Lone Polish Gunman

He just can’t stop scoring. Even his boss was impressed.

As a Polish citizen, I can’t be objective while talking about this. Twelve goals in four matches; matches played in a span of just thirteen days. Polish striker, joining the absolute top of world-class players within less than a month. Goalscoring festival comparable only with achievements one may get in a PlayStation game. One, hilarious smile full of awe and disbelief on Josep Guardiola’s face – the same Guardiola, who in the past, described his football philosophy as ‘extremely pessimistic’. The Internet flooded with images of Lewy fit into Superman’s uniform, the internet, gladly citing Robert’s wife’s words: “Honey, it’s getting boring already… haha, just kidding!”. Random comments like: “I tuned in at the 50th minute, and thought I was watching a highlights reel.” What a person from Poland feels in days like these – people from other countries can’t even imagine.

Because, football-wise, our country is irrelevant. Poland in the World Cup? We’ve been to it only twice since 1986, getting eliminated in group stages, against ‘titans’ like South Korea, Ecuador and Costa Rica. European Football Championship? The national team failed no less than twelve times to qualify for it – and when we did, and were awarded with a ‘group of dreams’ – we’ve still managed to bottle it anyway. Champions League? Last time Polish club broke into the group stage, Bill Clinton was still serving his first term in the White House and Princess Diana was still alive. We didn’t have stars. We didn’t have great teams. We didn’t even have half-decent teams. Truth to be told – we’ve had fuck all: a corrupted national football association and a bunch of stale memories about The Golden Generation from 70’s – winners of two bronze medals in 1974 and 1982 World Cups.

_

When it comes to world-class footballing, the 21st century in Poland was more or less about two players and two players only. Jerzy Dudek, today a pundit and a celebrity, had a great spells of clutch goalkeeping in Feyenoord and Liverpool. The country was jubilant when he’d stack up 74 clean sheets in 184 appearances for LFC. The country was grieving when he’d let go of a supposedly collected ball, allowing Diego Forlán an easy tap-in. The country was jubilant again when Dudek went to Istanbul, conceded three goals but then made impossible saves in the penalty shootout to secure the Champions League win for The Reds. In his case, it’s been a story of rapid emigration and equally rapid development of skills abroad. With just one season and 15 games in Polish top flight, the goalie simply escaped the mediocrity of football in his homeland – and then blossomed elsewhere.

The second player is, of course, Lewandowski. In his case, the story might’ve been slightly different – but it describes the failures of Polish youth scouting and development system even better. He was 16 years old and playing for the reserves of arguably the biggest club in Poland – Legia – when they’ve decided to let him go. Back then, his now-former club has been putting faith in a young striker Dawid Janczyk and Brazilian forward Elton Brandao. Later, Janczyk was sold to CSKA Moscow for £2.5 million – a whooping figure for a Polish club. There, he flopped, got benched, went on a multiple loans to Belgian teams and eventually became another wasted talent. As of Elton, he eventually went back to Brazil, where he turned out to be a respectable striker in Vasco. And Lewandowski? Devastated by Legia’s decision, he moved to a division three outfit Znicz Pruszków. For a fee of… £1k.

_

Five years had to pass between Lewy’s departure from Legia and his triumphant début in Ekstraklasa. In the meantime, he managed to win golden boot awards in Polish Third and Second Division. His Znicz rose to become a serious top-flight candidate – in 2008, they’ve come 1 point short of the promotion! Too bad that few people took notice: when Lech’s scout finally set his sight on Lewandowski’s abilities, it was only in a game he attended to observe some other Znicz player. In the end, Robert moved to Poznań in June 2008. Two years later, his new clubs had three new cups in their trophy cabinet and a striker with 41 goals in 82 appearances. Yes – Lewy was already too big for Poland and soon entered a prolonged negotiations with Borussia Dortmund. Die Schwarzgelben were unwilling to pay a large fee; Lech insisted. Eventually, the clubs agreed at the £3.3m threshold.

In a hindsight, Lewy owes a lot to the former BvB leading forward, Lucas Barrios. Not only the Paraguayan threatened to leave for AC Milan or Manchester City, which prompted his club to buy Robert – he also started to methodically destroy his own career shortly after the Pole’s arrival. Benched and frustrated with the lack of playtime, Barrios quickly went into an open conflict with his rival, reportedly even going as far as trying to start a fist-fight with Lewy during one of the trainings. On football pitch, there was a short period when he benefited from the teamwork with new Polish ‘mate’; however, after it became blatantly obvious that Jürgen Klopp has less and less faith in his ability, the Paraguayan has chosen an easy money in Chinese League. Today, he’s just a second-choice forward for Palmeiras – number six team of Brasileirão championship.

_

“Oh, come on! It’s not fair! He’s too good!”

