The Borussia Dortmund striker has won a host of admirers with his goalscoring exploits, but does he have the ability to excel at the very highest level?
By Peter Staunton
Borussia Dortmund recently played host to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga and in the absence of Robert Lewandowski through suspension, second-choice striker Julian Schieber was handed the opportunity to showcase his credentials.
Sadly for the former Nurnburg player, his afternoon did not last long, as he was dismissed for two bookable offences half an hour into the game.
Until that point, by which time Dortmund had eased into a two-goal lead, Schieber put on a decent display. He was effective in and around the box and was key in bringing both Marco Reus and Mario Gotze into play.
Little changed after his dismissal. Dortmund remained dominant in midfield and continued to threaten in the attacking third. In truth, neither Schieber nor Lewandowski were missed.
Throughout Jurgen Klopp’s transformation of this Dortmund team, there has been a lingering perception that the team as a collective has been responsible for the Poland international’s growing reputation – rather than as a result of his individual brilliance.
Nuri Sahin, Ilkay Gundogan, Kevin Grosskreutz and the aforementioned midfield duo have all proved to be wonderful allies to Lewandowski’s goalscoring prowess and have arguably done more individually than their in-demand team-mate.
Bayern Munich and Manchester United are set to go head to head this summer for the signature of Lewandowski, who is all but certain to depart Dortmund sooner rather than later after deciding against extending his stay at Signal Iduna Park.
After his move from Lech Poznan in 2010, he struggled to command a place in the starting XI ahead of Lucas Barrios. It was not until the Paraguay international was injured that Lewandowski at last claimed a regular starting berth. And while he has adequately replaced his former team-mate, it is still very much a matter of debate whether or not Dortmund are any better for his presence.
The Pole is indeed a fine reference point to any team which uses a lone striker. His hold-up play is key in bringing other players into the game and both his aerial strength and finishing have improved beyond recognition.
But the Bundesliga is not exactly blessed with legions of commanding central defenders and Lewandowski’s goalscoring record is awash with late strikes against already-vanquished opponents.
The 24-year-old lacks pace and is not the type of forward who excels in one-on-one situations – still missing far more opportunities than he ultimately converts.
Across the Bundesliga there is an abundance of striking talent plundering goals, many of a similar stature to the BVB striker and capable of making the grade with Europe’s top clubs.
Stefan Kiessling, Adam Szalai and Vedad Ibisevic are three of the division’s finest hitmen.
Szalai, Mainz’s Hungarian striker, is probably the most promising given his tender age. But nobody is yet going to suggest that any of them deserve a slot in the first team of either Bayern Munich or Manchester United.
This is why Lewandowski should think very carefully about his next move. The conditions at Dortmund provide the framework for him to thrive and score goals, just like they did for Barrios and will continue to do for Scheiber, or whoever replaces the wantaway striker.
His agent Cezary Kucharski’s recent comments suggest that the Pole already considers himself among the world’s finest strikers and it appears he is desperate to test himself at one of Europe’s so-called elite clubs.
But away from the comforts of the Bundesliga, Lewandowski has been found wanting. His record in Europe reflects well this season, but his international return is questionable.
He has only three competitive goals to his name in over 50 caps and two of those came against San Marino around four years ago, with his current international drought now stretching to eight games.
The two clubs leading the chase for his signature would be advised to keep their wallets shut and wait for an opportunity to sign a better player.
In Bayern’s case, however, their agenda is a little different. The Bundesliga leaders have a long tradition of weakening rivals by signing their players and would relish the opportunity to do so again at the expense of Dortmund.
On ability, however, Lewandowski would be the club’s third choice striker, behind Mario Mandzukic and Mario Gomez.
And what would incoming Bayern boss Pep Guardiola do with three out-and-out strikers? This is the same coach who discarded both Samuel Eto’o and Zlatan Ibrahimovic while at Barcelona.
There is no doubt that if surrounded by excellent players, Lewandowski would score goals for Bayern, but he would not propel them to another level. As Franz Beckenbauer put it, a transfer to the Allianz Arena would “make no sense”.
And while he enjoyed a fruitful partnership with Shinji Kagawa during the Japan international’s time at BVB, Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck all offer better options in attack.
If previous indications are anything to go by, he needs to be the focal point of the side and surrounded by quality attacking talent.
At present, he is not good enough for any of his potential suitors to afford him that indulgence and they would be wise to think twice before securing his services come the summer.