"What I try to do is to always show the best of myself, win trophies and score more goals. But that's something that comes with collective trophies. That's the most important thing. I don't even think about the Ballon d'Or, even if, in my life, I believe that anything is possible,"
"I'm convinced that the best period of my career is just around the corner. I know that this won't be my last contract. I want to play longer and stay in shape. I've got plenty of time to think about what comes next, but I feel really good.”
Those are the words of Robert Lewandowski in an interview with France Football. This came after the magazine had canceled the annual Ballon d’Or award because of the coronavirus pandemic. A year in which Lewandowski would have been the odds on favourite, given his 55 goals in 47 matches propelled Bayern Munich to an astonishing treble.
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34 of those goals had come in the Bundesliga, in just 31 games as well, the highest figure anyone had reached since Dieter Muller in 1977. What more was there to achieve?
Well it turns out that Lewandowski had a whole other level to get to.
Saturday saw the Polish forward hit his 41st goal of the Bundesliga season, breaking the record set by Gerd Muller 49 years ago.
No-one across Europe’s top five leagues come close to the season he’s having, at the time of writing Barcelona forward Lionel Messi is the only other player with at least 30 goals. Lewandowski is past 40. All this in a 34-game season as well, not the 38 games that his rivals get.
Except. It wasn’t 34 this season. Lewandowski missed matches, five of them to be precise. That means he scored his figure in just 29 matches.
That means he was averaging 1.41 goals per league game. For context Cristiano Ronaldo has never hit that sort of ratio, his best was 1.37. Lionel Messi has done it once, in 2012-13 when he scored 46 times in 32 matches at a rate of 1.44. Serie A and the Premier League have never seen anyone hit 40 goals. Ligue 1 saw it once in 1971 when Josip Skoblar did it at a rate of 1.22. Any way you look at it the numbers are utterly absurd.
Lewandowski is not just the best striker in the world right now, he’s arguably one of the greatest No 9s we’ve seen in the 21st century, if not the whole of football. Of course it is hyperbolic but this is the pantheon in which Lewandowski deserves to be discussed.
Over the past decade since arriving in Germany he has grown into the player he is today. Going from Jurgen Klopp’s gegenpressing to style, to Pep Guardiola’s relentless pursuit of the ball, and finally to Hansi Flick’s possession-heavy system. On the way he has gone to the limit in pursuit of greatness, from consulting a sleep specialist to ruthless streamlining his diet and regime.
What is perhaps most remarkable of all is that the footballing world never got to experience Lewandowski. As a teenager he was told he was finished in football, as documented brilliantly by our colleague in Poland Lukasz Przybylowicz at the back end of last year.
Thankfully for us Lech Poznan took a chance on a kid trying to make his way in the Polish lower levels and the rest is history. The question now is how will he be remembered by history? He is a nine-time Bundesliga champion yet it feels as if it is only in the last couple of seasons that the general populus has began to wake up to how good of a player he is. Maybe his role in Bayern’s Champions League success pushed them over the edge, maybe it is the fact that he plays for Bayern itself, or maybe it’s just people’s preferences. Lewandowski is not necessarily the sexy choice, especially compared to the hot new things; Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland.
But for now they, and everyone else including Harry Kane, are left in Lewandowski’s wake. And it’s scary to think that he may not be close to being done yet. His conditioning seems to be at the highest level possible and it is not as if his game was ever built on pace. His mind is as sharp as ever and there’s no reason why he cannot keep going for a few more years at the highest level.
And where will he be after that? He is currently the second-highest scorer in Bundesliga history with 277, 88 behind Muller. He’s third in the standings in the Champions League on 73. Catching Ronaldo and Messi might be tricky but he can certainly put some distance between himself and the chasing pack.
It’s time to start talking about Lewandowski as what he is, one of the greatest players of his generation. Yes he’s not at the level of Ronaldo or Messi, but it’s fair to say we may not ever see anyone at their levels again. If Haaland and Mbappe want someone to aim for, it’s Lewandowski. Get there and you’ll have achieved something special.
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