Lewandowski’s rise from clay courts to the international goal machine
WARSAW: From training on clay courts to securing his first top scorer titles, Robert Lewandowski had some ups and downs during his early years in Warsaw that made him the star of it is today.
The Bayern Munich forward nicknamed “LewanGOALski” by fans has just broken Gerd Mueller’s decades-long German league record by scoring his 41st Bundesliga goal of the season in the dying moments of the last campaign.
Years before his Bayern teammates dubbed him ‘The Body’ for his sharp physique, Robert was ‘short and lean, the smallest of the group,’ said Krzysztof Sikorski, who coached Lewandowski at the Varsovia youth club in the Polish capital.
But the 32-year-old had “the biggest heart and the most talent. The smartest of all, ”Sikorski told AFP just before his death in 2018.
The future mainstay of the national team made his debut in this small school club which at the time had only rudimentary facilities, with earth and sand instead of a real pitch.
A goal machine from a young age, Lewandowski joined the Legia Warsaw reserve team at 17, but was abandoned after a serious injury, with management calling him “too weak, too soft” according to Sikorski.
Lewandowski was on the verge of depression in 2006 when he joined Znicz Pruszkow, a third division club on the outskirts of Warsaw.
“He was downcast,” then Znicz chairman Sylwiusz Mucha-Orlinski said, recalling the day the young striker came to register with his mother.
“We have to thank his mother,” said Mucha-Orlinski, a former weightlifter still known to everyone in Znicz as “The Boss”.
Fortune soon smiled on Lewandowski, who regained his usual composure and stability in Pruszkow.
“The first five matches he was on the bench, but he worked hard and before long he would often be the one to secure our victory … We knew that with him we could even beat the best,” said said Daniel Kokosinski, of Lewandowski. former teammate and coach of Znicz today.
Lewandowski finished his first season the best forward in the third division. The following year he won the honor again, this time in the second division, and later he nearly rose to number one in Poland with Znicz.
He has always been “self-confident, modest and conscientious … very focused on football,” Kokosinski remembers.
“When we went out a bit to party, he rarely joined us,” he said.
Mucha-Orlinski remembers Lewandowski “alone on the training ground, busy polishing his shots, hitting”.
“Success didn’t just come out of the blue. He deserved it, “Mucha-Orlinski told AFP.
After two seasons, “three quarters of the top division clubs were vying for him,” he said with pride.
Lewandowski moved to Lech Poznan in 2008. His career took off when he moved to Germany two years later. He became the best striker in the Bundesliga playing for Borussia Dortmund and now Bayern Munich.
Lewandowski made his mark on the European stage, scoring all four goals for Dortmund in a 4-1 loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final.
Since joining Bayern in 2014, Lewandowski has scored 294 goals in 329 games.
In 2020-21, he was the architect of Bayern’s 31st victory in the German league, their ninth consecutive Bundesliga title.
Lewandowski has scored over 500 goals for his clubs and country since the start of his career.
In September 2015, in Bayern’s 5-1 Bundesliga win over Wolfsburg, Lewandowski set four records in just under nine electrifying minutes: the league’s fastest hat-trick, four- and five-goal salvos and the higher number of goals by a substitute.
Voted FIFA’s best male player of 2020, the scoring sensation also won the European Golden Boot, beating Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.