Robert Lewandowski may not rank quite as high as Diego Maradona or Cristiano Ronaldo in the list of all-time greats but he is as vital to Poland as the Argentine was to his national team in the 1980s or the Portuguese is to the Euro 2016 champions.
“You represent the pride of a nation and are an inspiration for millions of people,” Paulo Sousa told Lewandowski shortly after taking over as Poland coach.
If Sousa wants his team to shine at the Euros he will need the Bayern Munich striker to repeat the form he showed in the Bundesliga this season, in which he broke the league record of 40 goals scored in a single campaign.
The Best Fifa Men’s Player of the Year in 2020 has only scored two goals at three major tournaments combined, however, and will have a tough task this time with Poland facing Slovakia (14 June) Spain (19 June) and Sweden (23 June) in group E.
Few could have predicted the impact the Warsaw-born striker would make when he scored on his international debut against San Marino in 2008.
Lewandowski has since joined an exclusive club of players synonymous with their national teams like Maradona, Ronaldo and Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahamovic.
It is both a blessing and a curse for on the shoulders of these players rest the hopes and pride of a nation and, if they fall, so does the team. Just ask Brazil after Neymar missed the 2014 World Cup semifinal against Germany.
Many strikers use their speed and strength to force their way into the box. Lewandowski, however, relies on guile close to goal, needing only a touch or two with foot or head to score.
At Bayern, he seems to have a connection with his attacking teammates that makes him understand where to be at any given time. The result is that Lewandowski has made the Bundesliga his playground, a place he has more fun than anyone else.
Few defences can cope with the striker who will need all his mental strength and a cool head to deal with the pressure from 38 million Poles pinning their hopes on his performances.
A successful European Championship may be what is needed for Lewandowski to finally win the Ballon d’Or.