Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowski has opened up about the importance of former coach Jürgen Klopp on his career, as well as highlighting his turning point as a footballer and what life is like at the record Bundesliga champions.
The 32-year-old, recently crowned as The Best Men’s Player in the World by FIFA, is on course for another record-breaking season after scoring his 20th league goal in Bayern’s 3-2 defeat to Borussia Mönchengladbach on Matchday 15, and admits he owes a debt of gratitude to Klopp during their time together at Borussia Dortmund.
“Jürgen was not only a father figure to me,” Lewandowski told The Player’s Tribune of the current Liverpool boss. “As a coach, he was like the ‘bad’ teacher. And I mean that in the best sense of the word.
“He was not content to let you be a B student, you know? Jürgen wanted A+ students. He didn’t want it for him. He wanted it for you. He taught me so much. When I arrived at Dortmund, I wanted to do everything quickly: strong pass, one touch only. Jürgen showed me to calm down — to take two touches if necessary.
“It was totally against my nature, but soon I was scoring more goals. When I had that down, he challenged me to speed it up again. One touch. BANG. Goal. He slowed me down to speed me up. It sounds simple, but it was genius, really.”
That genius also brought the pair trophies during their four seasons together at Dortmund between 2010 and 2014, with BVB winning the Bundesliga title in 2010/11 and 2011/12, even doing the double in the latter campaign.
It was also in that season that Lewandowski identifies the crucial point in his career, where he began his transformation from being a raw 22-year-old into the most feared striker on the planet.
Watch: Lewandowski - The perfect striker
“When the second season began, I was still struggling,” he said. “I also felt that Jürgen wanted something from me, but I didn’t understand exactly what. So after a really bad defeat to Marseille in the Champions League — I think we lost 3–0 — I went to see him. I said, ‘Jürgen, come on. We have to speak. Just tell me what you expect from me.’
“I can’t remember everything he told me — my German still wasn’t the best — but through the few words I knew and from his body language, we understood each other. We had a great chat.
Three days later, I scored a hat trick and assisted another goal against Augsburg. We won 4–0, and that was the turning point for me. It was a mental thing, a hang-up of some sort.”
There is no denying that it was a watershed moment, the ‘before’ and ‘after’ standing in clear contrast.
Watch: Skip to 01:14 to view Lewandowski's hat-trick against Augsburg in 2011
Prior to that Matchday 8 encounter at home to Augsburg on 1 October 2011, Lewandowski had only scored two goals in seven outings that season, and 10 in 40 top-flight appearances overall.
The previous year Lewandowski had featured 33 times for BVB in the Bundesliga, but 18 of those were as a substitute and the vast majority of which were for only the final 15-20 minutes. True, there had been 15 starts, but he had only played the full 90 on six occasions.
After the Augsburg game he went on to register another 17 goals in his remaining 27 Bundesliga games that term, part of 23 in 36 outings in all competitions.
It was his most prolific season as a professional at that stage, and one that piqued Bayern’s interest – especially after he put a hat-trick past them in a 5-2 victory in the 2012 DFB Cup final.
It was another two years until he did eventually move to the Allianz Arena, and he credits the culture at the club for propelling him into a bona fide world-beater, increasing his average of 0.55 goals per game at BVB (102 in 184 appearances), to 0.88 in Munich (265 in 301).
“When I moved to Bayern, I learned so much from coaches like Jupp Heynckes, Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti and now Hansi Flick. Just playing for Bayern is an educational experience really, because the demands are so high, and the club culture is so professional — you are forced to raise your standards, and you do.”