It’s the spring of 2010 and the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull forces Barcelona to travel by bus for their Champions League semifinal. More significantly, it halts Robert Lewandowski’s move to Blackburn Rovers and the Pole signs for Borussia Dortmund instead. But what if he didn’t?
The story is a simple one. The ash cloud halted all flights across Europe and, instead, Lewandowski stayed in Poland for another few months before signing for Borussia Dortmund in July. He then went on to play key roles in their back-to-back title winning campaigns and spent two more years at the club before leaving for Bayern Munich. After moving away from Dortmund, the Pole then went on to become arguably one of the best center-forwards in modern football and one of the Bundesliga’s best ever. But what if Lewandowski actually signed for Blackburn Rovers and thus changed English football instead?
After news broke out that Robert Lewandowski’s flight into Lancashire was halted over the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull, Sam Allardyce instead called up the Pole. He makes a sensational plea, sells Lewandowski the moon and the stars and promises the striker a nice fat paycheck in the case of the Pole promising to sign for Blackburn Rovers. And the 21-year-old agrees. He signs a two year deal, with an optional extension for a third year, and then spends the next three months researching his new boss, his former sides and his brand new side.
Although that doesn’t help either him or Blackburn as the young Pole finishes his first season in English football with just ten goals and four assists as Blackburn end 13th. Not the figure that Big Sam expected and Lewandowski himself admitted that the season did not go as planned. But the Pole’s move to Blackburn caused problems elsewhere as it put a plug in Borussia Dortmund’s plans of signing the Ekstraklasa star which forces Dortmund to look elsewhere.
They shortlist five possible names, including a young Ciro Immobile, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Luis Suarez, with the Uruguayan eventually signing for the club. That was despite interest from England although reports indicated that his suitors had a few issues with Suarez’s disciplinary issues. The 24-year-old loved to get into people’s faces which saw him get booked a lot but Dortmund believed that the pros of his goals outweighed the cons.
It turned out to be the truth as Suarez would finish the season with 15 goals as Dortmund lifted the title and England were left ruing their mistake. Details later emerged about a deal between Suarez and Liverpool which caused a domino effect on the Reds. They lost Fernando Torres to Chelsea for a record 50 million fee in July, a month after Dortmund signed Suarez and a week after the rumour spread.
The Blues believed that the Spaniard was the perfect choice to lead their line and the rumours helped their move. That forced Liverpool’s hands and while they wanted Andy Carroll, he refused to leave and the Reds changed their tune, opting for a move for Gonzalo Higuain from Real Madrid instead. Not only that, they signed Daniel Sturridge on loan from the Blues, a move that was made permanent a year later, despite the Englishman only just signing for Chelsea.
It worked out in Liverpool’s favour, however, as they finished the season in fifth place thanks to Higuain and Sturridge dovetailing wonderfully. Yet Manchester United still lifted the Premier League title although Roberto Mancini and his group of title contenders only managed to find their groove towards the end of the season. That saw City finish fourth with Arsenal leapfrogging them to third thanks to impressive performances from Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie in key games over the final few months.
That does hand Arsene Wenger a little more money which he uses to hand both Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy lucrative extensions alongside a promise to let them leave in a year. However, there seems to be no convincing Cesc Fabregas and he departs to Barcelona which allows the club to switch things around. It didn't work in their favour at first with losses to Liverpool and Manchester United although despite a 5-3 defeat, the latter showed a sign of a fightback.
The Gunners eventually finished third in the league by five points despite leading the league between January and February, although a late collapse in the final weeks changed their fortune. They also signed Robert Lewandowski in the January window with the Pole arriving in the summer. Blackburn ended the season relegated but the Pole had a superb season as he scored 20 goals in the league, proving to be the star Big Sam thought he was.
Manchester City, however, produced a fightback and to lift their first Premier League title, although the Cityzens were forced to re-adjust their plan at the start of the season. Arsenal’s deal for Nasri sees City pounce on Juan Mata instead as they believed they had the Frenchman in their hands. The Spaniard becomes their marquee move of the summer window with Kevin De Bruyne also joining him after he opted against signing for Chelsea and they convince Jerome Boateng to stay.
It causes even more problems for Chelsea as both midfielders were key parts of their play for the title although with Barcelona looking to sell Bojan, Chelsea signed the young forward. They also bring in an impressive Javier Pastore but it doesn’t help them. Both Bojan and Pastore thrive in England, and Europe, despite everything suggesting otherwise, but struggle elsewhere and that saw the Blues finish sixth. But their moves for both men that summer led to an unforeseen domino effect.
It caused a rift between PSG and Barcelona as the latter had agreed personal terms with Alexis Sanchez but had to watch as the Chilean was snatched away by the former. Instead, Barcelona signed Alexander Pato and the Brazilian proved to be a super-hit at Camp Nou. He led Barcelona into the 2011/12 Champions League final with a hattrick against Leverkusen, an away goal against AC Milan and two goals in two legs against Chelsea. He also netted the equaliser in a thrilling 3-3 Champions League final as well as the penultimate penalty as Barcelona beat Bayern to lift the trophy.
