Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp is completely convinced about the ‘potential’ one of his stars, and Robert Lewandowski’s Borussia Dortmund stats justify that faith.
In his pre-match press conference on Thursday, Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp paid Darwin Núñez one of the highest compliments possibke. He compared his £85m summer signing with one of his former players, Robert Lewandowski:
“There are a lot of similarities.”
“Yes, I think Lewy would tell the same story,” he continued (via The Athletic). “We had shooting sessions where he didn’t finish off one. We had bets all the time for 10 euros — ‘If you score more than 10 times I will pay you 10, if you don’t you have to pay me’.
My pocket was full of money. It’s all about staying calm. When you see the potential, stay calm. It’s so difficult in the world we are living in.”
It was Klopp who brought him to Signal Iduna Park back in 2010, with Dortmund paying Polish outfit Lech Poznań £4m ($4.8m/€4.5m) for his services.
Lewandowski, then 21, had bagged 41 goals in the past two seasons in his home country, but wasn’t first-choice striker straight away.
Instead, Klopp kept faith with the Paraguayan forward Lucas Barrios, limiting the new arrival to 15 league starts over the course of the campaign.
Lewandowski would, however, feature in all but one game, making 18 appearances as a substitute. He finished the season with eight goals and three assists for a title-winning Dortmund side, finding the net every 198 minutes on average.
But it’s the underlying statistics that are more intriguing. Lewandowski posted a shooting accuracy of just 36.25 per cent in the Bundesliga, meaning nearly two-thirds of his efforts were failing to test the goalkeeper. Worse still, his goal conversion rate stood at just 10 per cent.
Núñez has developed a premature reputation as a wasteful finisher since his move to Anfield, so it may surprise you to learn that, at the time of writing, he’s actually bettering this version of Lewandowski for shooting accuracy (46.6 per cent) and virtually matching his goal conversion (11 per cent).
What, then, can we take from this? Well clearly, the comparison is imperfect. After all, Núñez could cost Liverpool a record sum where Lewandowski was only signed for seven figures, and he’d made his name in a higher-profile division. The expectations, then, were on a different level altogether.
But there is perhaps one principle that unites the two players. When you sign a young striker, you must be patient with them, particularly in regards to their finishing.
Klopp proved his man-management expertise with Lewandowski, and there’s no-one better to protect Núñez’s confidence amid external doubts. When making the comparison between the pair, the manager forgot to herald the critical factor that could yet link the two players: his own skill as a coach and mentor.
The Pole would go on to start every single Bundesliga match in his second season and plunder in 22 goals to power Dortmund to a second consecutive title. This was when he truly announced himself as the elite level.
More than a decade on, he’s widely recognised as one of the greatest goalscorers in the history of football.