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The Warsaw Voice » Real Estate » May 28, 2013
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Lewandowski the Goal Machine
May 28, 2013   
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The morning after Germany’s Borussia Dortmund thrashed Real Madrid 4-1 in a Champions League semifinal April 24, Lewandowski’s four-goal feat was hot news around the globe.

Although a week later, on May 1, Real Madrid defeated Borussia Dortmund 2-0 playing at home, that was not enough for the Spanish team to qualify to the final. It was the German team, which includes Lewandowski (nicknamed “Lewy”), midfielder Jakub Błaszczykowski and defender Łukasz Piszczek—all from Poland—that advanced to play in the Champions League final.

The internet was afire after April 24. Sports dailies across the world raved about Lewandowski’s four goals, and the internet was full of photoshopped images such as a mug shot of Lewandowski captioned: “Guilty of thrashing 11 men in Dortmund.”

The six shots that Lewandowski delivered that night, including five on target and four goals, not only assured him a place in soccer history, but also painfully brought the international stars of Real down to earth. The Pole virtually single-handedly humiliated the world’s most expensive club, which closed the previous season with revenues of 512 million euros. More than two-thirds of that amount were funds from sponsors. Added to that were contracts with TV stations and the sale of jerseys, which reportedly generates more than 30 million euros a year.

For Polish soccer clubs and players, those are astronomical figures. With the previously unheard-of 4.5 million euros that Borussia paid for Lewandowski, his previous club, Lech Poznań, gained almost half of its annual budget. According to reliable sources, total spending in Poland’s Ekstraklasa premier league amounted to 56 million euros last season. That’s less than a third of the annual transfer expenditure planned by Real Madrid.

Small beginnings
When he took his first steps as a soccer player on an undersized and neglected field in Leszno near Warsaw, Lewandowski was so small that there was no age group into which he could be classified. He started out at the stadium of Partyzant Leszno. In fact, he was not even a full-fledged player for the club because he could only attend training sessions thanks to his father, Krzysztof, a soccer player himself, who worked there at the time.

From his early childhood, instead of playing in a sandbox, Lewandowski preferred to play soccer. His mother Iwona says she still cannot get over her admiration for little Robert for how he could sit at the dinner table and eat soup while juggling the ball with his feet under the table at the same time. The first club that little Robert—or “Bobek”—officially played for was Varsovia. Much as Leo Messi, who is a year older, he played with boys who were two years his senior, because there was no age group for him at the time, and, like Leo, he had to prove that even though he was small and tiny, he could be useful on the pitch.

He stayed after hours, repeating monotonous exercises for hours to hone his skills. Time has shown that it was worth the effort. And although Lewandowski was not destined to play against Messi in the Champions League this year, the Argentinian star invited Robert to take part in his charity project, Messi and Friends 2013. Both players will meet at a stadium in Chicago in early July.

Early potential not spotted
Lewandowski spent seven years at Varsovia. This was not a time that he remembers with particular fondness. The club played in some of Poland’s lowest leagues and Lewandowski often warmed the bench. He dreamed of playing for top-division Legia Warsaw. But when he finally got there, he landed in the reserves and then was out of action recovering from an injury.

The Łazienkowska Street side failed to recognize Robert’s talent, unlike minnows Znicz Pruszków, which bought Lewandowski from Legia Warsaw for a token zl.5,000, or around 1,200 euros. Deals don’t come much better—during the two seasons that he played for Pruszków, Lewandowski scored 38 goals and became the top scorer of both the 3rd and 2nd divisions.

When word of the prolific young striker got out, the best Ekstraklasa clubs lined up to court him: Wisła Cracow, Lech Poznań and… Legia Warsaw—the very club that previously dropped him from the squad. Lewandowski picked Poznań. He went there in 2008. In his opening match against GKS Bełchatów, he scored a beautiful goal with his heel, and from there things got even better. With Lech, Lewandowski won the top trophies in Poland: the Polish Cup, the Super Cup and the national championship. He was also the top scorer, with 18 goals.

Go west, young man
After two years of playing in Poznań, negotiations began to transfer Lewandowski to a foreign club. His agent, Cezary Kucharski, gave the player several options to choose from. According to the player’s mother, Robert chose Germany’s Borussia because Dortmund, the team’s home city, was relatively close—close enough for Robert to visit his family, which, after his father died of a stroke, meant his mother Iwona and sister Milena, as well as his fiancée Anna Stachurska.