Liverpool finish fourth with Newcastle United in fifth and Chelsea sixth although the Blues get Europa League football because the Reds won the League Cup. But arguably the biggest talking point of the 2012/13 season was Sir Alex Ferguson’s announcement that he would be retiring at the end of the season. It causes serious problems for the rest of the world, as the United boss decided to go big in his final year and was looking for a proven goalscorer.
His first target was Robin Van Persie, especially as he only had a year left on his contract but Arsenal took a risk and opted to let the Dutchman leave for free at the end of the year. He didn’t take it well, went on strike for two months and missed the first seven Premier League games. But eventually, Van Persie returned and formed a lethal partnership alongside the newly signed Robert Lewandowski.
The Pole and the Dutchman dove-tail majestically and it saw many on the interweb compare them to the legendary Arsenal duo of Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry. However, for United, they still needed a striker and so they looked towards Edinson Cavani, although he wasn’t their top target. That happened to be Zlatan Ibrahimovic but after weeks and weeks of negotiations, AC Milan refused to budge. Their tenacity impresses the Swede as he announced that he wouldn’t leave for either United or PSG but will stay another season.
That scuppers PSG’s plan although they sign Olivier Giroud, who impressed the world with his performances the season before. His performance against PSG, in a 4-0 win against them, was part of the reason why they signed him with Zlatan’s decision being the other. Back in England, however, United signed Cavani and the Uruguayan impressed the entire team in his first week. His work-ethic, never say die spirit and ability to score from practically any position changed the way United played their football. It allowed Ferguson to field Cavani from anywhere across the front-line and that worked in their favour in the opening half of the season.
The Red Devils steamed through England and Europe, thrashing teams at will on their way. Cavani entered the new year with 25 goals in all competitions with both Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney contributing as well. But the bulk had been Cavani with him creating 14 in all competitions, effectively becoming the club’s talisman. However, while many expected them to be in the title race, they were in a four way race alongside Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal.
Robin Van Persie had got over his funk and was back to scoring ways. City were basking in their title but a staunch defense lead by Boateng and Kompay combined with Aguero and Dzeko continued to cause problems. While Chelsea had Bojan, Eden Hazard and Javier Pastore causing mayhem with Roberto Di Matteo sacked after a run of ten consecutive losses between January and February. That changed the title conversation towards Arsenal, especially with Van Persie signing a new three year deal in March. But the Gunners fell short and City somehow won the title with 82 points after United lost Edinson Cavani for two months between February and April.
The striker scores a hattrick at the Bernabeu, as United walk off shock victors, but is injured towards the end of the second half. He misses out on the second leg, but the away goals are enough as United move into the quarters. While Cavani is fit again, Fergie rests him against Galatasaray and United stroll past the Turkish giants. But with their league season all over by April, United’s focus is the Champions League. It sees Cavani return to demolish Borussia Dortmund in the semis. He nets two in two legs, creates two more and sets up United to face Bayern Munich in the final at Wembley.
The Bavarians are still wary after what happened the previous term but the might of Rooney and Cavani prove to be far too much to handle. United lift the Champions League trophy in Ferguson’s final act as manager and he leaves David Moyes with the tools for the future. The problem for the Red Devils was the fact that Moyes struggled under pressure and had only Cavani to depend upon. Rooney, Berbatov and Javier Hernandez all struggled with injuries and form but combined with an ageing backline it meant United weren’t in title contention by January.
Instead, it was a three way battle between Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea as even Manchester City saw their squad scuppered by injuries. Thanks to Yaya Toure, who ends his season with 23 goals, and a staunch defense led by Boateng and Kompay, City finish fourth. Arsenal and Arsene Wenger, however, go rogue and swap Robin Van Persie for Mesut Ozil, a deal that Real Madrid willingly agree to in the summer.
They had brought in Gareth Bale, Isco Alarcon and a few others but were looking for a way to ease their wage budget and believed they needed more competition up front. The Gunners fork over some cash but in the end, it proves to be a great move. Ozil and Lewandowski immediately form a sensational partnership with Nasri and Theo Walcott either side of them with Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla anchoring the midfield.
Shockingly, it proved to be just the combination that Arsenal needed, although Chelsea were the dominant force for most of the season. The return of Jose Mourinho proved crucial to that plan although him and former protegee Brendan Rodgers, at Liverpool, exchanged blow for blow. Yet by February, Chelsea began to stagnate as their five-game winless streak meant that by March, Arsenal had enough within them to walk away as 5-3 winners at Stamford Bridge.
That combined with a ten game winning run towards the end of the season, proved to be the turning point in the season for the Gunners but Liverpool were still in the fight and beat the Blues three games before the end of the season. Steven Gerrard, Daniel Sturridge and Gonzalo Higuain scored key goals but defeats either side of the fixture and a 4-4 draw against Newcastle on the final day handed Arsenal their first league title since the 2003/04 season. Although it took a 3-2 win over Norwich City on the final day for them to do it with Robert Lewandowski scoring all three goals, which saw Wenger leave Arsenal. The Gunners, after a long farewell, replaced him with Wenger’s choice in the form of Mauricio Pochettino.