Lewandowski’s luck did not run out there. After his arrival at Dortmund, he witnessed the rapid rise of Klopp’s team. From the organization living on verge of a financial collapse, BvB transformed into a fearless, attack-minded team, more than capable to challenge FC Bayern’s long-lasting domination. In fact, the hosts of Signal Iduna Park have captured two domestic titles with 2 matchdays to spare, developing the wealth of talents that’s being watched with envy to this day. Mario Götze, İlkay Gündoğan, Shinji Kagawa, Mats Hummels, Ivan Perišić, Łukasz Piszczek… At some point, each and every single of those players was on a wishlist of clubs even bigger and better than Borussia. Lewandowski wasn’t an exception: Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United were all investigating the possibility of signing the Pole in the past 3 years. Especially after one particular April night in 2013…

Whoever beats Real Madrid, deserves attention; whoever beats Real Madrid by three goals, deserves the highest praise because that team is far from being short of quality. But two and a half years ago, Borussia Dortmund have beaten Real Madrid 4-1 – and it blew everyone’s mind. Los Merengues, in their strongest lineup, with Cristiano Ronaldo at the absolute peak of his powers, were helpless against the close-range onslaught Lewy unleashed on them. After deftly finishing Götze’s pitch-perfect cross, Robert slotted three more goals – of which two were scored with a defender constantly putting a pressure on him. The ability to make quick decisions and create space for shooting came in handy: for a 3-0 lead, the striker has found the top corner of Diego Lopez’s goal and when it was time to convert a penalty – he did not hesitate. And thus, we remembered the final of that tournament as the one which both Messi and Ronaldo watched on TV…

That freakish accident, as well as 74 goals scored in 131 Bundesliga games, were all a sign of a bright future for Lewandowski; and, in Germany, the name of that future is always Bayern Munich. The Red Army has been unstoppable in Bundesliga for the last three years, leaving absolutely no hope to any contestant. But, of course, Bayern’s ambitions are bigger. One Champions League title three years ago was never enough – and that’s why the Bavarians have invested millions from their seemingly bottomless pit of money to sign excellent individuals like Pep Guardiola, Mehdi Benatia, Thiago Alcantara, Arturo Vidal, Douglas Costa and… Lewy, of course. The long-term effects we can observe now: while Barcelona, Real, Juventus and Chelsea have already went through serious setbacks at the start of this season, Bayern are ripping everyone to shreds, leaving no survivors.

It’s actually ridiculous to think how untouchable Guardiola’s eleven seems to be. Not only they’re on a 11-game winning streak in competitive games; they’ve also scored three or more goals in their last six matches. Both Dortmund and Leverkusen survived against FCB for exactly 26 minutes; Wolfsburg, the Bundesliga runner-ups, imploded early in the second half. In Champions League, Dinamo Zagreb, who just recently outplayed Arsenal, have left Allianz Arena with five goals in the bag; two weeks earlier, Die Roten have convincingly conquered the ungrateful, notoriously difficult ground of Georgios Karaiskakis in Athens. Along the way, Pep kept consistently tweaking the tactics, going through all the possible systems to provide the maximum firepower without losing control over the game. It was almost as if the guy was testing Bayern’s tactical limits, occasionally even putting as few as two ‘typical’ defenders. Nothing changed: it was still, victory after victory.

_

The last time a domination of such proportions happened, Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben were firing on all cylinders; this season, they’re both recovering from injuries and it’s all about Müller, Douglas Costa and Lewy. The German star had a stupendous start to the season, scoring in seven consecutive games. At the same time, the ex-Shakhtar winger collected six assists by simply remaining too quick and too technically gifted for any right-back to handle. Compared to them, Lewandowski looked like a player in need of a goalscoring breakthrough – and what a breakthrough that was! One tap-in after a perfectly orchestrated team move; one long-range cracker; one long-ball counterattack wrap-up that needed a second try; one Costa’s perfect cross converted and, to top it all, one acrobatic beauty that completely knocked out the TV camera in Wolfsburg’s goal. A delight; absolute delight.

It’s depressing to make such claim for a 35 million country, but, at the moment, Lewy seems all set to become our first ever footballer to win it all – and do it by playing alongside the greatest, against the other greatest. Which is even more depressing, considering that the rest of Robert’s compatriots aren’t really in a hurry to chase him. Only in Football Manager, young and anonymous Polish starlets grow into the greatest geniuses this Earth has seen; in reality, the standards of youth recruitment, training facilities and work ethics here remain poor. What’s worse: Polish teenagers are being hijacked early by the clubs from abroad and then end up stagnating, demoralized by money or pressure they’ve hardly experienced in their own country. The joy of Lewandowski is double because there’s nobody behind him to take over the reins when he retires one day.

Or is there?

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s