Bayern Munich’s star striker has seemingly been working towards Sunday’s Champions League final since his early days as a forward with Lech Poznan
One of Robert Lewandowski’s many quirks is that at mealtimes he insists on eating his dessert first. Then the starter. Finally, the main course. It is a habit that has drawn more than a few curious looks from his Bayern Munich teammates, yet one derived not from superstition but his wife Anna, a nutrition expert.
Sweet foods – the theory goes – digest quicker, and so by metabolising them first, he avoids mixing them in his stomach with the protein and carbohydrates to come. Another: after consulting a sleep therapist, he only sleeps on his left side, in order to preserve his stronger right leg.
To hone the fierce concentration demanded of an elite striker, he performs computerised brain-training exercises and eschews video games in favour of books.
Even his superstitions, like putting on his left boot first, have been fully thought out: resulting from a conversation with a psychologist in which he was encouraged to drill his pre-match routine into an instinctive sequence.
Perhaps it helps to think of Lewandowski as a sort of nutty professor, concocting an ever-more daring series of scientific experiments in an attempt to discover the outer limits of himself. Certainly as he goes into Sunday’s Champions League final there is a sense of new frontiers being breached, boundaries being pushed: 55 goals in 46 games this season, an incredible injury record that has never seen him miss more than three games in a row since arriving in the Bundesliga a decade ago. Remarkably, at the age of 32, Lewandowski exudes the aura of a man still making up his own reality as he goes along.
This is not a new trait, but one that has defined him since he emerged out of Warsaw youth football in the mid-2000s: shy, slight and yet with a devouring fixation on his own path to glory.
“When we went on vacation, he was reading books on breathing,” remembers Ivan Djurdjevic, a former teammate at Lech Poznan. “Even then, it was obvious that he was different, that he wanted something more from this world.”
Unlike Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, the other towering forwards of his era, Lewandowski was not born with freakish natural gifts. He didn’t come from a country with a distinguished footballing lineage. He didn’t even represent Poland at youth level until the under-19s. He is by his own admission introverted, and occasionally beset by self-doubt. “When I left Poland,” he once said, “I had a lot of complexes, as every Polish man probably does: that I come from Poland and am worse than everyone else.”
Even at Bayern, where he has now scored 246 goals and won six successive Bundesliga titles, you get the sense he is respected rather than loved: a perfectly-oiled machine rather than their own flesh and blood. For all his stunning numbers, the team is not built around him, either tactically or temperamentally, as it is around Messi or Ronaldo. All the same, with Bayern on the point of their first Champions League triumph since 2013, this finally feels like Lewandowski’s time: the culmination of an intense and highly personal project.
Over the years, Lewandowski’s lust for self-improvement would morph into something close to obsession. At Borussia Dortmund he consciously distanced himself from his Polish teammates Jakub Blaszczykowski and Lukasz Piszczek, because he felt it would encourage him to learn German.
At Bayern, determined to supplant Thomas Müller as the first-choice penalty-taker, he would conspicuously practise his spot-kicks after training in an attempt to impress Pep Guardiola (who eventually relented halfway through his final season at the club). “The most professional player I’ve ever met,” was Guardiola’s verdict. “He thinks about the right food, sleep and training 24 hours a day.” Continue reading