Lewandowski can seem a little robotic and relentlessly destroy smaller opponents. But that is more than unfair in view of the trip
Every training session, every day: do the run, feel the touch, find out where the goalkeeper wants to shoot you, find out where he thinks you are shooting. And the repetition never stops, because you strive for perfection in a sphere where there is no perfection.
For Robert Lewandowski, repetition is the only secret. You start with instinct, a natural ability to hit a ball and be in the correct position to pick it up, and then refine it through repetition.
Still, Lewandowski has come close in the past 12 months. There are more naturally talented players in world football; he would like to accept that. But none of them have been so consistently dominant over their opponents lately.
After six seasons in a row with 40 or more goals in all competitions, Lewandowski went into full swing. Gerd Müller’s Bundesliga record, which was once considered a permanent memorial to the majesty of the bomber, has fallen.
It’s only a vague theory, but you wonder if lockdown inspired this ridiculous fertility. While others rested and recovered, Lewandowski had a window in which to focus on his obsession with self-improvement.
The stories of his monastic devotion – from eating his dessert before the main course for better digestion, to sleep therapists, to taking physical education – have become folklore.
Since the return of German football in May 2020, Lewandowski has scored 89 goals in 73 games. Even in the age of Messi and Ronaldo, when our expectations of elite goalscorers have been postponed by two coexisting freaks, he’s leading the way.
And he’s in the lead at 33. Even if the chances are freer if your club dominates the domestic league; even if the team has learned that the easiest way to win is to create opportunities; Even at a time when exercise science and nutrition have increased the duration of peak performance – peaking at 30 is still not normal.
It is as if Lewandowski feasts on the karmic rewards of his obsession, which gives him the ability not only to slow down but also to delay his own natural decline.
The first thing to say about Lewandowski is that this was never really intended. Thanks to two sporty parents, he was able to move up, but he was a skinny, skinny boy who was fired from Legia Warsaw at 17 and joined Znicz Pruszków in the Polish third division.
Rejection barely prevents a player from enjoying a successful professional career – the game is littered with tough stories – but it certainly didn’t predict Lewandowski would become the best striker in the world.
When he came to Dortmund at 21, it cost 4.5 million euros (now around 3.8 million pounds). The failed move to Blackburn Rovers is notorious, but Lewandowski was a medic away from making the move to Genoa before their president pulled the plug.
Instead, Lewandowski’s career became a triumph of education over nature. He worked under Jürgen Klopp, who taught him to be hungry for goals and acted as a “bad teacher” who made him tougher. He worked under Pep Guardiola, who Lewandowski says taught him the importance of tactics to an individual’s success. He worked under Carlo Ancelotti, whom he refers to as an “uncle” for the way he gave advice. He worked under Jupp Heynckes and Hansi Flick, who emphasized the importance of his connection to FC Bayern Munich. Lewandowski is a joint project: five cooks, one dish.
Not all of these managers were naturally fans of an imposing number 9. Guardiola had his vision of a team of small, technical midfielders. Klopp wanted to implement his counter-pressing system according to intensity, without the ball forcing ball losses.
Lewandowski may have seemed like an anachronism to them, a throwback to the time of the single striker. But Lewandowski impressed both of them with his willingness to learn attributes outside of his comfort zone and became an all-rounder.
“He’s the most professional player I’ve ever met,” said Guardiola. “In his head he thinks about the right eating, sleeping and exercising: 24 hours a day. He’s always there – never hurt – because he focuses on these things. “
Klopp agrees: “What he made of his potential, how he pushed himself to the player he is today, that is extraordinary. He’s immersed in the game, he just knows what to do and where to go in every situation. Lewy is an absolute machine. “
Klopp’s closing words “machine” leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth, because Lewandowski has something decidedly robotic: the tall, sleek figure, the feeling that everything comes so easily for him, the unerring consistency, the line of Bundesliga opponents is waiting in line to be trampled on.
There are other elite strikers built into the same shape, but Lewandowski even lacks the pantomime streak of Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He just stays still and gets along with scoring goals like a charged GoalBot3000. We have to run our fingers over its reputation, looking for the rough edges. That can be mistranslated as lack of personality.
And yet the basic ingredients of Lewandowski’s story are emphatically human. He was a kid who had no unearthly natural talent but had worked his ass off to be the best at what he did. It was rejected and written off due to its size and became a physical copy in response.
He attributes his obsession with training to the loss of his father at the age of 16: “When I do additional training, I say to myself ‘I’ll do this for him’ and that’s a good motivation”. If the end result is a little robotic, the process is romance based.
Lewandowski may not win the Ballon d’Or; just another year of being beaten by one of the two super-freaks of the modern game. This could be his last chance as he was favorite until last week.
It will eventually slow down soon; not even it can slow the passage of time. But until then, he’ll be doing what he does, over and over and over again: take the run, take the touch, find out where the goalkeeper wants to shoot you, find out where he thinks you will shoot.