.
Lewandowski himself laughed off suggestions that Kucharski’s departure was timed to force through a move to Madrid — suggesting China may be an option for his client in the not-too-distant future last year may simply have sounded an alarm bell or two in the player’s head.
But is Lewandowski a good fit for Madrid? Paying a fee in the region of €150 million — as some reports suggest will be the amount required to get Bayern to the negotiating table — for a player who will be 30 in August is not exactly long-term planning but as a direct replacement for Benzema, who blew out 30 candles last December and has been in less than stunning form this season, it does make some sense.
Perez’s primary target for the No. 9 role is Harry Kane but Tottenham will not be willing to entertain offers for the England international and will expect a fee in the region of the €222m PSG paid for Neymar for a player who outscored Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi in 2017. The bait of Benzema, Gareth Bale, or both plus a few euros, would at least get Daniel Levy on the phone but Lewandowski is a far more attainable target. The possibility of throwing a permanent deal for on-loan James Rodriguez into any negotiations for Lewandowski is the ace up Perez’s sleeve.
Lewandowski wouldn’t necessarily require a huge change in formation for Madrid. Equally comfortable as the 1 in a 4-3-2-1 or 4-1-4-1, Bayern have increasingly played 4-3-3 under Jupp Heynckes and the Poland international has found the net consistently under every blueprint. The same cannot be said of Benzema, who is excellent when required to drop back and create openings but has struggled this season when operating as the focal point of Zinedine Zidane’s attack.
A rare opportunity for Bale to stake a claim for a more central role, first mooted under Rafa Benitez, failed miserably against Espanyol on Tuesday.
Although primarily a goalscorer, which is precisely what Perez is looking for, Lewandowski’s return of 97 club career assists is not too shabby given that Benzema, whose selfless supply for Ronaldo in particular is often used to highlight his importance to Real Madrid, has 136 with 59 more games played.
Last summer, Perez heeded his coach’s advice to build for the future by bringing in young Spanish talent in the shape of signings Theo Hernandez and Dani Ceballos, loan returnees Marcos Llorente, Jesus Vallejo and Borja Mayoral and the promoted Achraf Hakimi. In total, they have featured for 5,200 minutes this season, fewer than the combined contribution of Nacho and Casemiro (5,459).
The Real president will not be lulled into that sense of false security again and the cheque book will rule supreme when the 2017-18 season ends, even if Zidane delivers a third Champions League crown in a row.
It is precisely the lure of a European title that may prove decisive for Lewandowski, who has won three consecutive Bundesliga titles with Bayern — soon to be four — as well as two with Dortmund and two DFB-Pokal Cups during his career in Germany. There is no better place at the moment to add a Champions League to his laurels than Real Madrid and even Perez’s patience with his favoured adopted son Benzema must have its limits.
The respective fortunes of Real and Bayern in Europe this season will go some way to drawing a line under the Madrid-Lewandowski courtship: it will either reach fruition this summer or be shelved definitively.
Rob Train covers Real Madrid and the Spanish national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Cafc13Rob.