It’s an old adage in the Bundesliga that Bayern Munich will try to kill off the competition by signing their best players. And, treading along the path taken last summer by Mario Gotze, Robert Lewandowski will ditch Borussia Dortmund for Bavaria.
The Poland star’s move had been a long time coming; having stalled on contract talks as long ago as 2012 he was expected to seal his dream transfer last summer and would have done were it not for Gotze. BVB held on to Lewandowski, knowing that it would be lost without him.
In the last five months, BVB has barely been able to keep pace with the Bavarians, but now has lost another of its best players to its hated rival. Before the start of the season, Dortmund needed a minor miracle. Now, it needs the red sea to part.
And despite all that, BVB remains the most realistic challenger to Bayern, even without Lewandowski.
Schalke’s insistence on retaining Jens Keller as coach and the swathe of clubs circling for Julian Draxler is preventing it from realizing the potential it undoubtedly has, given its bona fide star power in Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and the indisputable talent of Max Meyer and Leon Goretzka.
Leverkusen, meanwhile, is closest to Bayern in the Bundesliga table but has some way to go before it becomes a genuine title contender. An efficient, workmanlike outfit, capable of producing big performances, Leverkusen's form before the winter break was a stark indication of its lack of depth.
The truth is, despite all the excitement and recent growth of the Bundesliga as a spectacle, no club realistically has the finances and prestige to challenge Bayern in the long term.
Sure, Dortmund spent big in the summer of 2013, but that was money earned from Gotze’s surprise sale, and a run to the Champions League final.
Lewandowski’s Bosman move robs BVB of the opportunity to repeat the former and its shaky form this term casts serious doubt on its ability to beat the best in Europe once more.
No, BVB has little hope of competing with Bayern for years to come. It took time to transform Lewandowski into the striker who famously scored four goals against Real Madrid. Even if Dortmund breaks the bank, with moves for Jackson Martinez and Diego Costa mooted, its squad is still threadbare, not large enough to challenge Bayern, as the last six weeks before the winter break showed.
So, the chances are Bayern will continue to dominate the Bundesliga for years to come, barring a collapse internally. Towards the end of last season, when Bayern and Dortmund were thrashing teams at will, the Bavarians’ president Uli Hoeness spoke of his fear of a “Spanish situation” developing in Germany, with two teams miles ahead of the rest.
Jurgen Klopp responded enigmatically. "I fear a situation like Scotland with only one team. Next year, we will see the Bayern team and say: 'Oops!'. Hoeness will not have been right about 'Spanish conditions'." He knew that Bayern had all but signed Gotze by then and taking Lewandowski is another nail in the league’s coffin.
There is the wider question of whether the Poland striker will even get much game time at the Allianz Arena. Guardiola has always been a vocal admirer of Mario Mandzukic, his current No.9, and has experimented with both Thomas Muller and Gotze as unorthodox center forwards.
Giovane Elber has already warned Lewandowski that a regular starting place is far from a guarantee. "It's always a risk for a striker to join Bayern. It's quite difficult when Guardiola plays without a traditional No.9."
If, as the Brazilian fears, the 25-year-old has trouble breaking into the team, that would be saddest indictment of the new-found imbalance in German football.