World Soccer

“I feel like I’m 25 again”

The 2020-21 ESM European Golden Shoe winner sits down to discuss his incredible award-winning, record-breaking season

- Interview by Karlheinz Wild (Kicker) and Keir Radnedge for ESM

What does winning this award mean to you?

I am proud of this award since we have four fewer games in the Bundesliga than the leagues in England, Spain, Italy or France and also I played only 29 games because of injury. After missing four games because of injury, I knew that I could only achieve it if I scored at least three goals in one of the remaining games.

And you did, with three goals against Borussia Monchengla­dbach on matchday 32, which took you to 39 goals…

I knew then that I had a great chance to break Gerd Muller’s 40-goal Bundesliga record from 1971-72 and win the Golden Shoe to go with it. But it was not so simple. I felt the importance of this record to the German public. It was a tremendous challenge but also provided mental encouragem­ent. That is why these 41 goals were exceptiona­l – and they are also a credit to the entire Bayern team. This Golden Shoe belongs to them.

What is more important for you: to beat Gerd Muller’s record by one goal or to have become the top scorer in Europe? His record had stood for almost 50 years, which proves what a great achievemen­t it was. It was extremely difficult for him then and it was a huge challenge for me. You cannot think of setting such a record every year.

Muller was famous for his goalscorin­g instinct. Is there any skill that you have in common with him?

We are completely different [strikers]. From the photograph­s I have seen he was sturdy, not so tall, and had muscular legs. He was a typical penalty-area striker with quick reactions. I am tall and athletic. He never stopped believing that he would score before the end of any game and that’s something I also believe for myself. The most important area for our goals is between the goal-line and the penalty spot.

Previous Golden Shoe winners include great names such as Eusebio, Gerd Muller, Marco van Basten, the Brazilian Ronaldo, and, of course, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. How do you feel to be on that list? A great honour, of course. It shows you can achieve a lot with my style of play and performanc­e.

Which type of striker among those great names do you most resemble? Some old pros have told me, though comparison­s between individual players are difficult, that I remind them of Van Basten in terms of movement patterns and running style. He was a great centre-forward so if I had to compare myself with a former striker, it would be Van Basten.

Did you have a role model in your youth? Eusebio, Gerd Muller and so on were before my time. I admired Thierry Henry for his style of play, his runs, his technical skills and accuracy in shooting. I often watched his matches. So he was an inspiratio­n but also the people around me. I know how hard it was for my mother and father because we lived 30 or 40km from

Warsaw and it was very difficult for them, after work, to travel with me to training. They tried to help me – not to be a perfect footballer but to be a happy young boy who could play football.

When you were voted Germany’s Footballer of the Year for the first time in 2020 at the age of 32, you said you felt better than you did when you were 26. Does that still apply?

Right now I feel like I’m 25 again.

Back in 2020 you also said that 25 goals by you per season would be considered normal. In the past four years your average has been 31.5 goals per season. What is your standard today? The issue is how you define expectatio­n. For a striker, the goals tally always comes first in the public eye. However, for me, the priority must be the team. The better the team play, the more goals I can score. It is always inter-connected. For a team it is difficult to play without a striker but a striker cannot play at all without a team. Both have to work together. Firstly, the team have to win, and then I can think about my goals.

You have developed into more of a team player. How did this come about? I looked intensivel­y at my entire game. I wanted to maintain my goalscorin­g rate, but I wanted to improve the way I played. I realised that I should also participat­e in the build-up and not just wait for the assists. Someone else can also score the goals. The important thing is that I help us win.

I suppose you might say that I am now a complete Lewandowsk­i. I always wanted to be a modern, complete striker. It is no problem for me to play in different systems and styles of play. I always wanted to be strong everywhere, with the right foot, the left, and heading. At Bayern Munich there is not much space, which is completely different if your team prefers to play on the counter-attack. I wanted to be a striker who masters all tactical systems.

You once said that you always want to improve. Can you still improve?

The important thing is that I continue wanting this. It is not easy to play at the top level for many years. That is the biggest challenge for top players. Young players are not always willing to do that. To understand that, you need experience. You think differentl­y at 30 to how you thought at 20. That is normal. I know that it only has positive effects if I work on the details. I could say that now

I am good enough and can stay at this level. But I don’t think like that. I am always looking for improvemen­ts in my game.

Such as?

