Robert Lewandowski is set to earn his 100th international cap for Poland tonight.

This is a grand occasion for a truly great striker. If this were a more famous name there would be endless hype around it and no doubt a marketing campaign and hashtag celebrating the occasion. But because it’s Robert Lewandowski, there’s little or none of that.

Bayern’s no. 9 is a player of incredible skill and vision. He’s tall and powerful but also possesses deft technique and the ability to link with his team-mates, meaning he can function as an offensive pivot as easily as a end-point. He lacks explosive pace, yet his movement is so smart that he’s nearly always in the right position. Moreover he’s a lethal finisher with both feet and head (he’s scored 340 goals in 537 club games). In terms of being a true no. 9 he’s got almost every attribute you could want a player to have.

Lewandowski has been one of the finest strikers in the world for going on 8 years now. That’s a sustained run of excellence longer than any currently active no. 9. Yet the Pole has never been showered in the same kind of adoration and appreciation that Luis Suárez has; nor was he ever hyped up like Harry Kane despite having achieved so much more.

This is a man who won his first league title back in 2010/11, his first season with Borussia Dortmund. He scored just 8 goals that season, which is the only campaign in his now 13 year career where he’s failed to score at least 14 goals.

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Lewandowski helped Dortmund retain their crown the following season (the first time someone other than Bayern Munich had retained the Bundesliga title since the mid-90’s) and finished off that season with a miraculous hat-trick in the DFB-Pokal final against Bayern, completing an incredible domestic double.

Dortmund began declining after that as Bayern flashed their cash and reclaimed top spot in Germany, but Lewandowski’s status as the league’s leading marksman could never be in doubt. Even in his last year when it was known he would leave the club and depart for Bayern on a free transfer, he still produced time and time again for Dortmund.

At Bayern under Pep Guardiola, the Pole somehow got even better. He’s won the Bundesliga every year he’s been in Munich (doing the domestic double in 2015/16) and after a debut season with just 25 goals has scored 40+ every year.

His dominance isn’t just restricted to the Bundesliga either. Lewandowski has an incredible 46 goals in just 73 Champions League games. He needs just one goal to equal the legendary Eusebio. With just four more goals he will reach his half-century, equalling Thierry Henry whilst surpassing Andriy Shevchenko and Alfredo di Stefano.

Yet all of these names receive so much more adulation than Lewandowski, despite him being just as phenomenally consistent as they were with less advantageous surroundings. Lewandowski is his nations top goalscorer, and is just a handful of caps away from being the top appearance-maker too. That speaks to his excellence but also shows just what he’s working with.

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Poland had never qualified for a European Championship before; yet now with Lewandowski leading the line they have been to three straight. And the striker was even top scorer in qualifying for Euro 2016 with an incredible 13 goals (a third of Poland’s total).

He improved on this when it came to the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Lewandowski bagged an incredible 16 goals during qualification for 2018, the joint-most across all confederations and quite astonishingly over half of Poland’s total goals (28). To do that as captain is incredible.

Yes, at the tournaments themselves the striker was ultimately disappointing, but that’s often because if we’re being quite honest, Poland didn’t really belong there. Without Lewandowski’s incredible goal output, Poland simply would not have made it to the last two tournaments.

Need more proof? Look at the qualification for the 2014 World Cup; Lewandowski scored just three goals (this was his first campaign as captain, and perhaps that pressure got to him) and as a result Poland only bagged 18 total and finished fourth in their group. So Lewandowski’s underperformances in France and Russia shouldn’t be used as a criticism of him; it’s almost solely because of his genius that Poland were even there in the first place.

Lewandowski is Poland. And, frankly, he’s Bayern Munich too. He’s a phenomenally dominant striker yet it seems like he has to perform literal miracles such as scoring four times in a single leg of a Champions League semi-final or bagging five goals in nine minutes in order to be taken seriously as the world conquering genius that he is.

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His consistency and brilliance is so… consistent that people take him for granted. He lacks the heart-attack EKG rhythm of Luis Suárez, lurching from uselessness to genius multiple times in each match. Nor does he have the novelty of Harry Kane (an English striker that’s consistent, fit and deadly at all levels that’s not called Alan!) to bolster him. He’s just great. And so, for the most part, he has to play second (or third) fiddle to other players; either from the same team as him or not.

This is best summed up by tonight, in what should be one of the crowning glories of his career, reaching 100 caps for his country (having scored 55 goals along the way, mind you) his brilliance will still have to play second fiddle. He will still be an afterthought as Jakub Błaszczykowski, his former Dortmund team-mate, is set to earn his 103rd cap and become Poland’s all-time record appearance-maker.

Even on his big day, he’s getting upstaged.

Just how unappreciated can one genius be?

The post Why Robert Lewandowski remains Poland’s unappreciated genius appeared first on Squawka News.

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