Opinion: Robert Lewandowski must be Poland's captain fantastic this summer, not their goal-scoring God

The prolific striker cannot do it all on his own, so he needs to bring the best out of his teammates for his nation to go far in France.

Opinion: Robert Lewandowski must be Poland's captain fantastic this summer, not their goal-scoring God
Robert Lewandowski's first job for Poland is to be a leader, then a goal-scorer. (Photo: Getty)

As we head into Euro 2016 this summer, the qualification of Wales has seen a lot of 'Bale FC' jokes thrown around.

Undoubtedly the star man for the Dragons, Gareth Bale was certainly the most influential player in their road to France, but Wales aren't the only nation with one player who stands out above the rest.

Many are looking at Group C as a massively difficult group to get out of. Germany, the world champions, are favourites to top it, but they face a tough task in doing so. Ukraine have several top players, while Northern Ireland certainly won't roll over.

However, it is Poland who are tipped as the team to really challenge them for top spot, expected to go through in second.

But why? Biało-czerwoni have crashed out in the group stages in the last two European Championships, and they haven't qualified for either of the last two FIFA World Cups - failing to get out of the group stages again in the only two they have qualified for since 1986.

The reason - or the main reason - they are billed to be such a threat is because they have Robert Lewandowski up front.

The pressure is on

The Bayern Munich striker has been in phenomenal form this season, scoring 42 goals in 51 games in all competitions, and heads to France not just sporting the captain's armband, but carrying the weight of a nation on his shoulders.

Since Poland last qualified for a major tournament - Euro 2012 - Lewandowski has certainly grown as a player. It would be ridiculous to claim that he's the same player now that he was then, just because he was similarly prolific four years ago.

The 2011-12 season saw him really establish himself in Germany, scoring 30 goals in all competitions after a tough first season just the year before, when he scored only nine.

However, while he headed to the Euros that summer in great form as a result and with great confidence, he was just a young boy; a 23-year-old with a bright future and lots of potential.

This summer, he's an experienced, established striker; one of the best, if not the best, in the world.

In the last four years, Lewandowski has won four major trophies at club level, claimed the Bundesliga's top-scorer award twice and was named best player in Euro 2016 qualifying, as well as picking up the golden boot there too. He's broken countless goal-scoring records, including levelling the scoring record for a single Euro qualifying campaign, and has been named Polish Footballer of the Year a further three times - making it five years in a row now.

He has a world class reputation and with that comes world class expectation.

This is the sort of pressure Lewandowski is new to. At Bayern, there are countless big names to help share the expectation that is put on the team, but with Poland he is almost alone.

Fellow striker Arkadiusz Milik is in a position that he was at Euro 2012; viewed, at 22-years-old, as a talented young forward with potential, but not as a player to put a nation's hopes on.

Jakub Błaszczykowski has fallen off the radar a little after injuries and a move from Borussia Dortmund to Fiorentina, with him not the same player he was when him and Lewandowski used to link up in Germany.

The nation's other star names are then: Grzegorz Krychowiak, a defensive midfielder; Łukasz Piszczek, a right-back; Kamil Glik, a central defender; and the goalkeeping duo of Łukasz Fabiański and Wojciech Szczęsny.

Going forward, Lewandowski is alone handling the pressure and, in qualifying, despite what the stats might suggest at first glance, he struggled with this pressure.

The 27-year-old's 13 goals came as follows: four scored in the 7-0 win over Gibraltar, three in the 4-0 win over Georgia, one in the 3-1 loss to Germany, two in the 8-1 win over Gibraltar, two in the 2-2 draw with Scotland and one in the 2-1 win over the Republic of Ireland.

In reality, of his 13 goals, only three really counted for anything, while nine of them came in nothing games.

Towards the end of qualifying, he did start to suggest he could do it on his own, securing a point against Scotland with his brace and scoring the winner against Ireland.

However, his isolation in the 3-1 defeat to Germany showed that he can't do things alone against just anyone, while the 2-0 win in the reverse against the world champions highlighted this in a different way. Lewandowski worked well with Milik throughout the latter, showing that he needs this sort of support from his teammates to get the best out of him.

(Photo: Sportowe Fakty)
Milik can help bring the best out of Lewandowski, and vice versa. (Photo: Sportowe Fakty)

Captain first, goal-scorer second

Perhaps Lewandowski is mentally fit to carry the hopes of a nation on his shoulders, but it's not physically possible for him to meet expectations while doing so.

The striker needs those around him to raise their game too if Poland are to live up to the billing and really make a statement at the Euros.

His fellow countrymen may not be on his level in terms of quality, but more than enough countries have shown that that is not all it takes to achieve something - just look at the qualifying campaign for this summer.

You only need to look to 'Bale FC' to see what can be done when everyone gives everything towards the same cause and works as a unit.

Not everyone on that team is worth £80 million and plays for one of the world's biggest clubs week in week out, nor is everyone on the plane from Poland to France this summer good enough to score a hat-trick inside four minutes. However, a one-man team gets nowhere.

Lewandowski's job this summer is not to fire Biało-czerwoni to glory with his goals. As captain, his job is to bring the best out of every player in Poland's colours so they bring out the best in him. Only then can this team cause problems.