In the air, on the ground. With his left or his right. Robert Lewandowski can, has and will score any and every type of goal possible. The only common thread: the industrial quantities in which he plunders these strikes.
Eintracht Frankfurt were the latest to bear the brunt of Lewandowski’s universal goalscoring prowess. Inside the opening ten minutes of Saturday’s match, Bayern Munich’s relentless Pole rattled the game’s opening goal past Kevin Trapp with his left foot. Half an hour was yet to elapse when he used all of his 6’1″ frame to climb in the air and nod the ball into the opposite corner, before completing a perfect hat-trick with his right boot after the interval.
Another day, another hat-trick and another Bundesliga record. Lewandowski’s treble ensured he started the campaign with an unprecedented ten (yes, ten) goals after the opening five games of a German top flight season.
While a strike rate of two goals a game may be unsustainable – even for the man christened LewanGOALski – Bayern’s number nine has been in the form of his career for well over a year.
Yet, unlike European football’s standout performers over the previous six decades, Lewandowski will not be recognised with the game’s most prestigious individual award, the Ballon d’Or. Rather than a Leonardo DiCaprio-esque tale of a unjust voting, Lewandowski has been dealt an even crueller fate, as the organisers cancelled this year’s edition altogether after the coronavirus pandemic supposedly skewed the playing field.
As the best player in the best team in Europe, the powers that be at France Football may as well have waggled the iconic golden ball trophy in Lewandowski’s face before tossing it in the bin.
Bayern Munich’s treble success last season was made all the more impressive given the sluggish start to the campaign they endured under the stewardship of Niko Kovac. The nadir came in November, incidentally against Kovac’s former side and Bayern’s latest opponents Eintracht Frankfurt.
The Eagles dished out a 5-1 mauling and consigned Bayern to the lowly depths of fourth place. Is it even a question of who was responsible for Bayern’s single goal?
While his teammates were floundering, Lewandowski was at his reliable and relentless best, netting at least one goal in the opening ten games of the Bundesliga season.
In fact, over the entirety of the campaign, Lewandowski failed to score in just nine of his 47 outings across all competitions, finishing as top scorer in the league, German Cup and Champions League while racking up a ludicrous 55 goals.
Since 2008, the Ballon d’Or has been dominated by the two defining footballers of the past decade. Comparing anyone to Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo rarely results in a flattering outcome but Lewandowski’s figures even stand up to this scrutiny.
In the past 12 iterations of the award, Messi can lay claim to six titles, Ronaldo has five and Luka Modric is the odd one out with his success in 2018. In each of the campaigns prior to their triumph, only Messi (in 2012 and 2015) can better Lewandowski’s haul of 55 goals last season.
Goals are an obvious, and valid, way of beginning to convey Lewandowski’s excellence, but these numbers only scratch the surface. Alongside his double figure assist return, the countless, selfless runs Lewandowski makes off the ball, teasing defences out of their shape can go overlooked. The elite pressing unit Bayern transformed into after Hansi Flick’s arrival would never have materialised if Lewandowski didn’t charge after opposition centre-backs.
The start of the previous campaign has certainly marked the form of Lewandowski’s life, but in reality it’s a mere uptick in his consistent excellence. 2019/20 was the first time Lewandowski scored more than 50 goals in a season but the fifth consecutive campaign he netted more than 40. Since arriving in the Bundesliga a decade ago, he has never missed more than three games in a row.
The man Pep Guardiola described as ‘the most professional player I’ve ever met’ hasn’t coasted on his natural talent to ascend to the heights of the modern game. As well as famously eating dessert before his main course to help his digestion, Lewandowski – on the recommendation of a sleep therapist – only sleeps on his left side to avoid any added strain on his preferred right leg.
UEFA’s far less prestigious (and unimaginatively named) award – Men’s Player of the Year – at least recognised the 32-year-old’s ridiculous feats and highlighted the yawning chasm which separates Lewandowski from his peers. Bayern’s talisman claimed top prize with more voting points than the remainder of the top ten combined.
The famous golden ball may have alluded his grasp this year, but if Lewandowski continues to adhere to the relentless standards he’s set himself over the past half-decade, it will surely only be a matter of time before he receives his deserved status as the best among football’s elite.