"I know who I can trust"
In the 1970s, Poland, inspired by Grzegorz Lato and Jan Tomaszewski, won the 1972 Olympic gold medal at the Olympiastadion and came back two years later to secure third place at the World Cup, in the same arena. The intervening years have not been as kind to the nation – although they had a wonderful team in the 80s – and Lewandowski and his team-mates are desperate to make up for lost time. They are eighth in the Fifa rankings and were among the top group of seeds for the World Cup in Russia. Can Lewandowski and co repeat the feats of Lato’s Poland and get to the semi-finals? Lato scored seven goals in the 1974 World Cup …
“That kind of tally gives you immortality,” the Bayern Munich striker says. “Times have changed, though, and from that perspective seven goals is very hard to beat. It is harder near the penalty box now. To score five or six goals at such a tournament is a huge task. Two years ago, at Euro 2016, I only had two or three good chances and scored one of them.
“Defenders give special attention to me and that can obviously happen again in Russia. If that is the case, I just want that our team benefit from it. History is history and it is nice to look back and remember, but we want to be remembered and write our own history. We will fight for beautiful memories.”
The striker, who goes by the nickname “The Body” at Bayern, has been playing in Germany for eight years and has been in the world-class bracket for six of those. He is continually ranked among the 10 best footballers in the world, and is happily married to Anna, and has a daughter, Klara.
Being famous has its downsides too. Lewandowski, for example, knows he cannot trust people the way he used to be able to. He has had to learn from his experiences.“There have been many attempts of dishonesty,” he says. “Even fake charity proposals. The number of strange offers is absolutely astonishing and, because of that, I have become distrusting of people. No one becomes my friend in one day. I have many doubts and my first thought these days, sadly, is: ‘This person wants something from me.’
“But even if I weren’t famous, it wouldn’t be that easy to get close to me. I have my old friends and I keep them very close to myself. I know who I can trust. I don’t change my friends like socks. When there is someone I think I may like, I can open the door, but I do it very slowly. Trust has to be there before I open my heart.”His private and professional life connect because of the friends who work for him. They knew him long before he became the Robert Lewandowski and he is 100% sure he can trust them. Most of them he has known since his childhood. Tomasz Zawislak is his manager, Kamil Gorzelnik his lawyer, and he even has a bodyguard, Marcin Kulczyk.
This season, Lewandowski's remarkable scoring streak has continued. Having already reached 19 goals in the league this season, Lewandowski has scored at least 17 goals in eight straight seasons. His first season at Dortmund, when he scored just eight, remains the only time he has failed to reach double-digits in his 12 Bundesliga campaigns. The case for him being the best number nine in the world is compelling."It is important for every striker and you need this feeling in your DNA," Lewandowski told DW, referring to a striker's goal-scoring instinct.
And since 2011, few have done it better than the Pole. In three of the last five seasons he has been the Bundesliga's top scorer. Part of the reason for that is his commitment to improving even when he's at the top, and that extends beyond just improving his movement, his weaker foot or his aerial ability."If you think you are the best in world, you are finished. You have to constantly strive to be better," he said."When I look at football now and 20 or 30 years ago, it has grown. Football is not only about the ball, it is also what you do in training, in the gym, because people want more all the time."
Nothing about Lewandowski's talent is by chance, not even the remarkable moments. Four goals for Dortmund against Real Madrid back in the first leg of the 2013 Champions League semifinal was one his most brilliant nights – and a game he admits changed him as a player. The five goals in nine minutes against Wolfsburg though was a moment genuinely befitting of the word unbelievable.
"I never knew that something like that could happen," Lewandowski said looking back on that afternoon in September 2015. "I didn't realize it had only been nine minutes. I scored one, then a second and a third. Okay. Then came the next one and the next one, but I remember that I could have scored one more, because we had another very dangerous situation. I think normally I have to convert this chance, but maybe someone wanted me to score five in nine minutes."Perhaps it's the striker's instinct that makes him so special to watch, something that he feels might be missing in Germany.
"Everything is about last season," Lewandowski says. "Because last season I didn't score in the quarterfinal and the semifinal because of my injury – because I was playing through pain for eight months. But when you see the season before and the five seasons before that, I scored a minimum of one goal in every quarterfinal and semifinal. This is the difference. People sometimes see what happened yesterday not what has happened in the long run.
“It is not about separating myself from people, but having a situation under control. There were times when I just lost focus for a second and suddenly I was under a lot of pressure and couldn’t get away.”Those situations can be difficult, with some people capable of being rude or aggressive, especially fans of other teams. “Especially when they are under the influence of alcohol,” he says. “There is aggression, people giving me the finger, swearing at me, reminding me of bad games, telling me how I should play or live my life. I have had confrontations like this in restaurants, for example, but if it gets too heated, Marcin reacts.”