Robert Lewandowski: Graft is Poland striker's recipe for success

By Richard WilsonBBC Scotland
Robert Lewandowski playing for Poland
Poland's main striker has scored 10 times so far in Euro 2016 Qualifying Group D
Euro 2016 qualifying: Scotland v Poland
Date: Thursday, 8 October Venue: Hampden Park, Glasgow Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland; live text commentary on BBC Sport website

It has taken graft for Robert Lewandowski to finally reach the very summit of the game.

He has been a consistent goalscorer, a title winner, an international and a highly-paid and valued footballer but it is only now that he is being considered amongst the superstar elite.

The achievements of the Poland striker, who will face Scotland in Thursday's Euro 2016 qualifier, are being measured against those of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The comparisons have become inescapable - they are the only three players to have scored more goals than Lewandowski in Europe's five leading leagues since 2011.

He has gathered appreciation with a steady resolve. Rejection played a part in Lewandowski's career, but it never had the means to curtail him.

Early set-backs

He was released as a youth by Legia Warsaw, rejected by various scouts and coaches and doubted for spells at Borussia Dortmund and, briefly, at Bayern Munich.

These moments of dismissal seem like curios now when Lewandowski is capable of such irrepressible scoring that he can notch 19 goals in 13 games this season, with 12 coming in his last four games, including a nine-minute five-goal spree as a substitute against Wolfsburg. He is also the leading goalscorer in Euro 2016 qualifying with 10.

Robert Lewandowski
Lewandowski's five-goal haul against Wolfsburg made headlines throughout Europe

Lewandowski lacks the artistry and imagination of Messi, the brutally skilful accomplishment of Ronaldo or the egotistical flair of Ibrahimovic but his prowess cannot be denied. No foreign player reached 100 Bundesliga goals quicker than Lewandowski and few would have scored them with such variety.

The Pole is a capable finisher with his head and his weaker foot - the left - although it would be reductive to consider Lewandowski as solely a finisher.

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His first-touch is deft enough that he can leave a defender trailing in the cramped spaces of the final third, he has the passing range to bring others into play with his back to goal and has the adaptability to fit into the system devised by Pep Guardiola at Bayern, a manager who has previously shown an unwillingness to trust centre-forwards over small, mobile attacking figures.

That Lewandowski ensured he became integral at Bayern is in keeping with his career. He almost turned his back on the game when he was released by Legia but joined Znicz Pruszkow and scored the goals that took them to two consecutive promotions.

That caught the attention of Lech Poznan scouts and their head coach Franciszek Smuda sanctioned a move for the striker, whom he had watched years before and dismissed.

Robert Lewandowski playing for Lech Poznan
The striker netted 41 times in his two seasons with Lech Poznan

When Lewandowski made his league debut as a substitute in the opening game of the season for Lech, he scored with a back-heel after just four minutes. He scored on his debut for Poland, too, and goals have become the means by which to assess him.

Thriving on supply

Lewandowski is more rounded, although his current spate of goals at Bayern Munich is being attributed in part to circumstance.

Franz Beckenbauer is among those who have observed that with Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben out injured, Bayern's two wide players - Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman - are more conventional and delivered crosses and passes rather than cutting inside to shoot themselves.

The greater number of chances have contributed to the greater number of goals scored by Lewandowski but he still needs the nous to convert them.

Robert Lewandowski playing for Bayern Munich
Lewandowski has benefitted from playing with out and out wide players at Bayern

He is composed in the final third, able to deploy that gift of seeming unhurried and coldly certain in the hubbub of the penalty area.

Lewandowski is tall but mobile and agile. The latter qualities are thought to have been improved by training sessions with his wife, Anna Stachurska, a karate champion. He comes from athletic stock, though, since his father, Krzystof, played for Hutnik Warsaw and was a Polish judo champion while his mother, Iwona, was a volleyball player.

The family persuaded their priest to shorten Lewandowski's communion service so that he could play for his local boys' team and the striker, naturally, scored, after changing into his kit in the car journey to the game. Now, he accumulates goals at the highest level and has become an icon.

He was the subject of an aggressive form of marking from Gordon Greer when Scotland drew 2-2 in Poland earlier in the Euro 2016 campaign, but that kind of treatment will not diminish him.

Lewandowski has fought for his status. At 27 and with 200 career goals so far, he is in the prime of his career. That is reward for his gifts but also his personality.

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