The Poland international admits he once came close to moving to England with Blackburn
What if? Robert Lewandowski has no cause for regret in his stunning career but, from time to time, he asks himself that question and starts to wonder.
Here he is, sitting in a studio at Bayern Munich’s training base, looking every inch a world-class striker. His frame is greyhound sleek but his physique ripples. Lewandowski is trained to the minute and relishing the opportunity to tear into Arsenal in the Champions League on Wednesday.
The prospect of Lewandowski playing in England has always stirred the soul, the quality that has seen him plunder 106 goals in his last 146 Bundesliga games would enrich the Premier League. How would he have fared? Had nature not intervened in April 2010, he and we would know.
Robert Lewandowski looks every inch a world-class striker and has scored 23 goals this season
‘Ah!’ he exclaims, reclining in his chair. Lewandowski joins his hands together and starts to tell the story of how close he came to joining Blackburn Rovers seven years ago. This was his sliding doors moment, an episode that changed his destiny.
‘Yes, I had that opportunity,’ Lewandowski says. ‘I wanted to see how Blackburn looked — the training ground, the place. I wanted to go because I wasn’t sure where it was. I think it would have been fine if I’d got to Blackburn. But I couldn’t go because of the cloud. I couldn’t fly.’
The ‘cloud’ to which he refers was the fallout from the eruption of Mount Eyjafjallajokull, an Icelandic volcano. The ash that billowed into the atmosphere made air travel impossible in parts of Europe so Lewandowski, then of Lech Poznan, was left grounded and a £4million transfer was off.
‘I met Sam Allardyce,’ says Lewandowski. ‘It was in Poland after one game. I thought he was a good guy, a very good coach. He was prepared to take a young player who was something new and might be something special. He was a big person but wanted to come (to Poland to see me).
Lewandowski met Sam Allardyce when he was at Lech Poznan but instead moved to Dortmund
Now at Bayern Munich, Lewandowski praises the influence of Jurgen Klopp at Dortmund
GERMANY’S MOST LETHAL:
Since making his Bayern Munich debut in August 2014, Robert Lewandowski has the best goals per game ratio in the Bundesliga and one of the best in Europe…
|Player||Club||League goals since Aug 2014||Goals per game|
|Cristiano Ronaldo||Real Madrid||96||1.12|
|Zlatan Ibrahimovic||PSG/Man United||72||0.92|
|ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI||Bayern Munich||62||0.76|
|Sergio Aguero||Manchester City||61||0.75|
|Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang||Borussia Dortmund||58||0.72|
‘The flight was booked but we couldn’t leave. It changed my life? Yeah! Maybe! If I’d gone there, maybe I would have stayed! I wanted to know if I went “What would I get? What would I learn?” It wasn’t just a five-minute thought. But then I found out about Dortmund. That was the next step.’
And that was where he became a star. Under Jurgen Klopp’s guidance, he morphed into the perfect striker — quick, strong, with two good feet and a prodigious leap. ‘Lewy’ was the icon of the Borussia Dortmund team that won the Bundesliga twice and reached the 2013 Champions League final.
Klopp’s influence, it is clear, was crucial. He smiles warmly when the name of his old boss is introduced but there is also a mischievous glint in the eye when he divulges a secret from Dortmund’s training ground that led to an improvement in his finishing.
He says Klopp gave him belief, and the pair had regular €50 bets during their time in Germany
Lewandowski spoke candidly to Sportsmail’s Dominic King at Bayern’s base in Munich
2006-2008: Znicz Pruszkow
2008-2010: Lech Poznan
2010-2014: Borussia Dortmund
2014-present: Bayern Munich
‘He was the one who gave me belief,’ says Lewandowski, his English faultless. ‘In the first three or four months in training, we would have this game — him against the striker. There would be a bet between me and him.
‘In the first few training sessions, he was always winning! After that, not so much! Every time after, he lost! He didn’t want to play any more! It was €50 a game and by the end I had a positive balance! But I saw for the first time with him how important it was (to) train.
‘I saw what I have to do on the pitch when I don’t have the ball. You look at Liverpool now and how they play with the pressing. That is what I learned from him. He also improved my finishing. When I came to Dortmund, it wasn’t so good. He told me to improve. He showed me what I had to do.’
