Le­wandowski has Muller’s 40-goal mile­stone in sights

The National - News - - SPORT - IAN HAWKEY

As Lionel Messi makes space on his man­tel­piece for a sixth Bal­lon D’Or, it is le­git­i­mate to won­der if any­body, in any era, will ever catch up. He is ahead of Cris­tiano Ron­aldo, who has five and a 35th birth­day two months away.

But there’s one race in which Messi al­ready faces im­plau­si­bly hard com­pe­ti­tion for No 1 sta­tus this sea­son: to fin­ish as the lead­ing scorer across elite club foot­ball. Messi has six Golden Shoes and a decade’s worth of in­ter­chang­ing that prize with Ron­aldo.

Both usu­ally get there via a sur­real set of sta­tis­tics. Or with num­bers like those cur­rently be­ing gen­er­ated by Robert Le­wandowski, who is com­mand­ing the Bun­desliga and Cham­pi­ons League.

That the Pole did not reg­is­ter a goal last week­end pro­voked a col­lec­tive gasp around Bavaria. It was only the sec­ond time in 19 starts across league, Cup and Euro­pean fix­tures he has gone with­out.

He comes into De­cem­ber with a star­tling 27 goals. There were four against Red Star Bel­grade last week, eye-catch­ing for their rapid suc­ces­sion – 14 min­utes be­tween first and fourth.

One came from a dead-ball, an area of high ex­per­tise; one poacher’s strike, ex­e­cuted with an elas­tic stretch of his long right leg; one header met with a typ­i­cal N0 9’s au­thor­ity; one cold-blooded fin­ish, fac­ing an ad­vanc­ing goal­keeper af­ter a nim­ble drib­ble past two de­fend­ers.

Thus the com­plete cen­tre-for­ward in a bite-sized, quar­ter-hour high­lights pack­age. More com­pet­i­tive op­po­nents than Red Star are col­laps­ing be­fore this all-pur­pose preda­tor, and the in­trigu­ing as­pect of his cur­rent form is that it co­in­cides with a pe­riod of Bay­ern dys­func­tion.

His club, where Le­wandowski has won the Bun­desliga ti­tle in each of the last five years, are fourth in the ta­ble and on their sec­ond head coach of the sea­son.

They are also in tran­si­tion, af­ter over a decade in which their at­tack­ing foot­ball was greatly de­fined by the long-serv­ing wingers, Franck Ribery and Ar­jen Robben, both now de­parted. To have that pair as sup­pli­ers is a boon for any tar­get man.

What Le­wandowski has de­vel­oped is a game far be­yond the con­fines of sim­ple tar­get-man.

He can be that – 1.84m tall, with a great spring, strong neck mus­cles and a fi­nessed tim­ing of his runs to near and far post – but, along with the help­ful phys­i­cal di­men­sions is an un­usual dain­ti­ness, a light­ness on his feet.

There is a ge­netic ex­pla­na­tion. His fa­ther, Krzystof, was a dis­tin­guished judo cham­pion; his mother, Iwona, played vol­ley­ball to a high level.

For a glimpse of the leap­ing, in­ner martial-artist in their son, look only at Robert’s re­mark­able mo­ment of ball-con­trol dur­ing Bay­ern’s 4-0 win over Borus­sia Dort­mund last month.

He soared off the ground against his for­mer club, and plucked a high ball from the sky on his toe-cap, con­nect­ing at more than two me­tres off the ground, and let­ting the ball roll gen­tly down his leg as if on a slide.

He has been priv­i­leged with his men­tors, from Jur­gen Klopp, whose Dort­mund were pro­pelled to two Ger­man ti­tles by Le­wandowski’s goals in 2011 and 2012, to Pep Guardi­ola – “Pep makes ev­ery player im­prove,” Le­wandowski told Bild – to Carlo Ancelotti, un­der whom he scored at close to a goal per game.

And, although Le­wandowski is no loud­mouth, there is, col­leagues say, a fierce am­bi­tion and a keen aware­ness of his rel­a­tive sta­tus among the greats of his gen­er­a­tion.

An im­me­di­ate aim is to eclipse a great from a pre­vi­ous era, Gerd Muller, whose 40 goals in a 34-match Bun­desliga sea­son is un­matched in 47 years. “I thought that record would be eter­nal,” said Kar­lHeinz Rum­menigge, Bay­ern chief ex­ec­u­tive and for­mer col­league of Muller’s. “Robert is the first man who could equal it.”

If he main­tains his cur­rent rate, Le­wandowski will pass 40 league goals.

If he keeps his Cham­pi­ons League form, and fol­lows up with a strong Euro­pean championsh­ip for Poland, then the Bal­lon D’Or judges will be obliged to put his name closer to the podium.

AFP

Robert Le­wandowski has scored 27 goals, in­clud­ing four goals against for­mer club Borus­sia Dort­mund, this sea­son

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