Two players involved in two of Europe's biggest ongoing transfer sagas come head-to-head on Tuesday evening, with England facing Poland knowing that three points are required to secure their place at next summer's World Cup.
Manchester United's Wayne Rooney, who, despite publicly stating his focus on remaining at Old Trafford (according to the Metro) continues to be linked with moves elsewhere, will front up against prolific Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski, a player whose own future will remain up in the air until either a new contract has been signed at the Westfalenstadion or a transfer has been completed to take him to pastures anew—with the Telegraph reporting that a deal to Bayern Munich is by no means assured and that the Premier League may still be an option.
England's place at the World Cup is likely to rest on the shoulders of their leading active goalscorer, while Lewandowski returns to the stadium where he was unable to lead his club side to European glory back in May and will undoubtedly be keen to make an impression on potential new paymasters.
But before the pair clash at Wembley, here's a look at the pair's relevant strengths and styles, while posing the question of who is better: Wayne Rooney or Robert Lewandowski?
Now 27, Rooney has grown from a boy in blue to a man in red and white, whose ability and goal-scoring acumen have seen him compile 37 international goals in 85 appearances. His almost-decade at Old Trafford has included 144 Premier League goals in 284 matches.
Wayne Rooney fourth player after Bobby Charlton (249), Denis Law (237) and Jack Rowley (211) to reach double-century for #MUFC— Daniel Taylor (@DTguardian) September 17, 2013
Trophies have followed, including five Premier League crowns and one Champions League—as well as two other final appearances—as well as numerous individual honours.
And although there have been controversies during his time with United, including the recent furore over supposed problems with ex-United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, as reported by the Telegraph, Rooney's on-pitch ability has never been in doubt. Certainly he has experienced a number of peaks and some pretty damning lows—his performances during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa came in for particular scrutiny—but he has long been considered a genuine world-class talent, both by supporters and among his peers.
Reasons for that are numerous: Rooney is a player of great technical quality, a powerful finisher and an excellent passer across varying distances. Additionally he is physically strong, possesses great desire and a will to win, while also being an incredibly intelligent interpreter of space. In all, he is extremely well rounded.
And that well-roundedness, alongside a tremendous versatility which very few footballers can match, continue to make Rooney, as Jonathan Wilson wisely put it, "a unique talent":
Is he as good a finisher as Robin van Persie? No. Is he as skillful as Lionel Messi? No. Is he as astute a passer as Xavi? No. Is he as good in the air as Andy Carroll? No. Does he see the game as well as Andres Iniesta? No. Does he regain possession as well as Lucas Leiva? No.
But he is a fascinating hybrid of all six.
There are very few players as flexible as Rooney. During United's successful Champions League run of 2007-08, he often played second fiddle to Cristiano Ronaldo, withdrawing to wide roles to cover the Portuguese player's defensive deficiencies.
When Ronaldo departed for Real Madrid, he became almost a prototype No. 9, staying high and central, from where he scored a number of goals via Antonio Valencia crosses, as well as one particularly majestic performance against AC Milan in the Champions League—in 2009-10 and 2011-12 when playing almost exclusively as the furthest forward United striker he netted 34 goals across all competitions in each campaign.
The season in between, he acted as a Teddy Sheringham-esque No. 10 to the newly arrived Javier Hernandez and Premier League top scorer Dimitar Berbatov, and since the arrival of Robin van Persie, it is back to that support striker role where he has returned and which he has long filled for England.
Arguably, it is perhaps his best position.
Due to his versatility and talent, he has often been moved to different positions or been given varying tactical instructions so as to accommodate others. Argentina's Carlos Tevez is a similar case.
But it is something that helps make Rooney such an intriguing commodity, while his ability marks him out as such a fantastic, if occasionally misguided, talent.
Since impeaching Paraguayan Lucas Barrios as the preferred No. 9 in Jurgen Klopp's 4-2-3-1 formation with Die Borussen at the beginning of the 2011-12 season, Lewandowski has proven himself nothing short of a world-class striker.
That season saw Lewandowski score 22 times in 34 Bundesliga matches, a total he increased last season, netting 24 goals in 31 league appearances. A further six goals have followed in seven league matches this term also.
However, it was in last season's Champions League semifinal first leg against Real Madrid that the 25-year-old proved once and for all that his name stands among the elite strikers in world football, with a devastating four-goal showing in a 4-1 success for his club.
A perfect display in both finishing and the art of the lone striker, Lewandowski's strength, technique, intelligence and ability to link with on-running teammates were on full display as he terrorised the Blancos' back line.
Yet perhaps the beauty of Lewandowski's interpretation of his role as a central striker is the rather linear approach he takes to it. In short, its simplicity is striking—legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly coloured it best when he said "football is a simple game complicated by idiots"—and the former Lech Poznan man doesn't over-complicate things when it's unnecessary, with the aim simply to head toward the opponent's goal as soon as possible.
Every touch, every move is done with a purpose, whether to enable himself to add to his rather impressive goal-scoring tally since becoming a first-team regular under Klopp—75 goals in 105 matches since the start of 2011-12—or to tee up one of his colleagues.
Simple passes are routine to move the ball to a player in a better position, while the instinct whenever he finds the all-important half-a-yard in and around the penalty area is to pull the trigger. He is very much a classic No. 9 for the modern day.
Robert Lewandowski the text book number 9 tonight. Tall, athletic, lean, quick, touch, awareness, movement, goals. A gem in a awesome side.— Aaron Danks (@coachdanks) April 24, 2013
However, all of that is not to say that he isn't capable of moments of utter genius, as any watcher of the aforementioned Champions League match can quantify. The touch, roll and finish to evade a despairing Pepe and fire past Diego Lopez wouldn't have looked out of place in a Dennis Bergkamp highlight reel.
But the Pole has the intelligence to recognise, similar to the likes of Andriy Shevchenko, that the vast majority of time the simplest course of action is the best, particularly for a striker whose predatory instincts are best served in the 18-yard box.
Perhaps when talking of Lewandowski as an all-round player, the only slight on him is that, like Radamel Falcao or Mario Gomez, positionally he is very much only a centre-forward. You won't see him lining up in a wide position nor playing in a support role to another striker, a la Rooney—he is very much the main man.
Nonetheless, that positional versatility is very much a case of splitting hairs. For in all other aspects of his game, as far as pure No. 9s go, the two-time Bundesliga winner is very much a part of the world's elite.
The verdict on who is better out of the two is purely subjective. Everyone will have their own personal preference.
What differentiates the pair is their styles—both have their strengths, both have their different weaknesses—and for that reason, making a pure comparison of who is better is a rather erroneous task.
Instead, it is better to differentiate the pair and to then pass judgement on who is more suited to what needs.
If a side requires an outstanding, pure No. 9 who will lead the line and bring others into play while fulfilling the objective of scoring plenty of goals on a regular basis, then Robert Lewandowski is your man. Putting aside hyperbole, the Polish hitman is one of the very best centre-forwards around today.
On the other hand, if a more versatile, more-rounded attacking threat is required, then Wayne Rooney has been and still is one of world football's biggest talents. Capable of occupying numerous roles, with tremendous vision and technique, he's a very different beast to Lewandowski, but no less effective.
Of the two, Lewandowski is a more clinical finisher, sharper in the penalty area, while his hold-up play with his back to goal is arguably as good as anyone on the planet. But in other areas of his game, such as passing range and the ability to drop into holes and dictate play from deep, he can't match Rooney.
Thus, it's best to just focus on the excellence of both.
Each has proven themselves an outstanding performer at the pinnacle of the European game and both have the necessary qualities to grace the very best of world football's elite.