With Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski seemingly able to score at will and set new records with each passing week, we take a closer look at five secrets behind the Polish marksman’s success.
1) Fitness first
Nicknamed “The Body” during his time at Borussia Dortmund due to his rippling abs and chiseled physique, Lewandowski’s devotion to eking out the best of himself is well known by now, but it wasn’t always that way.
“You can’t imagine just how small and skinny he was as a kid,” recalls Kamil Baczek, a former youth teammate of Lewandowski’s in Poland. “He was very different to how he is now. Back then you were almost worried something would happen to him.”
Well, something did happen – he bulked up. Lewandowski has his own personal gym at home where he works out even on days off. He is aided by his wife Anna, a karate world champion turned nutrition and fitness expert, who offers support and guidance on even the smallest details.
Lewandowski doesn’t only work on the physical side of his game though; he is well aware that mentality is just as important. “Sometimes I work with special exercises to focus only on my concentration,” he told Die Welt newspaper. “That’s something extremely important for a striker.” It has paid off. A huge 19 per cent of all his goals at Bayern (60 of 318) have come after the 76th minute of matches.
2) You are what you eat
In addition to his rigorous training regime, Lewandowski pays close attention to what he eats, and when, having set the course for his success with dietary changes implemented over a decade ago.
“When I was 22 I changed what I ate so that I could play for a couple more years,” the striker said upon receiving the award for the European Golden Boot 2020/21. “Back then I wasn’t sure if it would help me or not but I kept at it, and it’s paid off. Everything I started doing back then is bringing me success today.”
Watch: Lewandowski chasing fresh records
So what does that mean in concrete terms? “We don’t consume lactose, wheat flour, white sugar or fried foods,” explained Anna. “We eat our dessert first, or the carbohydrates first and then the protein. Sometimes we only eat raw food and sometimes only very little meat.”
It is clearly working: Lewandowski has netted 111 of his 291 Bundesliga goals since turning 30. Only Manfred Burgsmüller (117) has scored more often as a thirtysomething in the Bundesliga, a record that looks set to tumble sooner rather than later.
3) The power of sleep
After all that exercise and eating, anyone would be in need of a good nap, and Lewandowski’s no different. He has, as you might expect, taken sleep to a different level though, by recruiting an expert in the field (aren’t we all?) to optimise his rest.
In addition to enjoying a high-quality mattress, Lewandowski’s bedroom can completely shut out daylight, is permanently cooled to a maximum of 21 degrees centigrade (even in summer), there is no television and any other electronic devices must be shut off.
Even his sleeping position isn’t left to chance: “I’m supposed to sleep on my left side because I’m right-handed and have got a more powerful shot with my right foot,” he said, following the advice of his sleep therapist.
4) Practice makes perfect
A commonly accepted adage in football is that ‘you can’t train for penalties’. Lewandowski, however, clearly doesn’t subscribe to that point of view. His penalty taking technique is simply a further example of the fact he leaves nothing to chance, constantly refining and honing his run-up and shot to become one of the best spot-kick experts in Bundesliga history.
Of the 41 Lewandowski has taken in Germany’s top flight, 37 have ended up in the back of the net, giving him the best penalty conversion rate (90.2 per cent) in the league’s history. In fact, only four players have scored more from the spot, the all-time leader being Manfred Kaltz with 53 (from 60 taken).
Bayern’s No9 has also added direct free-kicks to his already intimidating armoury of attacking weapons in recent years. His trademark ‘hop’ run-up before shooting is the result of hours and hours on the training pitch, all in pursuit of constant improvement. “It’s not important what you’ve won, but what you can still win,” he said of his insatiable appetite for success.
Watch: Lewandowski and the art of the perfect penalty
5) Healthy mind, healthy body
There is also a good dose of brain power to complement the considerable brawn: in 2018 Lewandowski completed his Bachelor’s degree at the Warsaw University for Sports Training and Management. The title of his thesis? “RL9: The path to fame”.
“It tells the story of his football career, from a young boy playing on the streets to becoming a big star in international football,” his examiner, Marek Rybinski, told the AFP news agency.
And unlike many professional footballers, Lewandowski is not a fan of video games and instead prefers to read the autobiographies of sporting giants. “Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Usain Bolt – they’re all superstars who have shaped their sports,” said Lewandowski. “I want to see if I can learn anything from them.”
No doubt future generations will add Lewandowski’s biography to that particular reading list.