Long before he was a global superstar and one of the deadliest goalscorers in football history, Robert Lewandowski was just dating a 17 year old Poland who was too small and skinny and showed up one afternoon to find out that his club no longer wanted him.
What does Lewandowski remember from that day at Legia Warsaw in 2006 when he thought his career might be over before it began? The pain, for sure. And the anger. But he also remembers the person who actually brought him this painful, difficult news: the secretary.
No trainer. Not a technical director. Not some kind of academy director sitting next to him kindly explaining the club’s thoughts before wishing him well.
“That was crazy – it was about two to three weeks before the end of the season and the secretary told me I would be a free player after this season,” Lewandowski told ESPN. “I was too young to understand that it should work any other way, that it should be something from the owner or the coach or the sporting director. It was very tough for a boy who doesn’t understand how the business of football works.” “
Lewandowski finally used the setback as motivation – within a few years he was playing for Borussia Dortmund before moving to Bayern Munich, and from Monday he will again be the captain of Poland in the European Championship against Slovakia – but being separated from Legia was part of a period of life that showed him the power of his inner strength.
After hearing the message from the Legia secretary, Lewandowski ran into the parking lot, quite stunned. His mother was waiting there because Lewandowski did not yet have a driver’s license and hugged her crying son on her shoulder. The emotions weren’t just about the team; Lewandowski had lost his father a year earlier and felt an incredible amount of pressure to fill in the gaps that had arisen. Getting let go of his bat only made him more helpless.
“I didn’t want to show my mother how hard it was for me,” he said. “I wanted to be the guy – I wanted to be the man. But I was only 17. “
This feeling remained with Lewandowski and drives him again and again. Since joining Bayern in 2014, Lewandowski has scored an absurd 203 goals in 219 games and has won four consecutive golden shoes Germany.
Last season was perhaps his best. Lewandowski scored 41 goals, breaks Gerd Müller’s record for most in a Bundesliga Season that had been discontinued 1971-72. What’s even more amazing is that Lewandowski hit the mark in 29 games after being out with a knee injury for almost a month.
Lewandowski injured his knee at Poland on March 28, and when he returned to the Bundesliga, there were only four games left in the season. He would have to score six goals to break the record.
Lewandowski initially thought he had no chance; He thought the injury ruined everything and he might as well focus on getting well for the EM. But then he scored a hat trick against Borussia Monchengladbach, and suddenly everything felt possible again.
“That was the first real moment I knew I was around,” he said. “That record – nobody was close for 50 years. For me it’s just something amazing.”
As excited as he was about the record, Lewandowski knows that the challenge this summer will be very different. The move from FC Bayern to Poland is now used to him, but the big differences cannot be denied either. With Bayern, Lewandowski is one in a catalog of stars, part of a super club in which almost everyone in the room is an accomplished national player. Lewandowski is certainly a focal point, but he is hardly the focal point.
The opposite is the case with Poland: Lewandowski is by far the most accomplished player on the team, and his stature is so tall that even he cannot overlook the fact that all eyes are on him, including those of his teammates.
“I know that so many people see what I do, how I feel, how I behave,” said Lewandowski. “That’s why I’m always open – if you come and ask me about anything, whether it’s football or private life or what I do before the game, after the game at home I know that I can pass on my experience to my teammates, too. and if you find something of interest to you, you can take it. “
Lewandowski also quickly said that although he was the heart of the national team, success did not necessarily depend on the fact that he presented gaudy statistics. Four years ago, Poland was a surprising quarter-finalist at the European Championships in France, but Lewandowski only faced in the round of 16 Switzerland (He scored the first penalty in the penalty shoot-out that brought the Poles through).
As exciting as this unlikely run was for Lewandowski and Poland, it was silent after the disappointment with the World Cup in Russia two years later when Poland finished last in the group. Lewandowski said he plans to use both experiences in preparation for this European Championship when Poland – with a new coach in Paulo Sousa – tries to compete in a challenging group Spain, Sweden and Slovakia.
For someone who plays with a club team that is the favorite in almost every game, Lewandowski welcomes the underdog mentality that comes with leading Poland.
“When we think of the big tournament, it’s not that easy for Poland to play there,” he said. “But we are there. We are there and will try to do our best.”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“Of course we are not preferred to win anything, but we fight – we try to do our best and our fans will be proud of us,” he said. “I don’t know where exactly we’re going, but we definitely want to get out of the group stage. Then we’ll see what happens.”