By Peter Staunton
Borussia Dortmund recently played host to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga and in the absence of Robert Lewandowski through suspension, second-choice striker Julian Schieber was handed the opportunity to showcase his credentials.
Sadly for the former Nurnburg player, his afternoon did not last long, as he was dismissed for two bookable offences half an hour into the game.
Until that point, by which time Dortmund had eased into a two-goal lead, Schieber put on a decent display. In and around the box, bringing Marco Reus and Mario Gotze into play, Schieber was effective. After he was red-carded, not much changed. Dortmund remained dominant through the midfield and carried vicious threats forward in the shape of Reus and Gotze.
In short, neither Schieber, nor Lewandowski for that matter, were missed.
Throughout Jurgen Klopp's transformation of this Dortmund side from eager pretenders to bona fide champions, there has been a lingering perception that the team as a collective has been responsible for the Poland international’s growing reputation, rather than as a result of his individual brilliance.
Nuri Sahin, Ilkay Gundogan, Kevin Grosskreutz and the aforementioned midfield duo have all proved to be wonderful allies to Lewandowski's goalscoring prowess and have arguably done more individually than their in-demand team-mate.
|LEWANDOWSKI'S LEAGUE STATS
Nevertheless, Bayern Munich and Manchester United are set to go head-to-head this summer for the signature of Lewandowski, who is all but certain to depart Dortmund sooner rather than later after deciding against extending his stay at Signal Iduna Park.
Before he usurped Lucas Barrios in the pecking order after joining in 2010, chances were made and taken functionally by the South American, who has since moved to Guangzhou Evergrand in China.
And after his move from Lech Poznan, Lewadowski could not command a place in the preferred starting XI ahead of Barrios. It was not until the Paraguay international was injured that Lewandowski snatched his chance for a run in the team. And while he has adequately replaced Barrios, it is still very much a matter of debate whether or not Dortmund are any better for his presence.
The Pole is indeed a fine reference point to any team which uses a lone striker. He expertly conjures involvement for his midfielders through his deft approach play and vision, has improved his aerial game since arriving from Poland, and is an effective finisher when presented with a chance to be taken on instinct.
But the Bundesliga is not exactly blessed with legions of commanding central defenders and Lewandowski's goalscoring record is awash with late strikes against already-vanquished opponents.
The 24-year-old lacks for pace and is not the type of forward who excels when played in one-on-one. He misses, still, more than his fair share of presentable chances.
Across the Bundesliga as a whole, there is an abundance of decent strikers plundering goals who are of a similar stature to Lewandowski, but who are probably incapable of making the grade with Europe's elite clubs. Stefan Kiessling, Adam Szalai and Vedad Ibisevic head the list.
The Hungarian Szalai, at Mainz, is probably the most promising given his tender age. But nobody is going to suggest that any of them deserve a slot in Bayern Munich's or Manchester United's first team.
This is why Lewandowski should think very carefully about his next move. The conditions at Dortmund provide the framework for him to thrive and score goals, just like they did for Barrios and will continue to do for Scheiber, or whoever replaces the wantaway striker.
His agent Cezary Kucharski's recent comments suggest that the Pole already considers himself among the world's finest strikers: a talent that belongs with a true super club. And it appears he is desperate to test himself at one of Europe’s so-called elite sides.
But away from Dortmund's relatively sedate Bundesliga campaigns, Lewandowski has been found wanting. His record in Europe reflects well this season, but his international return is lamentable.
He has only three competitive goals to his name in over 50 caps and two of those came against San Marino around four years ago. And he is currently lost in the wilderness that is an international goal drought that stands at eight matches.
The two clubs leading the chase for his signature would be advised to keep their wallets shut and wait for an opportunity to sign a better player.
|The 24-year-old lacks for pace and is not the type of forward who excels when played in one-on-one. He misses, still, more than his fair share of presentable chances
In Bayern's case, however, that might be more difficult. The Bundesliga leaders have a long tradition of weakening rivals by signing their players and would relish the opportunity to do so again at the expense of Dortmund. But, on ability, Lewandowski would be the club’s third choice striker, behind Mario Mandzukic and Mario Gomez.
And what would incoming Bayern boss Pep Guardiola do with three out-and-out strikers? This is the same coach who discarded both Samuel Eto'o and Zlatan Ibrahimovic while at Barcelona.
There is no doubt that if surrounded by excellent players, Lewandowski would score goals for Bayern, but he would not propel them to another level. As Franz Beckenbauer put it, a transfer to the Allianz Arena would “make no sense”.
Likewise at Old Trafford. While he enjoyed an effective relationship with Shinji Kagawa at BVB, Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Javier Hernandez and even Danny Welbeck all remain better fits for Manchester United than does Lewandowski.
If previous indications are anything to go by, he needs to be accommodated as a central focal point of the side. At present, he is not good enough for any of his potential suitors to afford him that indulgence and they would be wise to think twice before securing his services come the summer.