Borussia Dortmund's Robert Lewandowski: Europe's most wanted man
Robert Lewandowski is big in Warsaw, the city where he was born and raised. During Euro 2012 there was nobody bigger; a giant poster of Poland's golden boy covered one side of the Orco Tower, a 115 metre-high skyscraper in the country's capital. Now his face is ready to decorate another sort of poster: Europe's most wanted.
The 24-year-old Borussia Dortmund striker is wanted in Bavaria, Italy, Spain and most particularly in England. The new year will open with renewed speculation as to where Lewandowski will make his new home – it is taken as read that he will move, either in January's window or next summer because on his current deal with the German champions, who operate a rigid wage structure, he becomes a free agent in 2014.
Arsenal, Chelsea and in particular both Manchester clubs have been advanced as suitors for a player who scored 30 times last season to open Dortmund's route to a league and cup double. United had a £16m approach rejected last summer but given his dwindling contract it may not take millions more to swing a deal.
He comes accompanied by no shortage of references. Miroslav Klose calls him a "super player"; Franck Ribéry is another admirer, publicly instructing his bosses at Bayern Munich to recruit him; Leo Beenhakker, the much travelled Dutch coach who gave him his first cap four years ago, described him as "the future of Polish football". But it is the testimony of Jurgen Klopp, a man not given to hyperbole, that is most instructive. The Dortmund manager labels Lewandowski the "most exciting player I have seen in the last 10 to 15 years".
Klopp is instructive on Lewandowski's strengths. The Pole is an all-round package. At 6ft he carries an aerial presence – he scored the opening goal of Euro 2012 with his head – and he is quick enough, but it is when he has his back to goal that he carries most threat. Klopp lauds his technique and control, which allied to an instinct for goalscoring, make up a player able to damage most opponents.
Lewandowski's performance against Manchester City in the Champions League demonstrated much that is good about him, as well as cautioning that he remains a work in progress – his career at the top level is still in relative infancy. He missed chances against City, as he did during the Euros, notably in the game against the Czechs. Poland lost and made an early departure from their own tournament accompanied by a thunderous storm over Warsaw.
The capital is Lewandowski's home town. The son of a Polish judo champion and a volleyball player, he grew up in a sporting environment. His father also played lower league football and it was at that level that the young Lewandowski rebuilt his career after being let go by Legia Warsaw. He began to score goals, first in the third tier then the second, and that proved enough for Franciszek Smuda, the man who was to take charge of Poland's Euro 2012 campaign and then managing Lech Poznan, to take him away from Warsaw.
Lewandowski continued to score at the higher level and international recognition followed. He first pulled on his national shirt in 2008 at Molineux, winning an Under-21 cap in a goalless friendly against an England side that included Joe Hart and Ryan Shawcross.
Later that year, Beenhakker selected him for the full side and his faith was instantly rewarded with a goal on debut. It came against San Marino – of the 15 goals Lewandowski has scored for his country in collecting 48 caps, three have come in competitive games and two of those have been against the San Marinese. The goal against Greece that promised so much is his sole score in a competitive game of note. It is a statistic skewed by Poland's automatic qualification as European Championship hosts, but there remain questions over his effectiveness at international level.
Back home, there have been whispers that he reserves his best displays for his German employers. There is a simpler explanation: he is surrounded by better players at Dortmund than he is in his country's service, although his record in the Champions League is patchy. No player has had more attempts off target than Lewandowski's seven in his two games this season. He has scored twice in eight Champions League outings, including the winner against Ajax this season.
The two key providers for Lewandowski in the Poland side play alongside him in the Bundesliga, although Jakub Blaszczykowski will not feature tomorrow and the loss of their playmaker and captain to injury is a serious blow to the home side, now under the management of Waldemar Fornalik following Smuda's departure after the Euros.
Lukasz Piszczek will be in place if he comes through a fitness test. He sat out Friday night's friendly against South Africa, a 1-0 win for the Poles. A forward-thinking full-back, Piszczek, like Blaszczykowski, was an integral part of Dortmund's Bundesliga triumph last season. Lewandowski's goals were the result of much willing work by his compatriots. He scored 22 in the league and all from open play, shrugging off a wobbly first season with the club to earn the league's player of the year award. In Germany, fans and media have attached an admiring nickname, "Lewangoalski".
"We know England have had some defensive problems and we might just be able to surprise them," said Lewandowski. It would not come as a surprise to anyone in Warsaw, neighbouring Germany, nor even among those England defenders, were he to cause those problems; a wanted man is a dangerous man.
Pole stars: others to watch
The 27-year-old was born in Metz and played for France's Under-21s but then switched allegiance to his grandfather's country in 2009. An attacking midfielder, he scored twice on his debut and played all three games at Euro 2012
The 18-year-old has been fast-tracked into the national squad because of an over-reliance on Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski for goals. The striker, who made his debut on Friday against South Africa, has already been touted as a possible replacement for Lewandowski at Dortmund.
The midfielder attracted the highest price paid for a Polish league player when Trabzonspor spent £4.3m to take him to Turkey last year. The 25-year-old has scored twice, one in a friendly victory over Argentina and the other in a draw in Montenegro at the start of this campaign