Home » European Championship qualification: Too big for his country – Lewandowski’s rare fate

European Championship qualification: Too big for his country – Lewandowski’s rare fate

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European Championship qualification: Too big for his country – Lewandowski’s rare fate

In the summer of 2022, Robert Lewandowski moved from FC Bayern to FC Barcelona to everyone’s surprise and some displeasure. “I didn’t want to have to stand in front of the mirror at some point and say to myself: ‘Why didn’t you try?’,” he explained.

In fact, it can be said that as a person he has probably only gained: new country, new life, new language, which he already speaks very well. His wife, the wellness entrepreneur Anna Lewandowska, also seems happy. Most recently, she organized fitness days for premium customers in a spectacular setting between the sea and the mountains.

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And football? Sometimes like this; sometimes like that. The Pole is experiencing a roller coaster ride at the mood-prone “Barça” that he has hardly experienced before in a linear career. Things had always been going up in the Bundesliga; he broke one record after another as a striker for Dortmund and Bayern. “Lewy” became a two-time world footballer (2021, 2022) and – with a total of 644 professional goals – one of three still active players in the top ten of the all-time top scorers list alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

“The team needs big changes”

He also became a role model and symbolic figure for a country where, as he himself once put it, people were once not even allowed to dream as big as he managed to under the constraints of communism: “It no longer matters where you are where you come from, but only what you want to be.”

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On Thursday, the now 35-year-old fought for this country against defenders from Estonia. To take part in the 2024 European Championship in Germany, Poland has to complete two extra rounds of a play-off. How it happens when the team only comes third in a qualifying group behind Albania and the Czech Republic. When a project goes so wrong that the Portuguese Fernando Santos was fired again six months after taking office in September 2023.

Lewandowski and the Polish national team are only one win away from the European Championship

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Source: AFP/WOJTEK RADWANSKI

“The team needs big changes to get to the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Lewandowski after a defeat in Albania. After these captain’s words at the latest, coach Santos, 2016 European champion with Portugal, was done for.

Under his successor Michal Probierz, Poland presented itself more energetically and aggressively against the second-class Estonians in the 5:1 (1:0) in Warsaw. Lewandowski showed a wide range of action, but didn’t even have to score himself; colleagues were able to gain self-confidence. On Tuesday in Cardiff (8.45 p.m., in the WELT live ticker) things will get tougher with Wales, who are strong at home, and for the winner anyway – they will then face top favorites France, the Netherlands and Austria in European Championship Group D.

Lewandowski is too big for his country

For Poland’s opponents, the route is usually clear. It’s about neutralizing the Red and White’s sharpest – and often only – weapon with as many defenders as necessary. Lewandowski has known about the deal since he made his home European Championship finals debut in 2012. With a goal in the opening game, but neither then nor from then on was there enough talent around him to really do anything.

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Too big for his country: Only a surprisingly few superstars share this fate. Of all the world footballers, only George Weah (Liberia) came from a nation that has not reached at least one World Cup final or won a European Championship in its history. A successor for Lewandowski seems to have already been found: Erling Haaland hasn’t even made it to the finals with Norway.

For Lewandowski, reaching the European Championship quarter-finals in 2016 could remain the highlight of his career with the national team. No matter how much he may preserve himself until the 2026 World Cup through his refined eating and sleeping habits, new teammates won’t fall out of the sky. Lewandowski cannot do more than be the captain, driver and hidden playmaker. Hardly score more goals than his previous 82. In June 2015, he scored three in four minutes in qualifying against Georgia, almost as a prelude to his legendary five goals in nine minutes a few months later in Bayern’s Bundesliga match against Wolfsburg.

High five – Lewandowski celebrates his legendary five-pack against Wolfsburg

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Source: picture alliance/dpa/Andreas Gebert

In Munich, Lewandowski was a striker who could raise goals to a mechanical routine. The record investment in his successor Harry Kane last summer showed how much he was missed after his departure. The Englishman has been scoring similarly at will in the Bundesliga and is chasing the Pole’s 41-goal record from the 2020/2021 season. Meanwhile, Lewandowski no longer gets such odds against Spain’s defense, “but I already knew that,” he says.

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Little did he know that in just over a year and a half he would go from hero to villain and back again. The debut was gigantic, Lewandowski created euphoria almost like Lionel Messi used to, filled the stadium, sold jerseys, initially scored at will, but also changed his football, becoming an excellent preparer and a kind of coach on the pitch with his understanding of the game directed the young colleagues. Soon the curve was paying homage to him to the theme tune “Feuerstein Family”, at the end of the season he was the league top scorer (23 goals) and, together with goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen, the guarantee of a championship that had all the features of a comeback after the club’s tough years.

“There was a moment in 2023 when my spark went out”

But Lewandowski and the entire team also fell into a serious crisis this season. “In 2023 there was a moment when my spark went out,” he says, “I felt mentally and physically weaker.” The Pole is a player who is extremely dependent on his physicality, there are reasons why “The Body “ – his nickname in Dortmund – eats dessert before the main course and before the starter (better for burning fat). Or why he sleeps on his left side (strengthens the right firing leg). Smooth and lively, it is world class. If it lacks that last touch, it can sometimes seem as clumsy as a freight train.

Lewandowski shows leadership qualities in Barcelona

Quelle: Getty Images/Angel Martinez

This is how the sports paper “Marca” described it when the downturn culminated in sadness. Lewandowski once went six games in a row without a goal – the last time that happened was in his first Dortmund season in 2010/2011. Coach Xavi replaced him more and more often, his teammates occasionally became annoyed with his instructions, and the press was already ringing the farewell bells. There were rumors that the club would try to sell its top earner in the summer.

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In spring 2024 there will be no more talk of this. Lewandowski has pulled himself out of the swamp – and the team too. Last weekend in the top game at Atlético Madrid, he played his “perhaps best game since he joined Barça” with one goal and two assists – all worth seeing. He claimed balls in midfield, passed them vertically, and pulled the team forward. And then explained the cause of the recent increase in performance, which brought the club to a Champions League quarter-final for the first time in four years: “In the last few weeks we have changed things, we are now training with a little more intensity.” It was a suggestion , which he himself had brought to his superiors.

Lewandowski is a leader

When Xavi announced his resignation at the end of the season at the height of the crisis at the end of January, Lewandowski invited the entire team without a coach to his house in the beach suburb of Castelldefels for a discussion and an oath. In Barcelona as well as in Poland: when required, he shows facets of leadership that he rarely had to show in a mostly blind FC Bayern. This “challenge” also appealed to him, he says.

The next one followed on Tuesday in Wales. It’s probably his last European Championship, and even if he’s unlikely to win it, it’s still nicer to be there.

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