What if Man Utd had signed Robert Lewandowski in 2012?

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Robert Lewandowski Man Utd
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The Barcelona striker will line up against United at Camp Nou on Thursday but he came desperately close to moving to Old Trafford 11 years ago...

The multiverse theory proposes that there are beyond our observable universe there, other realities – and timelines – exist as well.

Academic Tom Siegfried told the National Geographic in 2022 of the possibility that "we’re just one of many universes that are different, and we live in the one that’s nice and comfortable."

Considering their fortunes over the past decade, Manchester United fans may not entirely agree with that description.

Since Sir Alex Ferguson departed in 2013 the Red Devils have not come close to lifting another Premier League trophy, and there's only been a smattering of other silverware to satisfy their supporters' appetite for glory.

There has been a series of sliding-doors moments in that time, in the form of failed transfers, baffling managerial appointments and off-field controversy. One of the biggest 'What if?' moments has to be United's failed pursuit of Robert Lewandowski in 2012.

Fresh from losing out on the Premier League title to bitter rivals Manchester City on the final day of the season, United were on the lookout for a new striker and eventually settled on Arsenal's Robin van Persie.

However, before acquiring the Gunners' then-talisman, United had all-but-secured the signing of Lewandowski. The 24-year-old had seriously impressed at Borussia Dortmund the previous season, netting 22 times in the Bundesliga as Jurgen Klopp's side secured a domestic double.

“After my second year in Dortmund, I had a conversation with Sir Alex Ferguson,” Lewandowski told France Football in 2020. “He wanted me to come to Manchester.
“I was very interested. I can even say I was ready. But Dortmund didn’t want to let me go. It didn’t upset me more than that because things were going well with Borussia.”

How different would things have been if United and Lewandowski had teamed up? Below, GOAL walks you through that alternative history...

  1. No 13th title for Fergie
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    No 13th title for Fergie

    Upon signing for United, Van Persie took the No.20 jersey. His reason for donning the shirt would prove to be prophetic.

    "I took the No.20 shirt because I'm here to win a 20th title with United," he famously declared.

    And Van Persie did exactly that, with his Golden Boot-winning haul of 26 goals playing a massive role in the club's 2012-13 championship triumph.

    Would Lewandowski have been able to hit the ground running so emphatically? It would have been a seriously big ask.

    Not only would he have been joining a new league, the Man Utd centre-forward berth is the most scrutinised position in world football, pressure that may have inhibited the still blossoming Poland international at that stage of his career.

  2. Moyes' messiah
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    Moyes' messiah

    David Moyes was given the impossible job of replacing Ferguson at the end of the 2012-13 season and only lasted until April, with United languishing down in seventh.

    Moyes' issues were plentiful, but one of the most pressing was a lack of firepower. Injuries restricted Van Persie to just 18 Premier League appearances and 12 goals, while Wayne Rooney hit 17.

    Would a prime Lewandowski, with a season of English football under his belt, have enabled Moyes to cling onto the hot seat for a while longer?

    He certainly would've been a big help, that's for sure.

    Moyes remaining in charge would've also helped United avoid the managerial upheaval and uncertainty that characterised the club during the 2010s and early 2020s.

  3. Dortmund continue to battle Bayern
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    Dortmund continue to battle Bayern

    It's hard to imagine now, such has been Bayern's iron grip on top spot in recent years, but there was a time when the Bundesliga was a two-horse race.

    Indeed, energised by a bespectacled advocate of "heavy metal football", Dortmund even enjoyed back-to-back German title triumphs between 2010 and 2012. BVB also challenged Bayern in Europe, famously meeting the Bavarians in the 2013 Champions League at Wembley.

    Key to Bayern re-establishing domestic dominance was their systematic dismantling of their closest rivals. They snapped up Mario Gotze after that Champions League victory in London and, the following summer, Lewandowski joined his former Dortmund team-mate at the Allianz Arena.

    But what if Lewandowski hadn't been available on a free transfer? Would Bayern have really bossed the Bundesliga to the same extent without the ace attacker?

    And what if Dortmund had made some money on the Pole by selling him to United two years previously?

    After all, if BVB have proven themselves good at one thing, it's recruiting the next generation of superstars. Might they have continued challenging Bayern for the Bundesliga if they had been able to afford a better replacement than Ciro Immobile?
    In this alternative reality, where Lewandowski didn't end up in Munich, Dortmund might also have been able to hold on to the likes of Mats Hummels and Ilkay Gundogan for a lot longer, given they would have been challenging for more titles.

  4. Bayern sign Diego Costa?!
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    Bayern sign Diego Costa?!

    Of course, the above begs the question: Who would Bayern have turned to if they hadn't been able to snap up Lewandowski?

    Well, someone who was on the market that summer was Diego Costa...

    Fresh off of a 36-goal haul for Atletico Madrid, Chelsea swooped for the notorious frontman after he helped dump the Blues out of the Champions League semi-finals.

    If Bayern had entered the race for his signature, though, the Brazil-born Spain international could have ended up in Bavaria instead.

  5. No need for Falcao
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    No need for Falcao

    Billed as United's saviour in the summer of 2014 – when signing Colombian players was all the rage after the World Cup in Brazil – Radamel Falcao departed Old Trafford nine months later with just four goals to his name.

    Louis van Gaal still managed to sneak into fourth spot and secure Champions League football, but they were comfortably outscored by all three teams above them: Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal.

    Stuttering league form was compounded by underperformance in both domestic cups, including a horrific 4-0 defeat to MK Dons in the League Cup.

    It wasn't good enough, especially considering United's absence from Europe that season, and Falcao's disastrous stint at Old Trafford was a big reason why.

    Of course, with Lewandowski in the building, his loan wouldn't have been necessary and Van Gaal might have been able to sign one of his other targets, which, according to theDutchman, included Neymar, James Milner, Thomas Muller and Sergio Ramos.

  6. Van Gaal's dream striker
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    Van Gaal's dream striker

    It's also worth pointing out that Van Gaal also wanted to sign Lewandowski as soon as he took over in 2014, so he clearly would have loved to have already had him at the club.

    They arguably would have worked well together, as Van Gaal's slightly ponderous style was crying out for a focal-point striker in the mould of Lewandowski.

    Van Gaal is certainly a big fan, proclaiming in 2022: "I think Robert Lewandowski is the best forward in the world."

    Oh, what could have been!

  7. Still no Ballon d'Or
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    Still no Ballon d'Or

    Lewandowski has won it all in his career – except that elusive Ballon d'Or.

    He was all set to walk away with the 2020 award, before a global pandemic got in the way. He was well-placed in 2021 too, only for Lionel Messi's Copa America triumph to again rob him of the top individual honour in world football.

    Finding other openings where Lewandowski might have taken top spot after his imaginary United move is pretty tough.

    His best bet would have likely been in 2017-18, when Jose Mourinho's United finished second to Manchester City's centurions. Luka Modric's World Cup exploits were enough to win it for him that year, but perhaps a ridiculous scoring season to propel the Red Devils into title contention could have swung Lewandowski into consideration.

    Then again, maybe not.