On June 11, 2010, Lech Poznań clinched a deal with Borussia and sold Lewandowski for an estimated 4.5 million euros. The contract is valid until June 30, 2014, but it seems less and less likely that Lewandowski will stay in Dortmund that long.

In his first season in Dortmund, Lewandowski won the national championship with Borussia, appearing in 33 matches and scoring eight goals. In his second season, he scored 22 goals and was the team’s top scorer in the 2011/2012 campaign. His value increased, which, however, did not necessarily translate into top earnings. Lewandowski was disappointed that his salary, at 1.8 million euros a year, was among the lowest in the club. Although, together with income from advertising, he raked in a hefty 2.5 million euros, he was still far behind local celebrities such as Mario Goetze and Marco Reus, not to mention Real’s Ronaldo, who makes 35 million, including income from advertising contracts.

Transfer carousel
Then one night in Dortmund changed everything. After Lewandowski scored four goals against Real, Borussia reportedly offered him 5 million euros a year and apparently almost as soon as the offer was made it was outbid by Bayern Munich, who put 10 million euros on the table. With each hour on the internet there were more reports of the amounts and names of potential clubs interested in snapping up Lewandowski—from Manchester United to Real, whose president Florentino Perez met with the player in Madrid in person (previously he did so only in the case of Zidane and Kaka).

Lewandowski stubbornly refuses to answer questions about his future and says that for now he is fully focused on playing for Borussia. Conflicting signals are being sent by both Dortmund officials and Lewandowski’s agent Kucharski.

If Dortmund wants to capitalize on Lewandowski, the time is now because in a year the Pole’s contract will end and he will be able to go for free.

Less than a year ago, before the Euro 2012 tournament in Poland and Ukraine, the transfermarkt.de website estimated that Lewandowski was worth 15 million euros. After this April’s match against Real, his estimated value jumped to 28 million euros.

Britain’s Daily Mirror tabloid reported May 9 that London’s Chelsea was prepared to offer 45 million pounds for the Pole. There may be some truth in this report because the current Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho will probably become Chelsea manager. After the match in Dortmund, Mourinho said he would love to have Lewandowski on his team. And Mourinho has already signed up his children for a school in London...

In a sense, Lewandowski is lucky to have not been born earlier because in the communist era Polish soccer players could not leave for the West until they turned 28, and their transfers were often decided by sad-looking officials from behind their desks.

The most expensive player in the history of Polish soccer, goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek, was transferred from Poland’s Sokół Pniewy to Feyenoord Rotterdam for a paltry $400,000 plus some equipment and a training camp financed for the club’s players in the Netherlands. The Dutch later made a killing on Dudek by selling him to Liverpool for 10 times the price for which they had bought him. Kucharski was cautious not to make a similar mistake with Lewandowski, though the price difference in this case also looks impressive—after all the gap between the zl.5,000 that Znicz Pruszków paid Legia and the 4.5 million euros forked out by Borussia is enormous. How much will Lewandowski’s next employer pay for him? We’ll probably find out soon enough...

Bouquets and brickbats
Fans can be fickle and today’s hero can easily become a target for criticism tomorrow, as Lewandowski knows.

After the Euro 2012 opening match against Greece, Lewandowski was the idol of the crowds—he scored the first goal for Poland at the newly opened National Stadium in Warsaw. Every boy playing on a backyard pitch wanted to wear Lewandowski’s number nine and jerseys bearing his name were selling like hot cakes. But half a year later, a wave of criticism began, with unending complaints that Lewandowski was not working hard enough when playing for Poland, that he preferred to score goals for euros than for Polish zlotys, and that playing with the eagle—the Polish national emblem—on his chest was not sufficient motivation for him. The campaign against Lewandowski climaxed after matches against Ukraine and San Marino. And even though “Lewy” returned to the top echelons of soccer after the four-goal extravaganza at Signal Iduna Park in Dortmund, the discussion continues to this day.

Former top Poland goalkeeper and soccer commentator Jan Tomaszewski says the case of Lewandowski testifies to a failure of Polish coaching because it is not normal that someone who is capable of scoring four goals in a Champions League semifinal has problems scoring against a team of amateurs from San Marino and nearly misses a penalty when playing for Poland. The ex-goalie blames all the consecutive Poland coaches and their lack of ideas on how to tap Lewandowski’s talent.

