Following the behavior and actions of Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski over the past five months has been exhausting. From constant leaks about his desire to leave Munich to sparring with Mats Hummels on the training pitch, constant on-field exasperation and sniping at teammates, and even the public dismissal of Jupp Heynckes after being removed from the Bundesliga fixture against FC Köln—Lewandowski is a handful.
It is a difficult dichotomy for most Bayern fans: the man is a phenomenal talent on field, but he also emotes some of the worst behavior 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, shunning a congratulatory hand from Heynckes borders on blasphemy.
You can spar with Hummels at practice, you can make a stink face at Franck Ribery if 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 reflects the dark side of the über-confidence and drive that Lewandowski exudes.
Lewandowski’s self-belief puts high expectations on everyone around him
You could use a number of words to describe Lewandowski’s play and attitude over this period: all at once, he has been electric and disappointing, whiney yet stellar, ruthlessly competitive but subversive, or even just a flat-out jerk. The Polish international has run the gamut. His exceptional talent may be dwarfed only by his enormous ego. And that is what propels him to the greatness he has achieved.
Lewandowski not only believes he is the most dangerous striker on Earth; he knows it. Only such supreme self-confidence could allow a man one derided as “too small” to rise from the dregs of the Polish second division to top scorer on the top side in the Bundesliga. When no one else believed in Lewandowski, he still believed in himself.
Lewandowski is amazingly goal hungry and supremely driven. That drive extends to his preparation off the pitch as well. His former Dortmund teammate Nuri Sahin nicknamed him “the Body” because his physique astonished the locker room. Lewandowski does everything in his power to dominate his sport. But those same positive characteristics also make Lewandowski a prima donna, as often happens when elite competitors have the type of cocksure attitude and arrogance necessary to be so successful.
For Lewandowski, that conceit has absolutely pushed him to the pinnacle of his position in the global game. But he also has to recognize how Bayern has contributed to his success.
Lewandowski should appreciate the selflessness of Thomas 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, shrugs, 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 of Lewandowski’s performance to the team. There are not many global stars who would so willingly and selflessly accommodate Lewandowski at the expense of their own statistics and performance. You could certainly argue that Müller has sacrificed himself to a fault in an effort to ensure that Lewandowski is kept happy and productive.
This relationship may be a factor in where Lewandowski ends up next season more than anything else. A Ronaldo or Marcelo or Luka Modric or any other member of Los Blancos would do no than give a derisive eye roll when Lewandowski slumps his shoulders and raises his arms when things don’t go exactly as planned. Imagine 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.
Lewandowski is in the perfect environment for his own success, which is the thing that matters most to him—and as he is surrounded by selfless talent like that at Bayern, the result can be a mutually beneficial relationship that positively impacts the entire squad via winning games.
Love him or hate him, Lewandowski cannot easily be replaced
Frankly, Lewandowski’s greatness on the pitch is actually underrated. 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 outside of Bundesliga die-hards who fully appreciates what Lewandowski has done in his career.
And that is maybe where Lewandowski’s inflated sense of his own brand leads him astray. He is 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 be good enough to quench the thirst for fame burning inside him.
So, yes, Lewandowski is an enormous jerk in many ways on the field; but without that chip on his shoulder whenever he takes the pitch and his aura of self-confidence, he would never have reached the level that he has attained.
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 shoulders every time he takes the pitch for his country; 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, Lewandowski would not be anywhere near the dynamic force he is today.
This piece is adapted from www.thebarrelblog.com.