THE prophet isn’t appreciated in his own land, runs the scripture. It was a script that ran true for Poland’s princely plunderer Robert Lewandowski, according to former Celtic striker Maciej Zurawski – the previous player to cement No 9 status with the Polish national team.
The 39-year-old admits, like many of his countryfolk, he wasn’t sold on Lewandowski’s capabilities. Until the Bayern Munich predator’s profits in front of goal at international level made his strengths all too seductive.
The 27-year-old will pitch up at Hampden on Thursday looking at adding to the nine goals he has netted in this Euro 2016 campaign. Or if you prefer, he will go into the Glasgow encounter seeking to continue an incredible vein of club scoring form that brought him 10 goals – including five in a nine-minute spell after coming off the bench against Wolfsburg a week and a half ago – in his three games ahead of this weekend.
Lewandowski now sits with 29 goals from 70 internationals. Not outstanding for a player of his calibre, but better than 20 from 60 appearances for his country. That was his record little over a year ago – ahead of him filling his boots courtesy of six goals in the encounters with Gibraltar and a hat-trick in a home humping of Georgia.
As with Spain’s David Villa before him, Lewandowski pounces without often having observers purring about his artistry. That meant he had to win round a finesse-based forward such as Zurawski, whose 72 internationals yielded 17 goals and appearances in two World Cups and one Euros.
“Before, I didn’t like strikers like him,” Zurawski, inset, said. “He’s not someone who will dribble past three defenders and score. He’s more someone who is good physically, who is strong and with skill. I was worried about him in the national team initially because he wasn’t scoring goals. He was playing very well with Borussia Dortmund but then he would join up with Poland and have chances but not take them. The Polish people didn’t like him back then as they expected more from him. He was scoring regularly in the Bundesliga, but in the national team it was only once every few games and not more.
“But he worked very hard and now with Bayern he is doing things that are impossible. I watched him recently score five goals in a game. I did this once, too, but in the Polish league so I know what that feels like. But it took me an hour to score them all, not nine minutes like Lewandowski. So I was very slow compared to him. Before I was pleased with my achievement but now I’m not so happy.
“So Lewandowski was not loved so much by the Polish before but now everyone loves him. He scores in every game one, two or three goals, like a machine. The fans, though, now expect more and more from him. Now if he doesn’t score in a game, the fans are very disappointed. But he is scoring a lot for the national team now.
“There are two things that are hard for a striker. If you are in good form then you have to work really hard to make sure you stay at that level. The second problem is that, if you aren’t scoring, then you are really desperately trying to find goals.
“So Lewandowski is always under pressure from everyone. They all look to him to win a match, and he is the captain, too, which brings extra responsibility. Against Scotland on Thursday, everyone in Scotland will expect him to score. People can say it is a team game, and there are other players who can do things, but the reality is everybody will look to Lewandowski to score at least one goal. If he doesn’t score but Poland wins, then that’s OK. But if he doesn’t score and Poland doesn’t win, he gets the blame. So that is hard for him.”
It must be hoped life will seem a little harder for the player come the conclusion of Thursday’s encounter at Hampden.