"Before Barcelona I was a machine," Robert Lewandowski reflected earlier this season, "here I have become more human."
For years at Borussia Dortmund and then throughout his entire Bayern Munich tenure, Lewandowski was the high-spec example of the ultimate goalscorer. Constantly in search of another software update, no gain was too marginal for a striker who does concentration exercises on his days off and eats pudding before his main course because sugars digest quicker than protein.
However, the sands of time are beginning to be catching up even to the man hailed by Pep Guardiola as "the most professional player I've ever met".
Lewandowski toiled away at the tip of Barcelona's blunt attack for 90 ineffective minutes against Shakhtar Donetsk in a limp 1-0 Champions League defeat on Tuesday. It was his sixth consecutive club appearance without a goal, Lewandowski's longest scoring drought in more than 12 years.
The once prolific Pole has not found the net since a late brace against Celta Vigo in September. Even more damningly, Lewandowski's nine shots during this barren sequence have all been off target and worth a collective 0.86 xG (per ESPN).
While the recent gully in front of goal has been dramatic, this is merely the continuation of a decline which has set in since the World Cup. Prior to the winter sojourn in Qatar, Lewandowski was averaging a goal every 89 minutes for Barcelona in the league and Europe. That figure has swollen to one every 167 minutes in 2023.
The drop-off is not quite so extreme when examining the underlying numbers - Lewandowski was enjoying a finishing hot streak in 2022 and has missed more chances than expected this calendar year - but it's clear that the 35-year-old is getting fewer scoring opportunities.
Lewandowski is not alone in his attacking struggles. Barcelona collectively mustered just one shot on target against Shakhtar. Xavi admitted his side "deserved to lose". "We played badly and nothing we had planned came off," Barcelona's manager fumed. "We are angry. Confidence has dropped, we are in a bit of a rut and we need a reset."
Robert Lewandowski's longest goal droughts at each club
Consecutive goalless games
26/09/23 - 07/11/23*
21/09/16 - 15/10/16
11/12/10 - 26/02/11
12/11/08 - 26/02/09
19/08/07 - 15/09/07
The last time Lewandowski went this long without a goal, Andy Carroll was the eighth most expensive player in football history.
Borussia Dortmund sniffed around the bargain bins at the time and were so wary of splashing less than €5m on an unproven Polish forward in 2010 that they launched 30 different scouting trips to see him turn out for Lech Poznan. When Lewandowski eventually arrived at Dortmund, following a failed move to Blackburn Rovers, Jurgen Klopp fielded him as a second striker behind Lucas Barrios.
This withdrawn role helped explain the dry spell. Dortmund's strong form at the turn of the year - losing just one of Lewandowski's ten goalless matches - ensured that there was little, if any, gnashing of teeth.
Klopp soon reconfigured the side's attack around the muscular and mobile frontman. Across his subsequent 11 seasons in Germany, 'LewanGOALski' never went more than five consecutive games without scoring for Borussia or Bayern Munich.
This time last year, the Spanish press produced their own homages to one of Thomas Muller's worst dad jokes, hailing the Pole as GOALandowski and LETHALdowski. Both far inferior. Xavi simply dubbed him a "guarantee of goals".
If Barcelona are to retain their La Liga title and avoid more European heartache this term, they will need last season's top scorer to rattle through all the tricks and rituals in his instruction manual.