How Robert Lewandowski ate, slept and trained his way to becoming the world's best striker
Robert Lewandowski won the treble with Bayern Munich in 2020 along with numerous awards - including the Star Of The Year award from Eurosport. Here, Eurosport Germany's Florian Bogner unpacks how the Poland international became the best striker in the business, with the views of Hasan Salihamidzic, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and the player himself.
Robert Lewandowski of FC Bayern Munich celebrates with the UEFA Champions League Trophy following his team's victory in the UEFA Champions League Final match between Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich at Estadio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica on August 23,
It was never a matter of course that Robert Lewandoswki would be mentioned today in the same breath as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo - it is the result of unrivalled professionalism.
If you stand across from Lewandowski, you notice that he is a pretty normal guy – normal height, normally dressed, normal character. Talking to him is above all else one thing: extremely pleasant. Mostly he speaks rather softly, choosing his words. His answers are polite, but sometimes also a little bland. He doesn't want to offend anyone.
It's different on the pitch. Since he came to the Bundesliga in 2010 he has mostly let his goals do the talking. There are already 262 of them.
“He's just great for goals,” says Bayern sports director Hasan Salihamidzic. “That's what distinguishes a striker.”
When he’s on the pitch, Lewandowski goes from being a man to a machine. He does whatever needs to be done in order to be successful - within fair means, of course; in over 600 professional matches he’s only been sent off twice, most recently in February 2013.
In order to have maximum success, Lewandowski has, above all, always continued to develop his professionalism. Everything in his life revolves around his profession. He has become more defined, and his body is everything.
“When you look into the dressing room, nobody has a body like Lewandowski,” Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge told me last year.
Robert Lewandowski raises the German Cup (DFB Pokal) trophy as he and his teammates celebrate winning the final football match Bayer 04 Leverkusen v FC Bayern Munich
Image credit: Getty Images
His wife Anna, a former karate world champion, plays her part in this.
“I am lucky my wife is a nutritionist. She knows what I eat and which vitamins I should take,” explains Lewandowski.
So it happens that the 32-year-old eats dessert before the main course because it is supposed to be better for burning fat.
“What impresses me most about him is his professionalism, ambition, passion, hunger and fitness,” said the great Jupp Heynckes once.
Even at night, nothing is left to chance in the Lewandowski household.
The striker has taken advice from a sleep therapist, who told him, for example, that it is important to eliminate any light source in the bedroom.
Lewandowski swapped Dortmund for Bayern in 2014
Image credit: Getty Images
“We even discussed the position in which I should sleep,” revealed Lewandowski. “I'm right-handed and my shooting leg is right too, that's why it is better for me to sleep on the left side.”
When he relaxes, it also helps “that I no longer use the PlayStation” he said at the beginning of the year. Instead, he'll pick up a book more often. Most of time he reads athletes' biographies:
Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods or Usain Bolt. These are superstars who have shaped their sport. I'll see if I can learn something from them.
Lewandowski also relies on professional help in game preparation. Lots of footballers have got used to certain recurring actions out of superstition. Lewandowski carries them out because they make him better.
“Everything we do before the game plays an important role,” he says. “The brain is then prepared for an important event to come.”
Since he was aware of that he focused on rituals before the game. Now, for example, he will always “put the left shoe on first”.
Needless to say, Lewandowski, no matter where he played, has always been the darling of the fitness trainer - 32 is therefore an age that he doesn't mind.
“I’m 29 or even younger,” he said last year. Accordingly, Lewandowski plans to go hunting for goals for several more years. “I would like to keep this shape for another five, six, seven years," he said last season.
In fact, Lewandowski has got even better after reaching the age of 30.
His season was 2019/20, but 2020 was his year. A treble winner with Bayern, in the Bundesliga (34), DFB-Pokal (6) and Champions League (15), nobody scored more often than him.
“He's just the ultimate in world football, "says ex-world footballer Lothar Matthaus. This season he has scored 13 goals in 11 Bundesliga matches. He has won Germany's footballer of the year award, Bundesliga player of the year, Europe's striker of the year, Europe's footballer of the year. And more individual trophies will follow. He will probably soon also be named FIFA World Player of the Year and crowned Poland’s best footballer for the ninth time.
An important point in Lewandowski's development is that since he signed a new four-year contract in 2019 – finally ending speculation of a move to Real Madrid - everything is flowing well. Lewandowski is at peace with himself and the club.
“I am sure that FC Bayern is exactly the right place for me” he said at the time. He has scored 71 goals since then.
