First Haaland, now Lewandowski? The Bundesliga's talent drain

Erling Haaland Robert Lewandowski Dortmund Bayern 2021-22 GFX
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Germany boasts one of the best-supported championships in Europe but it's losing superstars at an increasingly alarming rate

To lose one of your best strikers, Bundesliga, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.

Fans of the German top flight were recovering from the long-expected departure of Erling Haaland, following the announcement he will be joining Manchester City this summer, when they were hit with the much more surprising news that Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski also wants to leave.

The Poland international still has a year to run on his contract at the Allianz Arena but he is now demanding a summer transfer.

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"My story at Bayern is over," he told reporters at a press conference. "After everything that has happened in recent months, I cannot imagine further good cooperation.

"Bayern is a serious club and I hope they will not keep me just because they can. A transfer is the best solution for all parties."

For years, Bundesliga has been one of the strongest and most entertaining championships in Europe, yet it is in a more perilous state than it has been for some time.

Of course, Lewandowski and Haaland are not the be all and end all of the Bundesliga, but they are unquestionably the two biggest global stars of the division, the two household names, and both of them leaving in the same summer is a concerning scenario for German football.

Robert Lewandowski Erling Haaland Bayern Munich Dortmund 2021-22 GFX

Indeed, it is not only the big-ticket players who seem to be on their way out, but the next tier of talent too.

Christopher Nkunku, who beat Lewandowski to the Bundesliga player of the year award after his phenomenal season leading the line for RB Leipzig, is being heavily linked with Chelsea, Manchester United and PSG.

Another potential outgoing is Jude Bellingham, one of the league's biggest breakout stars since joining Dortmund from Birmingham City.

It is more likely the England international will move next summer, probably following Jadon Sancho to the Premier League, but it seems inevitable his long-term future lies away from Germany.

It feels like there's a talent drain going on in Germany right now, a drain which will only further erode a reputation which has been dwindling abroad due to some pretty tepid exports.

For example, the Chelsea trio of Timo Werner, Christian Pulisic and Kai Havertz – the latter's Champions League final-winning goal notwithstanding – have underwhelmed in England, meaning the overall standard of the Bundesliga must be questioned.

A common argument from within German football is that the clubs cannot offer the same kind of salaries as the biggest teams in England and Spain, yet for Bayern, at least, that is not an issue.

The Bavarians have been paying Lucas Hernandez more than €15 million (£13m/$16m) a year since 2019, and have reportedly offered Sadio Mane €20m (£17m/$21m) per annum to join them from Liverpool.

The bigger problem for Bayern is that they don’t want to pay tens of millions of euros when it comes to transfer fees, especially for young players.

Lucas Hernandez Bayern Munich 2021-22 GFX

Some years ago, the biggest German talents like Mario Gotze, Manuel Neuer or Jerome Boateng were cheap enough to be snapped up in Munich, but that is no longer the case due to market inflation caused by the old European order trying to keep up with state-backed super-clubs.

Therefore, the top talents from the upper-mid ranks of Bundesliga – Dortmund, Leverkusen, Hoffenheim and so on – are moving abroad instead. There is no longer a talent drain within Germany, but out of it.

Bundesliga clubs, in turn, know they cannot entice elite players away from England, Spain or even Italy.

Ligue 1 has become the favoured shopping ground, as most German clubs know it is the only of the other top European leagues that could be construed as a level below the Bundesliga.

So, what next for German football? Certainly, there is no obvious short-term solution to the best talent wanting out. Bayern's over-conservativism when it comes to finances is a big factor.

They could pay the money to get the likes of Leverkusen wonderkid Florian Wirtz, but the feeling is that it’s more important for them to avoid making a financial loss over a given year. But iff they don’t risk something, they won’t get players like Wirtz in the future.

For years, Bayern has faced accusations of luring the best talent away from the rest of the Bundesliga, gutting mid-table clubs and turning the league into a one-team parade which puts off fans and even prospective players.

However, in the last 10 years in which Bayern has won every Bundesliga, they have bought 21 German top-flight players at a combined cost of €238.2m (£203m/$255m).

Dortmund, meanwhile, has bought 29 players from league rivals, costing a total of €386.2m (£329m/$413m) – nearly €150m (£128m/$160m) more.

Ilkay Gundogan Dortmund GFX

This has proven a spotty strategy for Dortmund: on the one hand, they have picked up the likes of Ilkay Gundogan and Marco Reus; on the other, they've had flops such as Maxi Philipp and Jeremy Toljan.

They are still trying to pick up the best players Germany has to offer, though. Nico Schlotterbeck, who also interested Bayern, has been recruited from Freiburg, along with Koln's Salih Ozcan.

It is more likely Bundesliga will remain a proving ground for upcoming young talents – like Joshua Kimmich, Serge Gnabry and Leon Goretzka were at Bayern, and Bellingham at Dortmund – and a place for those who fell short elsewhere to restore their reputations, like Arjen Robben in the past and Leroy Sane now.

The problem with that is it means Bundesliga is not a destination but a stepping stone for the best players.

Bayern will not be the ones paying €100m for Bellingham next summer – that will be Real Madrid, or one of the Premier League's big six.

That this is now even applying to the few established world-class stars the league has is very worrying for German football.

For Bayern, more and more players want to see something different. David Alaba, Thiago Alcantara and now Lewandowski – arguably their three biggest players, could all be gone inside two years.

This is a completely new thing for them. Through the first seven seasons of their current run of dominance, the only example of a key player moving on was Toni Kroos to Madrid – now, it is almost annual.

The most disturbing thing of all, though, from a wider German football perspective, is that it may not have anything to do with money at all – but boredom.

Robert Lewandowski Bayern Munich 2021-22 GFX

Winning the league title has become routine for Lewandowski, it cannot be surprising he wants to do something new.

Combine this with evidence of disruption behind the scenes – he, Alaba, even Neuer have voiced displeasure at times over the running of Bayern under Oliver Kahn, Herbert Hainer and Hasan Salihamidzic – and it is becoming clearer that this is a problem even money cannot solve.

This has spun out onto the pitch, with both Bayern and Dortmund suffering embarrassing early European exits.

The former were stunned in the Champions League quarter-finals by Villarreal; the latter did not even make it out the group stage before being soundly dispatched by Rangers from the Europa League.

Of course, there are counter-arguments against the Bundesliga being a talent sinkhole at present, with evidence to support it.

Eintracht Frankfurt are Europa League champions, having beaten Barcelona on the way, seen off Premier League opposition in West Ham before defeating Rangers in the final in front of tens of thousands of raucous, white-shirted fans.

However, a penalty shoot-out win in the final cannot completely patch over the worrying state of the German domestic game.

The huge positive of the Bundesliga remains that, of the top five European leagues, it provides the best environment for watching football: universally great stadia, passionate crowds, and widely affordable pricing.

Yet, if you don't have your best players available to watch, then not even the finest facilities can make up for it.

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