With the La Liga season is edging closer, and the opening games coming next weekend, FC Barcelona’s transfer window has been pretty active and their team is getting ready for their first fixture against Getafe on Sunday 13th August. One player who will no doubt be heavily involved this season is Polish striker Robert Lewandowski. Ahead of his second season with the Catalan side, he sat down with L’Équipe Magazine to discuss how hungry he still is to succeed, on the eve of his 35th birthday.
Having accomplished everything in Germany, he wanted a new challenge, to ensure that his career did not stagnate. Top scorer and domestic champion with Barcelona in his first season in Spain, the striker has settled very well in Spain. “This place has perfectly met our expectations. We use the bike a lot, we do a lot of walks and runs, as well as water sports. I train a lot at the beach,” he explains, after stating he was worried his family would struggle to adapt to the new culture. His wife has fully embraced dancing and the local music, while he’s become fluent in Spanish. “It’s a new energy. All at once, you don’t know anything anymore. You need time to adapt to the way of working and travelling here. I arrived with a lot of questions and got the answers”, he explains.
He fully assumes his new role as a leader amongst a very young squad. “With the young players, we understood each other very quickly. They didn’t speak English, so I understood very quickly that I had to improve my Spanish. Even with this, we found each other very well on the pitch, via another language, the language of football,” explains the striker. He underlines his good connection with midfielder Pedri, a player he likes because he “understands football. He sees things, it’s easy (..) we found a good feeling even with different sensibilities”.
These connections will develop over time however, talking of his first season in Munich, where he didn’t instantly make connections with Thomas Müller and the other players. “It takes time to understand each other’s movements (…) we have a huge potential at Barcelona (…) even if the first season was very good, I know we can do better, in the Champions League particularly. We need to get to the next level and I know I can be a mentor”, he says.
In order to continue his career for a long time, Lewandowski has regularly shown he has one of the best work ethics in the game. He says he was conscious of taking care of his body when he suffered his first injury at 17 years old, beginning to work hard on that side of things from the age 19 and really asking the right questions once he was 21. He started thinking about what he could do to improve his work ethic at home, helped by his wife Anna and what his dad had taught him before he started his professional career. “He was my sports’ coach and was really annoying with gymnastics for example. I wanted to only play football, but he wanted me to do gymnastics, volleyball, basketball, tennis, hockey or being on the athletics track. I didn’t understand at the time, but I do now”, he concedes.
He is constantly evolving his preparation, using his own research, science and doctors. “But nothing beats my own sense. I adapt my programs, particularly what I eat. The world is changing and I try to understand it”, he says. “I hate zones of comfort. That’s true for my personal and footballing lives. Humans have the tendency to think that evolution is a risk. But it is not just because you change things that you are less strong. On the contrary, I am always researching how to improve”, explains the Barcelona striker.
With such a work ethic, it is sometimes hard for him to see players around him not fully exploit their potential. He took time to understand that he cannot expect the same from others than what he expects from himself. When asked whether it would have been easier to play an individual sport, he says that you are reliant on your own. “I was lucky to play at Bayern and Barcelona. The biggest challenge was with Poland and to change my expectations. For a long time, I wanted the impossible (…) it is not easy being fully conscious of the context that surrounds you”, explains the Polish captain.
He is constantly seeking to see how he can improve, which to him, feels like the best way to stay at the top of his game. “It is divisive, people look at your differently but talent alone doesn’t exist anymore, so you need to be on constant alert,” he says. “It is not one day, a month or a period. No. You need to want it every say and act like it: open your eyes, your mind and your horizon”, adds Lewandowski.
The striker talks about the psychological aspect of football and how appearances can be faulted, particularly with social media. “Two Instagram pictures won’t tell the full picture and when times are hard, you need to be able to build your bubble yourself and your family”, he says. While the world around him interests him, he says that as the captain of the Polish national team, he needs to protect the players to keep a good atmosphere, even with what is happening around the team.
Coming from Poland, like Iga Swiatek, the women’s tennis world number one, can be experienced like an inferiority complex. “I didn’t like the lack of respect, the disdain. When I started, people didn’t believe in me because I was from Poland. It had been a long time since a Polish player had reached this level (…) they tried limiting my possibilities”, he says. While Swiatek and himself have changed the public image of Poland in that aspect, he hopes that many more sportspersons will reach these levels from his home nation.
To conclude, he talks about the years to come. “This could last a long time. I do not know about after this. I have many projects, but telling you which one will get me to wake up in the morning… Coach? I don’t think so. Maybe I’ll miss the dressing room so much that I will change my mind. I know that there is an end at least (..) The after, even though it will be different, doesn’t have to be worse than my first career. I am not too worried. Today, when I am not playing, I am bored. It is a good sign. I still love scoring goals and I have not explored everything in football yet”, finishes Lewandowski.