If there was a greater participant in world soccer these previous two years, Robert Lewandowski’s purpose report suggests in any other case.
His 41 Bundesliga objectives for Bayern Munich final season had been 11 greater than anybody else in a serious European league. Greater than anybody has ever managed within the historical past of that competitors, breaking the report set by the late, nice Gerd Muller in 1972.
If France Soccer deigned to award the Ballon d’Or final yr, Lewandowski would have been sturdy favorite to win it. He’s anticipated to be given the gong later this month anyway.
At 33, he has achieved all of it within the membership sport, profitable 9 of the final 11 German titles – two with Dortmund and 7 in a row with Bayern. He added the Champions League in 2020.
However will probably be tough to repeat the feat at worldwide stage, regardless of being the highest scorer in qualifying for the European Championship in 2016 and the World Cup in 2018. He scored three objectives in three video games at Euro 2020 but it surely was not sufficient for Poland to progress.
When edging previous Albania final month, Lewandowski’s teammates included these enjoying in Russia and MLS. There have been colleagues from the second tier in Italy and England. The world’s greatest striker sharing a pitch with friends from Derby County and Barnsley.
That is the peculiar problem of worldwide soccer. At membership stage, on this globalised world, the perfect gravitate in direction of the perfect. However the worldwide sport nonetheless throws up these quirks.
So, how do you deal with a world-class participant in that workforce?
Paulo Sousa knew that this is able to outline his success as Poland supervisor as quickly as he was appointed to the function in January 2020. His relationship with Lewandowski could be key.
It’s why he made a detour to Germany earlier than even setting foot on Polish soil. On the peak of the pandemic, restrictions meant that the pair needed to meet at a lodge close by Munich airport, the place they’d a prolonged dialog, sharing concepts concerning the sport.
“That first assembly was near 4 hours,” Sousa tells Sky Sports activities.
“It was very important and it was wonderful.”
In Sousa’s thoughts was a e-book that he had learn years earlier when the Portuguese had been in Italy answerable for Fiorentina. The e-book was by Phil Jackson, the previous Chicago Bulls coach who received every little thing there was to win with Michael Jordan.
“Somebody gave it to me and it had a huge impact on me.”
Jordan was already the perfect basketball participant on the earth when Jackson was promoted to move coach however the biggest achievements had been nonetheless to return. They got here not by bettering Jordan’s numbers however bringing out different qualities in him to assist the workforce succeed.
“If I used to be going to have any success realising my imaginative and prescient for the workforce, I knew my first problem was to win over Michael Jordan,” Jackson defined in Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success.
“He was the workforce chief, and different gamers would comply with if he went together with this system. Michael and I had an excellent rapport, however I wasn’t sure how he would reply to the concept of giving up the ball and taking fewer pictures.
“In a manner, I used to be asking Michael to provide much less. How a lot much less, I wasn’t positive. Maybe sufficient to stop him from profitable his fourth straight scoring title. Michael was extra receptive than I believed he could be.
“We had a personal assembly in my workplace, and I advised him, ‘You’ve got to share the highlight together with your teammates as a result of if you happen to do not, they will not develop … In consequence, you in all probability will not be capable to win one other scoring title.’
“Michael’s response was surprisingly pragmatic, ‘Okay, you already know me. I’ve all the time been a coachable participant. No matter you wish to do, I’m behind you.'”
Sousa sees parallels with Lewandowski.
“Studying about Jordan was a key second for me,” he reveals. “The man was already on the prime however the problem was to contain him within the course of to make others develop their abilities collectively. It was wonderful and it was all the time in my thoughts with Robert.”
The preliminary dialog had been over the phone, establishing that Lewandowski nonetheless had huge ambitions with Poland. The will was there. “I knew how essential his function with the nationwide workforce was to him. He nonetheless had the desire to do one thing.”
However there was a frustration too, having had an uneasy relationship with a few of his former coaches. A paucity of ambition to the play mixed with sky excessive expectations on him as a person made for an uncomfortable combine. “All the main target was on him,” says Sousa.
