Widely criticised in the none-too-distant past for a poor scoring record and already even written off as a failed signing in some quarters, Robert Lewandowski has emerged this season as Borussia Dortmund’s most prolific scorer for more than 30 years. The last BVB forward to surpass his current 14-goal total at this stage of the campaign was Manfred Burgsmüller, back in in 1980-81. And there is even more promising news for fans of the Yellow-Blacks, as Lewandowski noted that “I usually score more goals in the back end of the season than in the first half.”
When Dortmund stormed to the league title in 2010-11, their new Polish frontman chipped in with a modest eight goals in his 33 appearances. On the back of a brace in the 5-1 win at Hamburger SV on Matchday 18, his overall total had risen to 22 in 53 Bundesliga outings. For good measure, the 23-year-old forward has also supplied four assists to date in this, his second season in the German game.
“Lewi’s come on tremendously. He’s young and not the finished article yet, but he’s a big player for us. At the end of his first year we knew there was still something missing and that was down largely to his own self-belief. He’s taking more on his shoulders now and it’s great to see, but it’s not something that can be taken for granted”, stressed BVB coach Jürgen Klopp, for whom Lewandowski is “the most exciting player to come out of Poland for ten or 15 years… there aren’t many players who could keep Lucas Barrios out of the team.”
Barrios’s misfortune – he suffered a torn thigh muscle playing for Paraguay in the final of the Copa America during the summer – proved to be Lewandowski’s big break, giving him the opportunity to finally lead the line rather than occupying the hole behind the central striker. Playing regularly in his favourite position has, he admitted, “lightened the mental load a bit.” And while Barrios, top scorer with 16 goals in the championship-winning campaign, currently has to make do with the occasional deployment off the bench, Lewandowski continues to blossom both as a goalscorer and an all-round forward in the modern mould. That potential was evident already last season, when he replaced the injured Shinji Kagawa in the central attacking midfield role for the entirety of the title run-in.
Klopp has a special regard for the Polish international’s tremendous work rate. A promising track athlete as well in his youth, Lewandowski comes from a sporting background: his father was a judo instructor, his mother a volleyball player. He chose football, and made his professional breakthrough at 19 with Lech Poznan, going on to score 32 goals in 58 league games for them. He arrived at Dortmund as the top scorer in Poland’s Ekstraklasa.
The praise raining down on him now is in stark contrast to the criticism that accompanied a difficult first year in the Bundesliga. “We were always convinced of his ability. And he’s paying us back now for that show of faith,” Klopp said. Lewandowski himself is very much a player who prefers to do his talking out on the pitch and he is somewhat embarrassed to find himself in the limelight so often these days. “I don’t care who scores, as long as we win,” he insists. That credo doubtless extends to the finals of Euro 2012, co-hosted by Poland, where, together with Dortmund clubmates Lukasz Piszczek and Jakub Blaszczykowski, Robert Lewandowski hopes to make another bit of history.