Robert Lewandowski: a journey from Warsaw to Munich
"You can say that strikers are very much like postmen: they have to get in and out as quick as they can before the dog starts to have a go" - Ian Halloway.
In the end, football is all about scoring goals. Despite the recent uproar over strikers and wingers securing almost every significant individual honor at the expense of their equally talented defensive-minded counterparts, the fact is altogether very straightforward: the team which scores more goals wins.
Tasked with out-muscling charging defenders, outwitting the goalkeeper and putting the ball in the back of the net, talented strikers are a mainstay in almost every successful team over the years.
And amongst the very best is Bayern Munich's Polish marksman, Robert Lewandowski. His voracious appetite for scoring has enabled him to cement his place in history as one of the best strikers to have ever graced the game.
Born to professional sportspersons ( his mother was a national Judo champion while his father was a former footballer), young Robert seemed destined to establish himself in sports.
It was not all plain sailing in the beginning though, as, after a few years in the lower reaches of Polish football, Lewandowski was rejected by first division club Legia Warsaw for an all too familiar reason encountered in modern football - they deemed him to be too thin for professional football.
However, despite the early setback, the distraught eighteen-year-old decided to move to third division side Znicz Pruskow. It was there that he first showcased his talent, ending the season as the league's top scorer and guiding his team to promotion.
The youngster continued to shine the next season, again finishing as top scorer in the second division with 21 goals.
His lower league exploits meant it was only a matter of time before the big clubs came calling. A move to top division side Lech Poznan was finalized in the summer of 2008.
Lewandowski wasted no time in making a name for himself at the very summit of Polish football as it took him only two years to top the goalscoring charts yet again in the Ekstraklasa with 18 goals. In September 2008, Lewandowski scored his first international goal for Poland against San Marino in a 2-0 win in the World Cup qualifiers.
"I want to be a better player, and there is no other way of showing it other than on the pitch. It is not a question of which team I play for"
Move to Germany
Lewandowski's homeland exploits captured the attention of several European clubs, but it was Borussia Dortmund who managed to lure him to neighboring Germany for a fee of around 5 million pounds, in what would be seen as a shrewd piece of business over the years.
In his maiden campaign for BVB in the 2010-11 Bundesliga seasons, Lewandowski scored nine goals in all competitions, helping Dortmund to the Bundesliga title. His goal-scoring prowess and soaring popularity in Europe allowed him to clinch the 'Polish Player of the Year' title, but Lewandowski wasn't done yet.
In the subsequent season, Lewandowski announced himself to the world as one of the very best strikers as he helped Dortmund to a domestic double by scoring a remarkable 30 goals in the process.
The highlight of the season was a scintillating hat-trick in the DFB Cup final against arch-rivals Bayern Munich, which Dortmund won 5-2.
"I motivate myself by the desire to win more trophies."
The 2012-13 season was another remarkable one for the Polish marksman. He continued to excel in the Bundesliga and also helped Dortmund to the Champion's League final. His four goals against Spanish giants Real Madrid en route to a 4-1 victory for Dortmund in the semi-finals erased any lingering doubts that the striker was indeed, destined for greatness.
However, Dortmund failed to capitalize on that, falling short at the final hurdle to a resurgent Bayern Munich. Despite the bitter defeat, Lewandowski continued doing what he did best in the upcoming season, his last at Dortmund.
From Dortmund to Bayern
Pep Guardiola, the new man at the helm of Bayern Munich, made it his priority to bring Lewandowski to Munich. But Dortmund were unwilling to let go of their prized asset, and he ended up staying.
Fast forward a few months and Dortmund were dealt a huge blow when Lewandowski decided against signing a new contract, instead opting to move to Munich on a free transfer. In November 2013, the move to Bayern Munich was announced, much to the frustration of the Dortmund fans.
The move to "FC Hollywood" proved to be a boost for the player's already rising popularity. His name was being added to debates on the most excellent strikers in the game. On the pitch though, it was business as usual.
Lewandowski continued to dispatch teams off in the Bundesliga with his predatory instincts and clinical finishing, aided by the majestic Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery in the prime of their careers.
25 goals in his opening season for Bayern was followed by a remarkable 42 in the 2015-16 season and 43 in the next. His gameplay seemed to be ever-improving. The Bundesliga title was more of a formality as Bayern dominated domestically for years.
His name was etched on every record book when he scored five goals in 9 minutes against Wolfsburg, a Guinness record.
Records kept tumbling, and individual honors kept coming his way; Lewandowski dominated the 'Polish Player of the Year' award, winning six back-to-back awards from 2011-2016. It was clear that Lewandowski was one of the best, if not the best footballer Poland had ever produced.
This was on display in fine fashion as Lewandowski helped Poland qualify for Euro 2016 with a remarkable 13 goals in 10 games, the most goals by a player in a single qualifying campaign, ever.
He shouldered his country's expectations with fantastic maturity, second only to perhaps Cristiano Ronaldo who carried the hopes of Portugal. Lewandowski even guided his nation to the 2018 World Cup.
"When I was a young player, I never dreamed of scoring five goals in a game - and in nine minutes is something else. And when it happened, it was incredible that there could ever be anything like that in the history of the game. It took me a couple of days to realize what I'd done."
A dismal tournament followed as Poland was knocked out in the group stages. The universal notion was that Lewandowski had failed once again at the international stage after the failure of Euro 2016, but the real reason behind Lewandowski's lackluster performance was a lack of creativity from the midfielders and a lack of service from the wingers.
Over the span of eleven years, Lewandowski has matured from a skinny teenager who was rejected by Legia to one of the best strikers ever to have graced the game. At the age of 29, he is still raring to go, clinical as ever.
Goals come to him more naturally than ever before. With Bayern, he is a consistent challenger for top European honors, and with Poland, he is showcasing his talents all over the world.
If he continues securing significant honors for Bayern and carries Poland through to the later stages of Euro 2018, the thought of him dominating world football after the Ronaldo-Messi era doesn't seem too far-fetched.Published 02 Aug 2018, 00:02 IST