On Saturday, the DFB-Pokal final between Stuttgart and Bayern Munich will bring the curtain down on a season that has put German football back on the map in European football. The appointment of Pep Guardiola as the new Bayern Munich coach in January had only been the, admittedly loud, starting signal to a dashing four months, with the highlight being an all-German Champions League final at Wembley.
Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, the opponents in that final, meanwhile, have revived their old rivalry. Despite Bayern winning the league by a record breaking 25 points, the home stretch of the season provided several great clashes between the sides, on and off the pitch.
The Robert Lewandowski saga involving both clubs has provided one of the most interesting sidelines in German football over the past few months. Here, Stephan Uersfeld brings you up to date on the story and introduces the main characters in a transfer saga that has is still to be resolved, one way or the other.
Lewandowski, 24, joined Dortmund from Lech Poznan in 2010. He signed a contract until 2014, reportedly putting him on an annual salary of €1.5 million.
The Pole failed to break into the starting line-up during his first months in Dortmund and was labelled "Lewandumbski" by German tabloid Bild. During the second half of the 2010-11 campaign he deputised for the injured Shinji Kagawa in central midfield and by the end of the season had managed a mere nine goals in 43 games. During the summer of 2011 he replaced first-choice striker Lucas Barrios, after the Paraguay international suffered an injury while at the Copa America.
From there he went on to start every Bundesliga game in 2011-12 as Dortmund went on to win the domestic double and scored a hat-trick as they destroyed Bayern 5-2 in the German Cup final. While not leaving his footprint in the Champions League that year, he recorded an impressive tally of 30 goals in 46 games.
In February 2012 his name was linked to Bayern Munich for the first time and he reportedly met with Bayern sporting director Christian Nerlinger the following month. But Lewandowski told kicker he had no plans to leave Dortmund for Bayern. "I play for the champions, why go to Bayern?" he asked.
In that interview he also praised Jurgen Klopp. "The coach has groomed me. He has shown me where my strengths are and how to use them," he said, adding that Klopp and his sporting director, Michael Zorc, make "an excellent team".
By the time the 2012-13 season had begun, Lewandowski was still on his old €1.5 million a year contract. Rumours of his departure began floating around as early as September, when he told Bild: "I don't know what will be after this season." When questioned about a possible switch to Bayern, he said: "That will always be interesting and you have to consider it. It is such a big club."
Lewandowski started scoring in early September and by the end of May had netted 35 goals in 48 games. During the season, he did not comment on rumours about his future and claimed he wanted to fully focus on Dortmund until the summer, when he would finally announce his decision. Despite all the distractions, Lewandowski went on to set a new club record, scoring in 12 consecutive Bundesliga games between December 2012 and April 2013.
In April he also became the first ever player to score four goals in a Champions League semi-final and the first to put four past Real Madrid in Europe's top tier competition. He was finally on the map in Europe and one of the most sought-after strikers in the game but that only served to hasten his seemingly inevitable departure and three days ahead of the Champions League final, Lewandowski was quoted in SportBild as saying he "only wants to join Bayern Munich". Dortmund ended the season as runners up in the Bundesliga and Champions League. After the Champions League final defeat, Lewandowski announced he would take a rest from the football scene for a few days as speculation about his future intensified.
Dortmund secured Lewandowski's signature in 2010 after first trying to sign him in the summer of 2009. "I want and I need to further myself. It is about time to make my next career step. I have made up my mind. I want to leave Lech in the summer and take the Dortmund offer," Lewandowski told Polish paper Fakt.
But they did not buy Lewandowski that summer, with Klopp claiming at the time that the young striker was regarded as "too light" for the Bundesliga. After lengthy negotiations a deal was finalised in 2010 and Dortmund paid €4.5 million to Poznan. "This was the most difficult transfer we ever did as both parties were wedged into another. We were able to cut the knot," Dortmund CEO Aki Watzke said. It took Lewandowski about a year to settle in the Bundesliga and by the time he finally became a regular starter there was still three years left on his contract. Dortmund tried several times to extend Lewandowski's deal, but there was little progress. During the winter break of the 2012-13 season, Watzke retained hope of Lewandowski agreeing a new deal, otherwise he talked of the club keeping him until 2014, when his contract ends.
Over the next few months the club grew increasingly angry and frustrated. Dortmund were only able to react to media reports and statements made by agents. Following Bayern's signing of Mario Gotze it became more and more evident that Dortmund wanted to avoid selling Lewandowski to their rivals. In late April, Watzke confirmed that Dortmund agreed to discuss a possible transfer with Lewandowski if a "substantial offer" was made before May 15.
