Having become the first player to score four times in a European Cup semi-final when Borussia Dortmund overwhelmed Real Madrid CF on Wednesday night, Robert Lewandowski's profile has never been higher. UEFA.com looks back on the Poland striker's early years and talks to some of the key figures who helped mould him.
Lewandowski's life has always been dominated by sport. His father practised judo and football, volleyball was the chosen game of his mother and sister, and his fiancée is one of the most reputed proponents of karate in Europe. He was the leading scorer in each of Poland's top three divisions before his 2010 move to Dortmund, where his continuing exploits have made his name – although he is not the first Pole to put Madrid to the sword.
On 30 December 1990, Jan Urban hit a hat-trick in CA Osasuna's remarkable 4-0 Liga win at the Santiago Bernabéu, and the current Legia Warszawa coach believes Lewandowski's latest accomplishment will be hard to beat. "Robert is a young player and he will beat some other records, but I don't think he will better this one," Urban said. "I know how Lewandowski is feeling right now. Journalists will not leave him in peace for about a week and it will be a very intense few days for him."
Had history worked out differently, Urban might have been working with Lewandowski; the forward had a brief spell with Legia's second team in 2005/06. "I don't regret that Robert didn't stay at Legia – if he had, perhaps he wouldn't have made such great progress," joked Urban.
Instead, Lewandowski moved on to third division side Znicz Pruszków, although he had already displayed his talents for a number of smaller clubs by that point. Indeed, after starting out with childhood team Partyzant Leszno, he spent a seven-year spell with UKS Varsovia Warszawa between 1997 and 2004.
"He was very thin, his legs were like sticks and I was always scared that others would break them," Krzysztof Sikorski, Lewandowski's coach at Varsovia, told UEFA.com. "I wanted him to be physically stronger and even advised him to eat more bacon!"
Despite his physical shortcomings, however, Lewandowski's predatory instincts were already well developed. "I remember one season my team scored 158 goals; Robert got half of them," Sikorski added. "Of course, it was difficult to imagine him having such a great career. We hoped he would play in the Polish Ekstraklasa, but it was impossible to predict what would happen later on."
Another capital outfit, KS Delta Warszawa, were Lewandowski's next port of call in 2005, and there they had no doubts about his career trajectory. "When we spotted him, we already knew he would be a big player," Delta president Andrzej Trzeciakowski told UEFA.com. "I'm proud Robert signed his first professional contract with our club. His monthly salary was about 1,500 złoty [€350]. I was very emotional on Wednesday because I'm a Madrid fan, but my heart did not bleed as he scored against my favourite club. For me Robert comes first, even before Real Madrid."
Following his ensuing short-lived stint at Legia, Lewandowski switched to Znicz, who paid 5,000 złoty – around €1,250 – for his signature. He wasted little time justifying that outlay, finishing as the third division's top marksman in 2006/07 and repeating the feat in the second tier the following year.
That earned a June 2008 transfer to KKS Lech Poznań, and his first top-flight goal – an improvised finish with his heel against GKS Bełchatów – arrived two months later. That September brought his international debut in a FIFA World Cup qualifier against San Marino and Lewandowski continued to take his new surroundings in his stride, marking his debut with a goal.
Sixteen more have followed for his country and Lewandowski has drawn comparisons with Włodzimierz Lubański, the national side's all-time leading scorer with 48 strikes. Four games into the young pretender's senior Poland career, Lubański gave his thoughts on his potential successor: "Lewandowski has big potential but he has only begun his career. Let's hope he'll be great but let's wait. I've seen many young players with lots of talent not make any progress. I hope Lewandowski will go a different way and become a top striker. I wouldn't be at all jealous if he broke my record one day, but it's going to be very difficult."
At club level, Lewandowski went from strength to strength, coming second in the Ekstraklasa scoring chart in his first season with Lech and then heading the list with 18 goals the next campaign, which ended with a league championship medal. That prompted Dortmund to pay a reported €4.5m for his services in summer 2010, and he left his homeland with Lech's best wishes.
"There was no quarrel about Robert's departure; we knew he was too good to stay in Poland," said Jacek Zieliński, Lewandowski's coach in Poznan. "In 2010 he won the title with us and was top scorer – what more could he win here? We could only wish him luck in Germany.
"I was sure he would do well there because he joined a club that was making great progress," Zieliński added. "He was very good and very professional. He knew what he wanted to achieve so I was pretty sure he would succeed in the Bundesliga – although I didn't imagine him scoring four times against Real Madrid. When I watched the game, I thought, 'This isn't real, this is a dream.'
A man I worked with was able to bring giants like Real Madrid to their knees. He played at a level that was out of this world."
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