A similar view has been voiced by former Argentina player Mario Kempes, 1978 world champion, who said that since Lewandowski regularly scores in league matches but does not when playing for Poland, then surely there is something wrong with the Polish national team, not with Lewandowski...

World Player of the Week
Lewandowski seems not to be bothered by what people are saying about him, regardless of whether these opinions are enthusiastic or critical. He is a rather introverted person, on the shy side, and appears to be mature for his years. Perhaps because he lost his father early on and had to grow up suddenly? It is no secret that he does not socialize much with the other two Poles playing for Dortmund and that he usually prefers to spend his free time with his German teammates.

Lewandowski leads a healthy lifestyle, in part thanks to his fiancée Anna, who is interested in nutrition. He gets up early even though he goes to bed late, especially after games, when adrenaline keeps him awake. As a boy, he was slightly built and frail. His parents feared that stronger players would break his ribs. Today he works out at the gym regularly. In fact, he goes to the gym much more often that the once-a-week appearance required by the club. He is still less powerfully built than many tall defenders, but his encounters with Ramos and Pepe have shown that Lewandowski is not afraid of clashes with such players. He knows his worth, as do others. The prestigious website goal.com named Lewandowski the “World Player of the Week” after the match against Real.

Starved of success
Why are Poland such a poor side even though they have players such as Lewandowski? Why is the Polish soccer league so weak seeing that, before Lewandowski, it had other top players like Jerzy Dudek, Józef Młynarczyk and Zbigniew Boniek? All three won the Champions League with their teams.

Among Polish clubs, only Legia (in the 1995-1996 campaign) and Widzew (1996-1997) managed to get to the group stage of the Champions League. Legia played against Spartak Moscow, Rosenborg Trondheim and Blackburn Rovers, got out of the group and was knocked out in the quarterfinal by Greece’s Panathinaikos FC. Widzew failed to get out of its group (which comprised Brandby Copenhagen, Borussia Dortmund, Atletico Madrid and Steaua Bucharest).

For more than a decade Polish soccer clubs have been regularly taking a beating when playing against teams from other European countries, including Romania, Denmark, Belarus or Cyprus. But even though Polish soccer clubs are outdistanced by their counterparts in other European countries in terms of club budgets, level of training and quality of facilities (except for the brand-new stadiums built in Poland for Euro 2012), the good news is that even a rough and neglected field such as that in Leszno can produce a natural talent that the world’s top soccer clubs are now scrambling to sign up.

Agnieszka Dokowicz

10 most expensive transfers in soccer history (in euros):
1. Cristiano Ronaldo: sold from Manchester United to Real Madrid for 94 million
2. Zinedine Zidane: Juventus Turin - Real Madrid 73.5 million
3. Zlatan Ibrahimović: Inter Milan - FC Barcelona 69.5 million
4. Kaka: AC Milan - Real Madrid 65 million
5. Luis Figo: FC Barcelona - Real Madrid 60 million
6. Hernan Crespo: AC Parma - Lazio 55 million
7. Gianluigi Buffon: AC Parma - Juventus 54.2 million
8. Gaizka Mendieta: FC Valencia - Lazio 48 million
9. Andriy Shevchenko: AC Milan - Chelsea 46 million
10. Rio Ferdinand: Leeds - Manchester Utd. 46 million

10 most expensive transfers in Polish soccer:
1. Robert Lewandowski: Lech - Borussia Dortmund 4.5 million
2. Łukasz Fabiański: Legia - Arsenal 4.35 million
3. Dawid Janczyk: Legia - CSKA Moscow 4.2 million
4. Marcelo: Wisła - PSV Eindhoven 3.8 million
5. Rafał Murawski: Lech - Rubin Kazan 3.2 million
6. Maciej Żurawski: Wisła - Celtic 3.1 million
7. Jakub Błaszczykowski: Wisła - Borussia Dortmund 3.05 million
8. Dariusz Dudka: Wisła - Auxerre 2.5 million
9. Sebastian Mila: Grodzisk - Austria Vienna 2 million
10. Damian Gorawski: Wisła - FC Moscow 1.8 million
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