Following the behavior and actions of Robert Lewandowski over the past five months has been something of an exhausting experience. From the constant leaks about his desire to leave Munich to the constant on-field exasperation and sniping at teammates (and even Jupp Heynckes), the Bayern Munich striker has been a handful to deal with internally.
It’s a difficult dichotomy for most Bayern fans to grasp. The man is a phenomenal talent on field, but also one who exhibits some of the worst behaviour and attitude that an athlete can display on a pitch. While most Bayern fans are immune to the facial expressions and physical frustration Lewandowski displays if a pass to him is three inches off its mark, the shunning of a congratulatory hand from Heynckes was borderline blasphemy. You can spar with Hummels at practice, you can give the stink face to Franck Ribery when a cross is too far behind you, you can even argue and try to grab the ball away from David Alaba when debating who should take a free kick. But waving off the extended hand of Heynckes is the dark side of the uber-confidence and self-driven aura that Lewandowski exudes.
Bayern’s prima Donna
You could use any number of words to describe Lewandowski’s play and his attitude over this period. From electric to disappointing to whiner to stellar to subversive to jerk, the Polish international has totally run the gamut. His exceptional talent may only be dwarfed by his enormous ego…and that is what actually propels him to the greatness he has achieved.
Lewandowski does not just believe he is the most dangerous striker on Earth, he knows it. Only that supreme amount of self-confidence could allow a man to rise from the dregs of the Polish second division to the Champions League final, to heights of being the top scorer on the top side in the Bundesliga. When no one else believed in him, he had his own belief system to fall back on.
Lewandowski is amazingly goal hungry and supremely driven to score. With those positive characteristics come the prima donna attributes that accompany anyone who not only has that type of cocksure attitude, but the arrogance typically required to be so successful. For Lewandowski, that conceit has pushed him to the pinnacle of his position within the global game.
If anyone gets it, it’s Müller
Perhaps the player who has sacrificed his own play to make Lewandowski more effective is none other than Thomas Müller. The Bavarian is often the recipient of frustrated looks, shrugging, and raised arms when an attempt to find the Polish international goes awry. But Müller, more than anyone, gets it. He understands the mercurial nature of the Foul Pole and the immense importance to the team that Lewandowski’s performance holds. There are not many global stars who would so willingly and selflessly accommodate Lewandowski at the expense of his own statistics and performance. You could certainly argue that Müller has forwent his own play to a fault in an effort to ensure that Lewandowski is kept happy and productive.
Maybe this should be a factor in where Lewandowski ends up next season more than anything else. Would Ronaldo or Marcelo or Luka Modric or any other member of Los Blancos do more than give a derisive eye roll when Lewandowski slumps his shoulders and raised his arms when things don’t go exactly as planned? Imagine, too, Lewandowski on the collection of misfit toys that is Manchester United’s roster, surrounded by players who care nothing about Lewandowski or his tally sheet when he expresses frustration over not receiving a pass because a teammate chose to fire a shot over the net.
And that is maybe where Lewandowski’s inflated sense of his own brand leads him astray. He’s not a global brand like Ronaldo or LeBron James or Tom Brady; he’s a damn good striker for the best team in Germany — and that may not even be good enough to extinguish the flame for fame burning inside of him.
Weights (and chips) on his shoulders
So yes, Lewandowski exhibits character flaws in many ways on the field; but by all accounts, he’s a humble family man away from the game. Without that chip on his shoulder, he would have never made it to the level that he has achieved. This is a man who powered Borussia Dortmund to a Champions League final in 2013; a man who puts the entire weight of Poland on his sturdy shoulders every time he takes the pitch for international play; and the same player who is on the verge of scoring 30 goals for the third consecutive season in the Bundesliga. Appreciate the fine career he has had and the ability and passion he brings to the game, but don’t be surprised the next time his actions make a coach or a teammate look small. It is part of what carried him to where he is, without that attitude, he’s not likely to be anywhere near the dynamic force he is today.
Lewandowski is in the perfect environment for his own success, which is the thing that matters most to him — and in being surrounded by selfless talent like Bayern, that can be a mutually beneficial relationship that positively impact the entire squad via winning games. Frankly, Lewandowski’s greatness on the pitch is under-rated. Scour the internet and you will find countless odes to the greatness of the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Leo Messi, and Neymar. You will also read much about the growing stardom of Harry Kane and Mo Salah; but you will have to look hard to find anyone not tied to or a fan of the Bundesliga who fully appreciates what Lewandowski has done in his career.