Lewandowski apparently realised at some point that his career plan did not need to step up beyond Bavaria. On the contrary: this Bayern team are now the kings of Europe. And one thing above all brought Lewandowski to the throne: hard work.
Image credit: Getty Images
As a youngster, he was talented, but slight. “The coach of the Under-15 national team said to me ‘I'm sorry, but you're just too skinny to play in the national team,’” recalled Lewandowski.
As a 17-year-old, he was released by Poland's traditional club Legia Warsaw. It was a setback that made him change his approach. “I started working more in the weight room and building my muscles. That helped a lot,” he said.
He returned in the third division with Znicz Pruszkow. His eye for goal was already recognisable back then: in 2007/08 he fired Pruszkow to promotion with 15 goals and was the top scorer. In 2008/09 he was also the top scorer in the second division with 21 goals. He moved to Lech Poznan and was the top scorer in the first division two years later with 18 goals.
Those who knew him from then still rub their eyes in amazement today, as he was by no means a miracle striker in Poland. “If so he would have scored 40 goals per season in the third division,” his coach at the time, Leszek Ojrzynski, told Eurosport.
Rather, Lewandowski had systematically learned ‘professional football’.
This is how he took off under Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund. The tag ‘world-class striker’ was earned little by little. “He has developed towards that. He didn't arrive and play like that from the start,” says Klopp. “The difference between the player back then and the player today is amazing.”
At Dortmund, Klopp took Lewandowski aside for a two-hour conversation to discuss, among other things, working on his body language, which he found difficult to interpret from the outside. It was something for the striker to think about.
Robert Lewandowski spielte beim BVB vier Jahre unter Trainer Jürgen Klopp
Image credit: Getty Images
“I knew I had to change that in order to become a better player,” says Lewandowski today. In retrospect, the time in Dortmund had a particular impact on him. “Jurgen Klopp has made me a top footballer,” he said.
From 2014, Pep Guardiola reaped the fruits of many years of hard work. Lewandowski came on a free transfer to Bayern Munich and hit the ground running.
“He's one of the most professional footballers I've worked with,” said Guardiola, who credits Lewandowski's lifestyle as the main reason cause of his goals.
“He eats, sleeps and trains so it has maximum benefit for football. He is never hurt - all thanks to the consideration of proper nutrition and preparation for games.”
Between 2010 and 2020, Lewandowski played at least 31 of 34 Bundesliga games - nobody else managed that, not even a goalkeeper. He has also taken something from each of his coaches. Even under Niko Kovac he still continued to develop. Since Kovac left he falls back noticeably more often into midfield to get more involved in the game.
“I don't want to be a striker who waits 90 minutes in the penalty area for the ball,” he says. “I want to be part of the team, part of the game. I want to move and fit, I don't just wait.”
That was something he learned as a youngster, when he played in midfield or on the wing. His main task there was to “help the team and not do it all yourself”. His team-mate Philippe Coutinho says it is wrong to assume he is giving up his game and reducing his scoring. Lewandowski leaves the opposing defence less freedom, the pressing begins and constantly opens up for passes, leaving room for team-mates.
Thomas Müller und Robert Lewandowski
Image credit: Getty Images
Lewandowski has also helped the renaissance of Thomas Muller, who is also over 30 and has blossomed after signing a contract extension in the summer.
“It's easier to play with Thomas. It helps me a lot, we complement each other perfectly,” said Lewandowski. “Because we always have one more player in the penalty area when Thomas is up the field and I have more space.”
Under Hansi Flick it has also been the case that the more possession the team has, the more dangerous Lewandowski will be. By pressing and positioning higher up the pitch, Lewandowski moves even more.
“Flick's philosophy suits me,” says the striker. “As a striker you have to have all the qualities and always be psychologically prepared. I don't like waiting long for the ball - nobody likes it. But you have to stay focused to be ready when you get the ball. It's incredibly important.”
Lewandowski has now scored 262 goals in 305 Bundesliga games for Dortmund and Bayern - only Gerd Muller (365) and Klaus Fischer (268) are ahead of him. In the Champions League he is tied with Raul with 71 goals behind Cristiano Ronaldo (134) and Lionel Messi (118).
In the summer, the 32-year-old finally wiped the last flaw aside, namely the one that he has not scored enough goals in the knockout phase of the Champions League.
Now he has truly arrived among the great players.
“Robert Lewandowski is a bit like me, but 10 times better,” says Bayern assistant Miroslav Klose, the highest World Cup scorer of all time.
“He's a perfectly equipped striker.”
A perfect striker and a star that actually comes across as pretty normal off the field.