Bayern sharpshooter Lewandowski has the world in his sights

Despite the controversial Ballon d’Or snub, life has never been better for the 33-year-old. Widely regarded as the best No. 9 on the planet, he is breaking historic goal-scoring records even as Europe’s biggest clubs look to woo him away from Munich

With the Bundesliga breaking for winter, defenders and goalkeepers across Germany will breathe easier. For a little over two weeks, they don’t have to subject themselves to the mental anxiety and physical torment of trying to prevent Robert Lewandowski from finding the back of the net.

The Bayern Munich striker — a prolific goal-scorer right through his career — has hit overdrive in recent years. Just before the winter break, Lewandowski took another old record from Bayern Munich great Gerd Muller. His 43rd Bundesliga goal of the year, in a 4-0 win over Wolfsburg, eclipsed the previous best mark for goals in a calendar year set in 1972 by ‘Der Bomber’.

In May, the Polish international had broken Muller’s 49-year-old Bundesliga record for goals in a season with his 41st in just 29 games. Muller didn’t live to see Lewandowski’s latest feat. The Bayern great died aged 75 in August. He remains the Bundesliga’s top scorer with 365, all for the Bavarian powerhouse. Lewandowski has 296, including 74 for Borussia Dortmund.

Lewandowski, who has already scored 19 times in the league this season, could pass Muller’s all-time record — if he maintains his current rate — before his contract expires in 2023. But will he stay that long in Germany, given the interest top clubs across Europe have reportedly expressed in recruiting his services in the summer?

Indeed, Lewandowski’s exceptional record, his age (33), and his contract situation, with just 18 months left on his current deal, leave Bayern with a tricky decision — and Lewandowski with significant leverage.

Earlier this week, Bayern president Herbert Hainer expressed hope that Lewandowski would finish his career with the club even as he ruled out bidding for Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland, widely regarded as one of the hottest properties in European football.

Hainer told broadcaster Sport1 that Bayern would not sign Haaland “because we have Robert Lewandowski”, adding that the Poland star knows that the club officials hold him in “high esteem”.

Haaland, 21, is under contract at Dortmund until 2024, but could leave in 2022 when a release clause in his contract, reportedly for around 80 million euros, becomes active. The Norwegian striker has scored 76 goals in 75 Dortmund games since January 2020, and his agent Mino Raiola recently said there is a “great chance that Erling will leave” at the end of the season, naming Bayern, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester City as possible destinations.

But Hainer has made it clear Bayern is extremely happy with Lewandowski, who joined on a free transfer from Dortmund in 2014. “We are so happy to have him because he is an absolute guarantee of goals — the world’s best striker,” Hainer told German daily Bild.

But will Lewandowski remain “the world’s best striker” in his mid-to-late 30s? And how big a risk will it be for Bayern to give him another contract, passing up on the opportunity to replace him with Haaland, who potentially has more upside, given their contrasting positions on the age curve?

These are the sorts of questions that clubs pay their transfer gurus big money to answer, but what is clear is that Lewandowski is showing no signs of slowing down. He is on course to top the Bundelisga’s scoring charts for a fifth successive season — and fourth since turning 30. What’s more, Bundelisga’s official website notes that he has netted 116 of his 296 Bundesliga goals after his 30th birthday. Manfred Burgsmuller’s record (117) for the most goals in the 30s is set to fall immediately after the winter break, another mark that will join the list of Lewandowski’s conquests.

It has been an incredible few years for the 33-year-old, even if he was denied the Ballon d’Or in 2020 because of the pandemic — there was no award given — and then lost out controversially to Lionel Messi this year.

So, what makes Lewandowski so good and how has he managed to constantly improve from a very strong base? Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp, who managed the centre-forward at Dortmund, offered an insight into the process of transformation from very good to elite. “People often ask me which player made the biggest improvements under my leadership, and I say Robert Lewandowski,” Klopp told Bild. “How he pushed himself to become the player he is today, that’s extraordinary. He took every step he needed to be that goal machine. Every one.”

These steps, as pieced together from Lewandowski’s interviews with various outlets, including Bundesliga’s official website, share remarkable similarities with ageless quarterback and seven-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady, widely considered the GOAT of gridiron.

Like Brady, Lewandowski has singular physical gifts, which he has meticulously developed further. Bayern’s cutting-edge science and fitness division told New York Times that the striker can not only “tolerate an extraordinary amount of stress and pain”, but also his “metabolism allows him to develop, and regenerate, the sorts of muscle fibre a striker needs”.

Lewandowski works incredibly hard, with a tireless eye for detail, on keeping his athletic 6’1” frame in peak physical condition. Nothing is left to chance. In addition to training at the club, he also spends time in his personal gym at home, with wife Anna, a karate world champion turned nutrition and fitness expert, overseeing both his fitness regimen and diet.

Lewandowski, Anna told Bundesliga’s official website, is very careful about what he eats, a doctrine he began to implement when he was 22. So no lactose, wheat, white sugar or fried foods; dessert or carbohydrates are eaten first, and then the protein. And sometimes, only raw food is on the menu. “Back then I wasn’t sure if it would help me or not but I kept at it, and it’s paid off,” he said after receiving the award for the European Golden Boot this year. “Everything I started doing back then is bringing me success today.”

Lewandowski has also designed his rest, after consulting a sleep expert, to exact specifications: a constant temperature of 21 degrees centigrade in the bedroom, a high-quality mattress, a ban on electronic devices, and a sleeping position that places him on his left-side since he is right-handed.

In addition to the physical training, the diet and sleep protocol, Lewandowski performs special exercises to improve his concentration — something he believes is “extremely important for a striker” and the reason why he is able to score late in games when others can wane.

Lewandowski has also benefited from working with the best coaches in the world — Klopp, Pep Guardiola, and now Julian Nagelssman — in a dominant team filled with exceptional players. But he has honed his skills to become the complete striker, able to exploit the advantages he enjoys. He participates in the build-up with the ball and presses and counter-presses without it, moves intelligently, finding pockets of space, and finishes with minimalist efficiency off either foot. Nagelsmann, when asked if his predatory striker had a weaker foot, replied: “Apparently not”.

Lewandowski’s intelligence extends to observing the tendencies of goalkeepers and defenders he comes up against, always on the lookout for weaknesses to punish. As if this weren’t enough to deal with, the No. 9’s appetite for goals is insatiable: just this season, he has four braces and a hat-trick from 17 games. It’s this hunger that sets him apart, even among elite goal-scorers — in terms of consistent high-volume scoring, he can rub shoulders with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Now, that’s rarefied air.

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