MARSEILLE, France. June 30 – The message from the Poland camp has been as predictable as it has consistent in the past few days: lay off ‘team man’ Robert Lewandowski.
The Bayern Munich star has underperformed horribly at UEFA EURO 2016 – four games, no goals and just two shots on target.
The 27-year-old has cut a forlorn figure at times as he battles to replicate the form that guided Poland to France and fired Bayern to another domestic double.
Lewandowski was Europe’s leading marksman in qualifying, plundering 13 goals to add to the 42 he scored in 51 games for Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering side last term.
And yet the goals have subsequently dried up.
None in his last seven international appearances and his record at the European Championship is even worse, having failed to find the net or deliver an assist in 643 minutes across two Euros.
His next opportunity to right those wrongs comes on Thursday against Portugal, and Cristiano Ronaldo, in the Euro 2016 quarter-final in Marseille.
Another blank against Fernando Santos’ men would be no surprise given their defensive set-up but, even that, would not prompt any doubts of Lewandowski’s ability from Poland coach Adam Nawalka, who has repeatedly highlighted the striker’s unselfishness.
Nawalka said after the last-16 clash with Switzerland: “Robert is doing phenomenal work for this team, he is incredibly important mentally and in football terms, he helps the team to be better, stronger, he motivates them.
“He’s fantastic, he is giving and creating chances for other players, opening up the space, creating good positions for them.
“I’m confident and sure that he will get a break in the next match and then let our opponents be afraid.”
Goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski read from the same script, adding: “No, we’re not worried at all [about Robert].
“Even though he’s not scoring goals he gives a lot to the team.”
They have to say that, of course. Why criticise a man, especially their most important player, when he already looks bereft of confidence?
The Poland camp will have rallied around Lewandowski this week in an attempt to get their man back on track. And yet the solution could be much closer at hand.
With one glance over to the Portugal team in the Stade Velodrome tunnel, Lewandowski will catch sight of the imposing figure of Ronaldo, steely-eyed staring towards the pitch.
For the Real Madrid superstar, it’s another chance for personal glory.
Ronaldo went through a drought of sorts himself last season, in particular away from the Santiago Bernabeu.
It came to a head in February when he was asked why he hadn’t scored on the road since November.
His reply was curt yet self-assured. “Who else has scored more goals away from home than me since I arrived in Spain? Name one player who has scored more than me? No answer? Okay. Thank you everyone,” he said, before walking out of a news conference.
Ronaldo scored the opening goal 24 hours later as Madrid won 2-0 at Roma.
Ronaldo’s single-mindedness is not always seen as a positive – his frustration at team-mates, often accompanied by a theatrical waving of the arms, is unlikely to do much for their morale.
But Santos knows, as does Zinedine Zidane at Madrid, that to curb the tantrums, the rapaciousness and the vanity would damage not only Ronaldo but also the team.
In Ronaldo’s mind, he comes first.
Maybe it’s time Nawalka tells Lewandowski the same thing: ‘Forget the team and play for yourself’.
Changing a player’s mindset is a challenge but, if successful, Poland will be the ultimate beneficiaries.
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