A day after the deadline had passed, Klopp told the press "as of now I'd like to think Robert will be playing for us next season". But then, both the player's agent, Cezary Kucharsky, and Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes dropped strong hints Lewandowski was likely to sign for the Bundesliga champions over the coming days, Klopp raged: "What is this all about?" He then announced that Dortmund "will draw a line under the speculation in the next few days".
On Wednesday, SportBild reported that Dortmund wanted Mario Mandzukic and Xherdan Shaqiri as part of a swap deal, something that seems highly unlikely to happen at the time of writing. Dortmund, so far, have not announced any signing as a replacement for Lewandowski and rumours of possible candidates have quietened down.
The German champions have targeted Lewandowski since early 2012, and his key role in Dortmund's DFB-Pokal win against Bayern later that year only fuelled the speculation. Rumours of a possible transfer picked up again a couple of weeks prior to the DFB-Pokal quarter-final in February 2013 when a bizarre Twitter rumour found its way into the main press. Several papers claimed Bayern had agreed personal terms with the player and negotiations between the two clubs were about to start.
Other papers said personal terms had not been agreed. A week later, Bayern sporting director Matthias Sammer clarified the situation on German TV: "We have not commented on this in the past and will not do so today and tomorrow. There is nothing we can say about this. I have told you what I had to say, wanted to say and all that can be said."
A few days later Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge added: "FC Bayern does not plan any transfer talks over Robert Lewandowski with Borussia Dortmund." In early April they went on to trigger Mario Gotze's release clause and lured the Germany international to Bayern for €37 million.
In April, German newspaper Bild reported that Bayern had already lined up two contracts for Lewandowski - one that would come into effect in the summer and another one that would come into effect in a year's time.
Bayern did not comment on any of the rumours until outgoing coach Jupp Heynckes told the press straight after the Champions League victory that they have narrowed in on Lewandowski. "Mario Gotze is already there, and Robert Lewandowski will not have to wait too long now," he said.
Strikers Mario Mandzukic and Mario Gomez remain under contract for next season, while Claudio Pizarro, who is out of contract in July, is keen to stay at the club for one more year. Rummenigge has confirmed talks between Pizarro and Bayern are schedule for next week.
Lewandowksi has two agents - Cezary Kucharski in Poland and Maik Barthel in Germany, with the company based in Lichtenstein. Lewandowski is by far the biggest client. Eurosportsmanagement negotiated a special deal with Borussia Dortmund in 2010, according to recent media reports. This includes being allowed to talk to other clubs whenever they want, while getting 10% of the price of every transfer offer that has been turned down by Borussia Dortmund.
They don't play good cop & bad cop, they mainly play bad cop. Most of the time they communicate via Polish TV, and in the past, have claimed they already know where Lewandowski will be playing next season.
Barthel, who runs the Twitter account, has become legendary for his constant attacks of renowned journalists via the social network. They feel they are the target of a "smear campaign", and have also hit out at Dortmund coach Klopp publicly, claiming he made the wrong substitutions in the final game of the season. They have been accused of being greedy and of casting a poor light on the business of football agents.
After the Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid, Kucharski was quoted as saying: "If [Real president] Florentino [Perez] wants my number, give it to him," by Radio Marca. And on Polish TV he confirmed that Lewandowski will leave Dortmund in the summer. Another paper quoted the agent as saying: "We have a club and have found an agreement with them long ago."
All the while their role remains unclear. They might be under pressure but might also have a plan. Eurosportsmanagement certainly wins a point for their witty punk rock take on Twitter but get the point deducted straight away for their unclear role in the saga.
The incoming Bayern Munich coach has yet to make a public statement in his new role. He is currently believed to be in New York and, according to media reports, has not talked to Lewandowski yet. However, HE has been in touch with Mario Gotze, twice.
Mourinho / Chelsea / De Bruyne
The potential future Chelsea boss is believed to be a great admirer of Lewandowski. In early May reports in the Spanish press had suggested that Mourinho tried to urge Barthel to push the player towards Chelsea. Mourinho has reportedly been texting Lewandowski.
Dortmund would rather sell to Chelsea than to their domestic rivals and their interest in the Blues' young Belgium international Kevin de Bruyne adds another interesting twist to the situation, as does Klopp and Mourinho's friendship. The pair are said to have the highest respect for one another.
The Primera Division side have not been ruled out of the race for Lewandowski altogether. According to reports, after the Madrid game against Dortmund at the Bernabeu, Real president Perez chatted to Lewandowski in the catacombs. Lewandowski confirmed talking to Perez, however, he told Bild: "Yes, I have met him outside the dressing room after the game. I have said nothing to him and have only read in the press about what he allegedly told me." The press had suggested Perez tried to convince Lewandowski of a switch to Madrid.