I used to have no chance of scoring goals from long range because I was mostly in the penalty area. Outside the penalty area I might have had one or two shots in five games. So in training I concentrat­e on shooting from distance more often to be able to react automatica­lly and more effectivel­y during a match. You can hit cross-field or diagonal passes at three o’clock in the morning, even if you’ve woken up only five minutes earlier. But the shot at goal is the most difficult task for a striker; for that you need a certain mindset.

Do you ever have any self-doubt?

I’ve had days when things did not go well but I try to change that. Even if you do not feel good during the match, you still have to push yourself to perform. That is the most difficult thing for a striker. I had to learn that first. On difficult days I told myself it was not just my legs, it was my head. I worked on that mindset.

Can you explain why things are going so well for you at the moment? Or does it sometimes feel like you are dreaming?

I have always had the potential and I have known for years what I had to do to realise the potential. I know now what I have to work on in training. That is why my physical fitness is better now than it was when I was 25, 26 or 28. The basics are there so age is irrelevant. I changed my diet when I was 22 so that I would be able to have a longer career. Back then I did not know whether it would work or not but I did it anyway and it has proved worth it. I am reaping the benefits of what I started back then.

How long can you maintain this top form? That is difficult but, when one run comes to an end, you just have to try to start another one. I don’t start a game thinking about any run or other records. I just want to have fun with the ball and win. As long as I have this winning mentality, it can only be good for me.

What distinguis­hes the 33-year-old striker from the 25-year-old Lewandowsk­i who was the Bundesliga’s top scorer in 2013-14 with 20 goals?

I remember when I was younger how difficult it was to avoid all external influences – the media and the social media. It takes a long time to gather the necessary experience. Nowadays younger players cost a lot of money just because of their potential rather than real success. It is not the young players who are to blame; it is a problem to do with football and the way it has developed. When Cristiano Ronaldo cost millions he had already proved his value.

What qualities are essential for a typical centre-forward?

He has to have something special and it’s not something you can learn, you just have it. For me, my most important quality is simply to read the game, know what is happening on the pitch or what is going to happen.

Which current striker do you particular­ly admire?

There are so many fantastic strikers around. In the Bundesliga, Erling Haaland has enormous potential, a huge appetite for goals and he always wants more. In England there’s Harry Kane, Karim Benzema is still in top form for Real Madrid and Romelu Lukaku is so strong and powerful.

Are goals like those against Barcelona in the Champions League more important for you than those that come against average teams like Bochum in the Bundesliga?

Every goal is important. Maybe more notice is taken of one goal or another outside Germany but there are a lot more goals scored in the Bundesliga than in the Champions League!

The introducti­on of VAR means that before you can celebrate your goals now you have to wait and see whether the goal is given. Does that upset you?

Yes. In your mind you immediatel­y start to think whether everything was OK or not. I also know what it’s like to have a goal given against you that should not have been given. However, the longer VAR is used, it will get better and better. We have to live with it and get used to it.

So what is there left for you to achieve in the game before you retire?

I don’t think about what I have won or achieved in the past but about what I can still win in the future. Whatever may happen, will bring something new. A new season presents new challenges and I hope renewed success. The season still has a long way to go and there are lots of matches to be played. At Bayern Munich we aim for the highest, while the biggest achievemen­t with Poland would be to take part in the 2022 World Cup. We have the potential and we will do our best to get there behind our group favourites England.

As for me, personally, age is only a number and, with my experience and preparatio­n, I know I can play on at the top level for a few years longer. Maybe, like wine,

I can grow even better with age.

“I wanted to improve the way I played. I realised that I should also participat­e in the build-up and not just wait for the assists”

 ?? Photo credit: Kicker ?? Golden goal machine... Robert Lewandowsk­i
Photo credit: Kicker Golden goal machine... Robert Lewandowsk­i
 ?? ?? Winner… Lewandowsk­i collects his first-ever ESM Golden Shoe
Winner… Lewandowsk­i collects his first-ever ESM Golden Shoe
 ?? ?? Awards… Lewandowsk­i was also named the Bundesliga’s Player of the Year
Awards… Lewandowsk­i was also named the Bundesliga’s Player of the Year
 ?? ?? Road to Qatar…Poland are in England’s World Cup qualifying group
Road to Qatar…Poland are in England’s World Cup qualifying group
 ?? ?? Champions League… Lewa competes with Barcelona’s Gerard Pique
Champions League… Lewa competes with Barcelona’s Gerard Pique
 ?? ??

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