Robert Lewandowski: Remembering the Deadly Pole's First Year as a Professional

Josh Sim
Aug 16, 2020, 3:30 PM GMT+1
Robert Lewandowski broke out at Polish club Znicz Pruszków
Robert Lewandowski broke out at Polish club Znicz Pruszków / Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

For every young footballer, there's that one meeting or phone call they dread the most. It's that email or call from their first professional club which informs them that they are not good enough, and will be released from their ranks.

Even world-class players like Robert Lewandowski aren't immune to such personal devastation at a young age. When club officials at Legia Warsaw in 2006 informed him of their decision to terminate his deal because he was too skinny and short, it seemed his footballing dreams were over.

He left the capital side without a single appearance in the club's first team to his name and without a clear pathway towards forging a professional career at the highest level of the sport. At this point, many in his position would have given up and walked away from the game.

"He is the best player, not just the best forward."

Lothar Matthäus on Lewandowski

Given the incredible 2019/20 campaign he's had so far, during which the 31-year-old has netted a mind-blowing 54 goals for Bayern Munich, many will be glad that he didn't make that call 14 years ago. While he won't receive a Ballon d'Or this year for his goalscoring exploits, few can argue against the case for him to be one of if not the best player in the world right now.

Having impressed many with his attacking displays at youth level, playing on grass-less, hard and sandy pitches, a young Lewandowski moved to Delta Warsaw, a small club playing in the Polish fifth division, from Varsovia Warsaw - the team where he had spent seven years developing his skills from when he was eight years old.

According to Krzysztof Sikorski, his coach at Varsovia, the young forward's lack of physicality was viewed as one of his biggest weaknesses at the time. The player he coached was skinny and possessed a very slender frame, a far cry from the strong powerful individual he has since become for Die Roten.

"His legs were so thin; I kept urging him to put some weight on and eat more bacon sandwiches."

Krzysztof Sikorski, Varsovia Warsaw

Yet it didn't stop him from impacting the game for his team, as Sikorski recalls (via "I remember one season we scored 158 goals, and he [alone] got half of them." Indeed, it was his desire to improve and his willingness to work harder than any of his peers that made him stand out. Soon, he attracted interest from Legia, who quickly signed him a year later.

Though he regularly trained with the club's first team, recurring injuries caused by a higher training intensity, as well as his inability to add to his slight physical frame, meant that those at the Legioniści would take the decision to part ways with the teenager, releasing him from their books a year after his arrival.

While it was a bitter pill to swallow for the 16-year-old, he wasted no time in making the next move of his career. Desperate for a goalscorer, Znicz Pruszków, a semi-professional outfit found on the outskirts of Warsaw, offered him the chance to play regularly in their senior team.

It was a huge risk for Lewandowski, who had spent the majority of his youth career playing in the Polish capital, and was now headed for a city with a population 30 times smaller in comparison. Furthermore, many locals often preferred to watch its basketball team than their football side, making his new environment appear to be a footballing wilderness.

Fortunately for the striker, the move paid off big-time. He went on to score 15 goals, finishing as the league's top scorer as they achieved promotion into the second division. Ahead of the following season, many observers were now asking the question: could he continue to score on a cold afternoon in Gdansk against professional opponents?

The answer was a resounding yes. Four goals in his opening four games highlighted his deadly eye for goal, as did a fantastic hat-trick in a 4-2 victory at home to GKS Jastrzębie.

He ended up plundering in 14 more strikes past second division defences as Znicz ended up achieving a second consecutive promotion to the Ekstraklasa. Once again, he finished as the top scorer of the league, and his star performances resulted in widespread interest in his services, both within and outside Poland.

After a host of clubs decided against signing him, it was Lech Poznań who acquired him for 1.5m złoty (£309,000). Funny enough, his former side in Legia were among those to opt against acquiring him, with then-sporting director Mirosław Trzeciak quoted as saying: "Who needs this lad when we're going to have Mikel Arruabarrena from Tenerife?"

As it turned out, Arraubarrena failed to score in his six games for the club, while Lewandowski scored 41 in his 82 appearances. Coming close to a move to Sam Allardyce's Blackburn Rovers, he ended up leaving his native Poland for Borussia Dortmund, where he started to embark on a journey towards football superstardom that he's now reached.

Now at the top of his game, his ascension has been nothing short of remarkable and serves as an inspiring lesson for many aspiring footballers that even the very best can recover from early rejection to conquer the heights of the game.