The mutual respect was there. Sousa had received the Champions League himself with Lewandowski’s former membership Dortmund. The Portuguese has “invested loads in communication and sports activities psychology” and wished to carry out a brand new aspect to the striker.
“Step one was to know him, to grasp him,” he explains.
“There’s a manner of asking questions, driving gamers to open up. We understood the frustration that he was feeling. We began to contain him extra within the course of.”
What Sousa quickly discovered, maybe unsurprisingly provided that Lewandowski has turned himself into one of many world’s greatest gamers by will in addition to ability, is that he has a eager thoughts.
“He’s very demanding, all the time asking questions. He has his personal concepts about soccer and needs to know every little thing about our sport mannequin, our technique for particular matches, why we determine to choose sure gamers over others and once we select to adapt the dynamics.
“How we work, we divide the sport into 5 moments. Our defensive organisation, our attacking organisation, set items, and what occurs in transition once we win the ball and once we lose the ball. We now have patterns as a workforce, that is our id.
“However whereas our concept is to be very aggressive and win the ball again as rapidly as doable, we could have a special technique for each sport, which suggests inputting sure dynamics.
“Robert all the time listens intently when we now have these tactical discussions with the workforce earlier than matches and we’re doing the evaluation of ourselves and of our opponents.
“He’s very clever and he picks up these concepts in a short time.”
That intelligence to adapt to the state of affairs has underscored Lewandowski’s development as a participant. He was no teenage famous person. In actual fact, he was nonetheless enjoying for Lech Poznan in his homeland as he approached his twenty second birthday and took time to settle at Dortmund.
He labored at his sport and located the options by laborious work and willpower. “You’ll be able to see that it isn’t simply method with him,” says Sousa. “It’s the feeling that he has in each second, all of his actions, and the timing of these actions.”
At Bayern, he’s completely in synch with the ahead runs of Thomas Muller. He has realized to anticipate when his wingers will shoot – requiring him to shut down the goalkeeper on the lookout for the rebound – and when they are going to cross to the close to submit or the far.
With Poland, the ball won’t all the time come so rapidly or so precisely.
Lewandowski has needed to adapt his actions.
“That is what we made him realise,” Sousa explains. “The best way he sees the sport in every second, it’s completely different to the others, particularly the timing of his choices, the evaluation, he must adapt to the timing of the others and perceive that.
“The timing that he has together with his gamers at Bayern Munich will not be going to be the identical for the nationwide workforce. An clever participant like him, it is very important perceive the others.
“He has to guarantee that his choices go well with the workforce.
“That intelligence requires plenty of focus.”
If that appears like that is all about Lewandowski adjusting to the extent of inferior teammates, that isn’t the entire story. In different respects, that is about him dragging others together with him. He’s the proper instance for any gamers looking for to maximise their potential.
His spouse Anna is a famed nutritionist, a world-class karate skilled with a level in bodily schooling. She has helped rework Lewandowski’s food regimen, slicing out sugar and cow’s milk. He made headlines when it was revealed he eats meals backwards, beginning with dessert.
Whereas it’d sound odd, it’s indicative of his dedication.
“It’s only while you work with him each day that you just perceive his mindset concerning soccer and his life. He’s all the time demanding of himself and has modified numerous issues in his life to change into extra constant, bodily, technically and tactically.
“That is one thing that he can even present to his teammates together with his expertise of his personal growth. In doing that, he has the prospect to have rather more gamers as much as his stage.
“They’ll be taught every little thing from him.”
The indicators are good. Poland received that sport in Albania, a vital victory that takes them a step nearer to securing at the very least a playoff place of their bid to achieve the World Cup.
It adopted one other win – by 5 objectives towards San Marino. Lewandowski performed in each, however didn’t rating. His personal numbers are down however Poland are outscoring England in Group I.
Poland aren’t the Chicago Bulls. However maybe the workforce is rising.
“With Robert, it has been a good looking course of, for himself and for the nationwide workforce,” says Sousa. “We now have tried to information him to get the identical power as his teammates and from there we might construct it up into one thing particular.”
In that case, it may very well be the story of how the world’s greatest participant turned even higher.