[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he role of a centre forward has changed over the years, with the days of a big man and a little man working together to form the ideal partnership seemingly all but gone.
With the lion’s share of teams now opting to play a lone frontman and the 4-2-3-1 formation certainly being flavour of the month, the furthest player forward at the top level is expected to have the positive traits of both the targetman and his more agile accomplice.
The ability to hold the ball up, offer a physical presence of sorts and predatory prowess is complemented by the expectation of offering a threat both in front and behind an opposition defence, immaculate link-up play and intelligent movement off the ball.
Looking at the current game, there are a host of number nines at the elite level that possess this enviable mishmash of desirable traits.
Luis Suárez, Diego Costa, Sergio Agüero and Karim Benzema are just some of the names that spring to mind, but arguably the best out-and-out striker in world football currently is Robert Lewandowski.
The 27-year-old has always scored goals wherever he has played, from helping Polish third-tier outfit Znicz Pruszków to promotion to entering the public gaze for Lech Poznan.
After ousting Lucas Barrios from the Borussia Dortmund team, Lewandowski has been a household name but his evolution over recent years into the current unplayable opponent has been quite extraordinary.
The gifted striker was a big part of Dortmund’s success under Jürgen Klopp, with the most distinguishable memory from his time at Signal Iduna Park his four goals against Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final in 2012-13.
The manner of Lewandowski’s departure from the Ruhr Valley club to join domestic rivals Bayern Munich on a free transfer created its fair share of controversy and provoked the ire of fans that had previously adored him.
Looking at it objectively, many will have questioned his motives to leave Dortmund, a team perennially fighting for both the Bundesliga title and European glory, for a new side with which it had such rivalry.
If the Poland international had opted to stay at Signal Iduna Park he would be given the chance to fight for silverware, play alongside superstar players and be all-but guaranteed a starting berth in the team – something he hasn’t always been at Bayern.
However, as his recent purple patch in front of goal suggests, Lewandowski’s decision to make such a controversial move has paid off and he is a better player for it.
At Dortmund the Pole was certainly a respected and feared centre forward. One of the world’s best in the common eye? Probably not. There is no such ambiguity from the masses now however.
Lewandowski’s five goals in nine minutes against Wolfsburg earlier this campaign was an unspeakable feat that captured headlines the world over, but in truth this achievement complements his recent performances rather than defines him.
The 27-year-old has been in remarkable form for the last couple of months, not just in nine red-hot minutes, with his evolution into one of the world’s best complete.
Lewandowski is currently the top goalscorer in the Bundesliga and the Champions League, while his strikes led Poland to the Euro 2016 play-offs and made him the qualifying campaign’s most lethal marksman also.
Would the striker have as lethal a strike record currently had he stayed with Dortmund? Probably not.
In his last ten games for club and country, the versatile attacker has scored 18 goals; if you include the Audi Cup, he has netted 24 times so far this season and it’s only October.
Moving to Bayern has seen Lewandowski evolve as Pep Guardiola’s tutelage has assisted in his development, while the quality supply of world-class team-mates and a passion to win every game have taken him to the next level.
It is hard not to feel pity for Dortmund after both the Pole and Mario Götze left for Bavaria, but in reality the reasoning behind the controversial decision is starting to become painstakingly apparent.
Lewandowski’s name is engrained in a glorious period of success for Dortmund under Klopp, but by turning his back on the club that made him he now looks set to be remembered as one of the most lethal strikers of a generation.
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