Dortmund look to Lewandowski in Champions League
Despite denials striker looks set for move away but will to be key if Munich are to be beaten
Borussia Dortmund might miss him next year but if Robert Lewandowski completes his remarkable rise to the top of the European football tree with a match winning performance in London tonight, they’ll be the envy of clubs across Europe after paying less than €5 million for the Pole three years ago.
With a rather more hefty fee to come their way if the 24-year-old insists on moving on a year before the end of his contract, they might, in any case, spare a thought for those who looked but kept their chequebooks in their pockets.
A few of them have been playing what northern politicians used to call “the blame game” this week.
Lewandowski’s father seems to have anticipated great things for his son even before he was born, with Krysztof, himself a footballer in his day, opting to call his son Robert in order to make life fractionally easier for him in the event that he ever pursued a professional career in the game abroad.
Even the notoriously calculating Williams sisters’ dad Richard would be proud of that one.
For a while, though, it didn’t look likely to benefit the young striker.
At youth level he banged in goals to beat the band for a couple of different Warsaw teams but when Legia came to look they were unimpressed; telling the teenager that he would never make it as a senior pro with his rather slight build apparently being a particular problem.
This puts them more in the realms of Dick Rowe, the Decca executive who famously passed on the Beatles with the explanation that guitar bans were on the way out.
The youngster seems to have coped rather well considering with the a disappointment but then mental strength is consistently one of the attributes for which he is most complimented by his coach and team-mates these days. Instead of joining the top flight club, he joined third division Znicz Pruszków. There he scored so many goals that within two seasons they were up there with Legia.
At that stage, says the great Zigi Boniek, he was telling anyone who would listen in Italy to sign him.
Genoa got as far as having in the stand for a home game after which they were supposed to complete a deal but there are differing accounts of what happened next. Club president Enrico Preziosi blaming the player’s agent for seeking too large a commission but one of his directors blaming the president who, he says, was also put off by the young player’s less than imposing physique. How that has changed.
“His superior technique and strength means you can play him up front all on his own,” says Karl-Heinz Riedle, one of the stars of Dortmund’s 1997 Champions League winning team.
“He shields the ball perfectly and then brings his team-mates into play.
“And then he is a real poacher as well. It is also noteworthy how he has dealt mentally with all the transfer rumours. He has just kept on playing and that attitude has all the hallmarks of a great player.”
For Poland he quickly became a key player. He scored in his debut at 20 in 2008 and got his second in Croke Park a couple of months later. By this February, when the team returned to Ireland, he looked far and away the team’s standout player.
What Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni subsequently hailed as a return to defensive solidity on the part of his players, indeed, basically boiled down to managing to contain the remarkable Dortmund striker who completely carried things up front for the visitors and forced two saves from David Forde while being unlucky not to be awarded a penalty.
At Dortmund, things came just a little more slowly with the new arrival having been obliged to live in the shadow of Paraguayan Lucas Barrios through his first, slightly difficult, campaign at the Westfalenstadion.
Barrios then got injured, though, and as Dortmund set about defending their Bundesliga title, Lewandowski seized his opportunity. By now, his physique was the envy of team-mates – his mother, sister and girlfriend are all athletes – and the work required to build himself up seems to have been second nature and he began to show all the other attributes that would make him, within two seasons, one of the most sought after strikers on the continent.
Apart from the strength required to hold rivals off, his control is exceptional and he is especially adept at taking down long balls and then holding play up.
He is good in the air but great on the move with the ball at his feet and a clinical finisher.
The stats don’t lie; 24 goals in 31 league games this season is a better return per match than any of the Bayern frontmen while his 10 goals in 12 Champions League goals leave him second only to Ronaldo in this year’s competition.
He defends rather more effectively than the Portuguese, though, and does as much to disrupt the attacking moves of opponents as many of those behind him.
Prior to signing him, Jürgen Klopp reportedly spent an hour with the striker before concluding that: “Robert was polite, courteous and, above all, eager to learn. It was soon clear he wanted to reach the top, and that was all I needed to know. I was already convinced he had the talent to do it.”
Tonight he has half as long again to repay the coach’s faith in him.
The financial end of things will rather handily look after itself.