No rough edges need polishing now but, at 28, he is still committed to self-improvement. He grew up in Warsaw with his dreams of playing professionally fired by the nights he was allowed to stay up and watch Thierry Henry play for Arsenal in the Champions League.
He is one of a select group of players to have been managed by both Klopp and Pep Guardiola
Lewandowski praises the influence of Thierry Henry, who he watched as a child in Poland
‘I loved the way he ran with the ball and his technique was something I wanted to copy. I was amazed at all the goals he scored with a quick body swerve in particular. I didn’t want to be the same player but I thought I could learn from him.’
There have been many other influences. Lewandowski is one of a small but select group to play for both Klopp and Pep Guardiola — the others being Ilkay Gundogan, Mario Gotze and Emre Can — and says Guardiola ‘opened his mind’ to the way he should look at things on the pitch.
But it was his wife, Anna, who made him look at things differently away from the pitch. Aside from being an expert in karate — she won a bronze medal at the 2009 World Cup — Anna has written four books on nutrition and her guidance in terms of what he should be eating is crucial.
Now 28, Lewandowski is dreaming of winning the Champions League with Bayern this season
THIS SEASON SO FAR:
Matches played: 28
Goals scored: 23
Minutes on the pitch: 2177
Pass success percentage: 73.9
Shots per game: 4.0
It is only when you stand next to Lewandowski that you appreciate why his team-mates at Dortmund used to call him ‘The Body’. But his shape has not just come from spending hours in the gym.
‘As a striker, you are playing against big defenders,’ he says. ‘They try to throw you around. I try to play in behind them and I need power. I know that I have to go to the gym and train. I train all the time. I know what I need and it isn’t every day because that isn’t good.
‘Sometimes for breakfast I eat cornflakes, sometimes eggs, sometimes (steak) tartare. It’s better like this. I don’t have a strict diet where I have to eat 100g of this, 200g of that, but before I had a problem with sweet things so I cut them out completely.
‘Three or four years ago I had to eat a sweet thing every day but now I don’t eat them anymore. Maybe sometimes I will eat some dark chocolate but nothing else. It’s much better like this. Now if I see some chocolate or cake on the table I just don’t want it.
Lewandowski celebrates with Arturo Vidal after scoring his side’s first goal against Schalke
The striker says his improved preparation has helped him perform better week in, week out
Bayern sit top of the Bundesliga table after the opening 19 matches of the season
‘Before I found that if I played three games in a week I couldn’t perform for 90 minutes and I couldn’t play to my best level all the time. Now I feel much better because I prepare properly. We changed our diet step by step, first cutting out sweets and then milk. Cows’ milk and soya milk isn’t good for me. Almond milk and rice milk is OK. I don’t really drink alcohol, either. Maybe wine but only sometimes.’
It is an insight into what makes him tick but the overriding motivation is a thirst for honours — it is why he dismissed a lucrative offer to move to China in January — and, with the Champions League, there is a sense of unfinished business after three successive semi-final defeats.
When he discusses Arsenal, Lewandowski is respectful and highlights the dangers that Theo Walcott, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil pose — ‘the main dangers,’ he stresses — but conquering Europe is the Holy Grail for Bayern.
Bayern have not dominated the Bundesliga under Carlo Ancelotti as they did with Guardiola
Lewandowski raises his finger in celebration after scoring against Schalke last weekend
This has been a difficult campaign, a transition following three remarkable years of Guardiola to Carlo Ancelotti’s style, and results have fluctuated, leading to claims that all is not harmonious behind the scenes. None of that will matter, though, when they tackle Arsenal.
‘It is always the same when a new coach comes to a new club,’ says Lewandowski.
‘The new coach needs a little bit of time to understand what he wants to do and what we want to do. We have had some opportunity in the winter break to train and work on things.
‘Everyone wants to beat Bayern, we know this. Arsenal will be very difficult but the Champions League? This is something special.’
Having already scored 23 times this term, Lewandowski is now planning to take down Arsenal
The star striker is pictured scoring against the Gunners in 2015