Robert Lewandowski and Bayern Munich eye Magnificent Six in Club World Cup final
Victory over Mexican side Tigres in Doha would mean a remarkable clean sweep of every elite title for the German giants
What shall we call it, Robert Lewandowski was asked, ahead of a possible coronation at the Club World Cup final? The Sextuple? The Six-Pack? The Magnificent Six? Lewandowski smiled and said he wasn’t sure.
A clean sweep of every elite title is so rare, no term for it has an established place in football’s dictionary.
Lewandowski is used to counting in bigger numbers. His two goals, one in each half of the semi-final against Al Ahly, took his tally to 14 in his last 11 starts.
Being Lewandowski, a perfectionist, a part of him will still be self-recriminating for one he missed, a penalty saved last Friday at Hertha Berlin, one of a mere four matches in this season’s Bundesliga in which he has not scored.
Win the final of the Fifa showpiece, where Lewandowski spearheads the favourites against Concacaf champions Tigres UNAL of Mexico, and Bayern would add that rare sixth trophy to their 2019-20 Bundesliga, German Cup, European Cup and the domestic and Uefa Super Cup prizes.
Not since Barcelona completed the clean sweep at the beginning of Pep Guardiola’s period as manager in 2009 has a club achieved the full six.
“When you know only one team has ever done it before, that you could make history for your club and for German football by being only the second, you’ll do everything for that title,” said Lewandowski, who scored 55 goals across league, cup and Europe last term. “It would be the icing on the cake for us.”
Bayern’s would be no less a stunning achievement than the Barcelona of Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and Guardiola, especially when you consider that they were, like Barca in 2008-09, under the watch of a manager who had never previously taken charge of a top division club as manager.
Hansi Flick was promoted, abruptly, a mere 14 months ago, with the league campaign 10 matches old and faltering. The 55-year-old will be in command of only his 68th Bayern game tonight in Doha. Win it, and he can calculate his strike rate of trophies at one every dozen matches.
Flick’s good fortune has been to inherit the best version of Lewandowski, a centre-forward with few peers and tuned to the vibrant, associative football Flick has cultivated.
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In 58 matches under Flick, Lewandowski has scored or assisted in 84 goals; his understanding with Thomas Muller, a colleague since the Pole left Borussia Dortmund for Bayern in 2014, has functioned perhaps better than ever.
Few in his position have a finer array of crossers to serve them, wingers such as Kingsley Coman, Douglas Costa and now Leroy Sane; dynamic all-terrain partners like Serge Gnabry and Joshua Kimmich; and adventurous full-backs like Benjamin Pavard, Alphonso Davies and Lucas Hernandez.
Lewandowski is only 32 and evidently still hungry, with targets to aim for. He would likely have won the Ballon D’Or if there had been one in the pandemic-hit 2020. He must suspect he only missed out on Europe’s Golden Shoe last season because he plays in a league of 34 fixtures rather than 38, like the Serie A of Lazio’s Ciro Immobile, who struck two more than Lewandowski’s 34 league goals, to claim the award.
But if he needs to see evidence that a centre-forward can improve into his 30s, he need not look too far: Edinson Cavani is a year older; Zlatan Ibrahimovic is in his 40th year.
Andre-Pierre Gignac, meanwhile, is 35, and perhaps the man of this Club World Cup so far. The former France international took an unusual deviation when he left Ligue 1 to join Tigres in Mexico in 2015 – Marseille to Monterrey is not a well-trodden path for professional footballers.
Fast forward five-and-half years, and Gignac is Tigres’ greatest-ever goalscorer, and, as of the weekend, the first man to fire a club from the North and Central America region into a Club World Cup final.
Gignac, rugged and not always appreciated for the real subtlety of his game, scored the winner in the Concacaf Champions League final in December, netted both goals that put the Mexican club past Ulsan Hyundai in the Club World Cup quarter-final and the only goal of the semi against Brazil’s Palmeiras.
That was his sixth in as many matches, a momentum that encourages him. “We are not here to celebrate second place,” he warned Bayern.
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Published: February 11, 2021 07:00 AM