Robert Lewandowski: Nicknamed “The Body”, but now the soul of modern centre-forward play

1Robert LewandowskiBy

“Wembley, wir kommen!” (“Wembley, we’re coming!”) was the headline of the German magazine Kicker after Borussia Dortmund had demolished Real Madrid 4-1 at Signal Iduna Park in the UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg in 2013. In the picture below was their latest star, Robert Lewandowski, striking a familiar forward’s knee-slide pose following his four goals against the Spanish giants.

Paraguay international Lucas Barrios had left the club a year previous, yet his departure was trivial as a gallant Lewandowski had taken centre stage. Had someone told Lewandowski that he himself would better his four goals that night, he would have imitated the complete shock on the face of his current manager Pep Guardiola after his fifth goal against VFL Wolfsburg almost five weeks ago.

Now amongst the most feared and talented strikers in world football, the 27-year-old has experienced a meteoric rise from the depths of Polish league football to Der Rekordmeister. The Poland striker had already made a habit of being the league’s top goal scorer before his arrival at the Westfalenstadion.

With his first Polish club, Znicz Prusków, Lewandowski became the Polish third division’s top goalscorer in 2006-07 and then achieved the same feat in the league above the following year after their promotion.

A move to Lech Poznań transpired the following summer after Spanish side Sporting Gijón had rejected the chance to sign him. Second and first in the next two seasons in the scoring charts and Jürgen Klopp’s Dortmund were already calling.

In Lewandowski, ‘The Normal One’ would acquire a rather special striker. The slender, unprecedented 22-year-old that arrived at Signal Iduna Park has progressed into a well-rounded forward whose proclivity for goal scoring in such a debonair style combined with equal equanimity has become an inherent quality.

Lewandowski was the linchpin of the synthesis of intellect and emotion in Klopp’s work, achieving what Rafael Benítez managed with Valencia and Diego Simeone accomplished with Atlético Madrid a couple of seasons ago, to assemble a side to challenge and eventually overturn the prominent European club in their respective league.

Roman Weidenfeller blossomed at an unusually late stage as a professional goalkeeper, Mats Hummels and Neven Subotić were central figures in a voracious rearguard, and the forward-thinking İlkay Gündoğan, Nuri Şahin, Shinji Kagawa, Mario Götze and later Marco Reus were allowed to become architects of their own success.

However, it was the Polish marksman’s 22 goals and six assists that perfectly encapsulated Die Schwarzgelben’s upward trajectory, with the minimum of fuss, as they secured their second league title in as many years. Lewandowski cognoscenti will say he’s always been this prolific, yet very few orthodox No.9’s have mastered the minutiae of centre-forward play, Karim Benzema, Sergio Agüero and Luis Suárez aside, to score any type of goal at any moment.

Yet the most salient aspect of the 27-year-old’s game is the lack of histrionics and the serenity he possesses both on and off the field, in comparison to the effervescent and exuberant character of his former manager. Upon his departure from Dortmund, he was presented with flowers and a collage of pictures, a sign of the graciousness that underpins his game.

The appreciative applause he received from the Dortmund faithful after his final game was a far cry from the malevolence and derogatory comments that Bayern Munich teammate Götze now faces on his returns to the Ruhr. Lewandowski has never been accused of impudence despite leaving for the very same club Götze did, but 103 goals in 186 appearances would have gone some way to appeasing the passionate Dortmund supporters.

“I congratulate the club to sign a player like Lewandowski” is therefore not the red carpet welcome that befits a player of his quality. Yet Guardiola’s assessment of the transfer upon his arrival at the Allianz Arena led some to believe that the Poland international would become the latest pariah after his first few months at the German giants.

However, the striker’s improvement seems to be perpetual, the searing pace of new acquisition Douglas Costa and Arjen Robben has recreated and surpassed the link-up play that he experienced with his former teammates at Dortmund. 16 goals from 13 games has led Bayern Munich to an almost perfect start in all competitions.

He has been compared to elite strikers in the 1990s such as Jürgen Klinsmann and Andriy Shevchenko, who most of us did not have the pleasure of watching in their prime in the past. Now, few would argue that he is on the tail of Cristiano Ronaldo, whose waning influence at Real Madrid has coincided with Lewandowski establishing himself at one of Europe’s largest clubs.

The next challenge of winning the Champions League will determine whether he can cement his place amongst Shevchenko and Klinsmann in terms of style and greatness. Only a courageous man will bet against him fulfilling that.

Photograph: via Wikimedia Commons

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