August 2019. Robert Lewandowski has signed a new Bayern Munich contract that made him the Bundesliga’s highest-paid player. He ended the season a treble winner, having collected the Meisterschale, the DFB-Pokal Cup and the Champions League.
July 2006. At just 17, Lewandowski was told that his time was up. "Bobek”, his then nickname, which translates roughly as "kiddo", was told his contract at Legia Warsaw would not be renewed. Poland’s most successful club had just made the worst decision in their 90-year history.
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Lewandowski was born in Warsaw, but Legia was not meant for him.
First, when he was seven, his father, aware of his prodigious talent, sent him to Varsovia, a club famous for nurturing young prospects. It was there that the moniker "Bobek" emerged, referencing his short and slight build - it may, given his current physical conditioning, seem laughable now, but said build was a considerable hurdle to his hopes of becoming a professional footballer. It was one he would overcome. Yet Lewandowski would in 2005 and 2006 face more considerable hurdles that would shape him as both a man and a footballer.
‘Lewy’ was just 15 when his father died. Krzysztof Lewandowski suffered from cancer, but he died of a stroke shortly after an operation. He had lost not only his father, but also his guiding hand in his career. As a youngster, Lewandowski suffered from a chronic lack of confidence, but his father, a footballer from the lower leagues, knew different. After all, he chose his name – Robert - with a career abroad in mind, as Lewandowski told 'Elle Man' in an interview.
After my father's death, I had to grow up quickly. He always knew I would be playing overseas. He said that's why he named me Robert so that no one would confuse my name. I have regretted many times that I did not have the opportunity to talk to him about many things. However, my greatest regret is that he did not see my first match and that he cannot be at my matches live
That sentiment of regret was something he repeated to TV channel TVN24.
It has always been my dream that my father can watch one of my matches live. Unfortunately, it did not happen, but I hope he looks down at me from the sky to see it all.
Lewandowski’s father may not have witnessed his rise to the top of the professional game, but the Bayern forward dedicates every goal to him. That was the case at Delta Warszawa, then a satellite of Legia, where he cut his teeth before a switch to Łazienkowska. Yet at Legia, he could not force his way into the first team and, when his one-year trial contract expired, the Warsaw club showed no appetite to extend it.
"It hurt a lot. I was only 17 years old, and it happened shortly after my father died. I still remember how I got injured and waited for a decision for the next season - the tears in my heart stayed for a long time," Lewandowski recently told Goal.com.
"A week or two after my contract expired, I got a message from the Legia secretary telling me that the club would not renew my deal. I really wanted to show everyone what I could do. It doesn't matter what others say as long as you are strong-willed. Therefore, with my head held high, I continued to work on myself," he added.
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A backward step
Without a contract and without the guidance of his father, Lewandowski took a step back, signing with third division club Znicz Pruszków. In his first season at Znicz, he won the third division title and topped the scoring charts. This would become a theme that would punctuate his career. The following year he was again topscorer but Znicz failed to clinch promotion to the Ekstraklasa. However, half of Poland's top league – including Legia – were ready to sign Lewandowski. He chose up-and-coming club Lech Poznań, where he won the league title in 2009-10 and his exploits there saw a swathe of European clubs take an interest in the forward.
The transfer that changed everything
It was Franciszek Smuda who took him to Lech, and he only watched him once but once was enough, Smuda told the "Foot Truck" YouTube channel
It was a match between Znicz Pruszków and Polonia Warsaw. I went there with coach Włodek Małowiejski. People immediately asked: "Who are you watching, who are you watching?" I said: "No one, there's nothing here." What was I supposed to say? "I'm watching Lewandowski? For the price to go up right away?
However, after 30 minutes, Smuda had seen enough and called Lech's sports director and instructed him to complete the transfer. After 35 minutes he left the game. "I didn’t need to watch more," he added. Znicz had bought him for pennies but sold him to Lech for 380,000 euros.
Lech was a completely different level than Znicz. Could he translate his form to a higher level? Yes, it didn’t matter. Lewandowski made his debut in Ekstraklasa on August 8, 2008, marking it with a goal – and would score a further 13 goals in an impressive debut campaign. He would win Piłka Nożna’s Newcomer of the Year in 2008 and in the same year he would receive a first call up to the national team, and has since scored 63 goals in 116 game. The forward became captain in 2013.
After two years in Poznań, Lewandowski won everything and had outgrown the club. In 2010 Borussia Dortmund paid what now looks like a bargain 4.5 million euros. The rest is history. From Znicz to Bayern Munich – it has been quite a re-emergence for “kiddo”.
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