So in the end then, Ireland were outgunned and eventually outmanned by the most Catholic centre-forward on the planet, scoring his record thirteenth qualification goal in a game where Milik was sorely missed but the outcome was ultimately controlled by your best player Krychowiak. Irish football fans will blame the result on their team’s gargantuan effort against Germany and how this left them drained against Poland. Not true. We lost because at present, Irish football is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing, or as Shakespeare might have said if he weren’t a genius; the Irish were shit-on-a-stick bad.
Watching the Irish football team is similar to watching a protest by some badly organised men’s rights group whose march has descended into a mixture of scattered panic and outright violence when they suddenly realise they are out of donuts. It is a team that shouts and runs and throws themselves into things because that’s what our rugby team does and it works for them so Irish logic necessitates all our teams from Badminton to Chess, should replicate this technique.
We all know there are peaks and troughs regarding sporting achievement, no more so than when dealing with national teams who are generally good barometers of a country’s mood or its general psychological health. Ireland is Ireland then. Our team is our country where despite meagre resources and a lack of exceptional talent, our final Group D position is an over-achievement. Like our football team, we are a country of decibels, of over-enthusiastic hod-carriers and mathematically challenged bluffers, whose collective demeanour is that of a man called Benny sitting on a toilet and looking at an empty toilet-roll holder. The Irish. Highly motivated and likeable until we actually start to do something and everyone realises we are the funniest, drunkest, most unpunctual, uncoordinated lollygaggers west of Moscow.
What then of Poland? Is your team not your country too? Surely now something more than the cliché of a post-Communist society? There is a new generation rising here, a generation of seekers, aged between 18 and 40, who have travelled and who know there is no difference betweem them and any other nation. They have worked in Germany and Ireland and realise they are just as intelligent and probably even more resourceful than their hosts. The twin trolls of self-doubt and victim mentality being phased out in favour of a widespread recognition among yourselves that in all walks of life, you get what you give. Of course, in life as in sport there are always issues of luck, but as a great man once said, ‘the better I prepare, the luckier I get.’
And so to Lewandowski. The perfect talisman for this recalibrated, reconfigured, post-post Communism nation, Poland 2.0, a man who encapsulates every upwardly mobile Polish person I’ve met here; sleek, safe, with a personality like his goal-scoring that is as consistent as death and taxes. It is a testament to Lewandowski’s prowess that Pep Guardiola at Bayern has deviated from his bible of circular possession-based football to something more direct, more minimal. Give ‘The Body’ the ball quickly and he will give you goals. Lewandowski then is every smart, under-appreciated Pole who has gone to work for a multi-national only to end up changing the company’s profile and fortunes with that great sense of Polish practicality and streamlined ability to find solutions.
He is Poland. And of course, the totality of that statement is a double-edged sword. He is you who is talented and clever and industrious and who had to leave Poland to get the rewards deserved. He is you who enjoys the simple relaxed values of family life, but sells his soul for every plastic fantastic advertising opportunity, rolling over for mobile phone companies or any highest bidder who offer the keys to the castle of success and who will ulitmately forget him when his usefullness is exhausted.