Robert Lewandowski: The perfect season from the perfect striker

Forty-seven games. Fifty-five goals. Ten assists. Three trophies.

And now for Robert Lewandowski, one Goal 50 award after what can only be described as a perfect season by the Bayern Munich forward.

Regarded as the world's most complete number nine, Lewandowski left all other players trailing in his wake last term, with the Poland international having been at times unstoppable for defences both in Germany and around Europe.

Despite all that, the 32-year-old feels he can improve on perfection.

"My greatest dream has come true," Lewandowski tells Goal in an exclusive interview after being voted the best men's player of the 2019-20 campaign by journalists and editors from around the world.

"The feeling at that moment is incredible, I've never felt anything like it before. You realise that the hard work you've put in over 20 years is rewarded.

"I feel very good, such awards mean a lot to me. Of course, football is a team sport, but such individual titles show that the work you put in personally every day pays off.

"For me it is important how many titles we win. That's what I'm looking for, because without a title, all these goals aren't worth much.

"If my goals help us win titles, then the ideal has happened. In this regard, however, I must also say that not only the goals play a major role, but also the assists. That promotes team spirit."

Goal 50 Lewandowski GFXGoal

"There is always room for improvement," he adds. "As long as you play football, you have to stay hungry. Getting to the top is difficult. But staying at the top is even harder.

"At the end of your career is when you can look back and enjoy the titles you have won."

When Lewandowski does indeed look back on his career, he will do so knowing he took an unconventional route to the top

A skinny teenager, he loved playing football more than anything else, even trying to convince his parents to let him focus solely on it as they encouraged him to follow other pursuits.

"My first training ground had only the remotest connection to the football pitches we know today," he recalls. "The pitch was dark, only a little grass grew in some places. It was enough for us if we had a ball at our feet.

"When it rained, we actually had the most fun. We didn't care that we didn't have a perfect lawn and that we had to drive home with our wet clothes on for two hours.

"After that, I usually played two more hours in the garden in wind and weather when it was already dark.

"I just wanted to be outside and do what fulfils me. It just came from the heart. Football has always been my greatest passion, and that passion has driven me."

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Lewandowski's parents were both athletes, with his father Krzysztof not only playing second-division football, but also becoming Polish judo champion. His mother, Iwona, was a volleyball player for one of the country's best teams, AZS Warszawa.

"I tried many other sports besides football, in which I was also quite talented," Lewandowski says of his upbringing. "But I didn't develop the same feeling for them as I had for football.

"In contrast to football, I was sometimes stressed and nervous and it was clear to me that I would never reach the top level in those sports. I then asked my father why I couldn't just play football.

"He explained to me that I still couldn't understand why other sports are helpful. He said to me: 'One day you will understand that it is only for your good.' He was right.

"I used to do a lot of gymnastics to work on my flexibility. That benefits me nowadays. That's why I am infinitely grateful to my father for showing me this."

Despite his desire to follow his dreams, even just earning a professional contract proved difficult for Lewandowski.

At 15 he was rejected by a national team coach for being too thin before Legia Warsaw decided to release him before he turned 18.

"That hurt a lot. I was only 17 years old, shortly before that I had lost my father," he recalls. "I can still remember getting injured and waiting for a decision on what to do with me in the coming season.

"Suddenly, a week or two before my contract expired, I received the information from Legia's secretary that the club did not want to renew my contract in the summer.

"I really wanted to make it and show everyone what I can do. It doesn't matter what other people say if you have a strong will. So I looked ahead and continued to work on myself.

"When I was 18, I started working more in the gym and building up my muscles. That helped a lot."

Young Robert Lewandowski Lech PoznanGetty Images

Being let go by Legia affected Lewandowski greatly, and he decided to do things his own way thereafter.

He decided to drop down to the third tier of Polish football to prove himself, signing for Znicz Pruszkow before helping them win promotion in his first season and then finishing as top scorer the following year.

Lewandowski's goals did not go unnoticed, and Lech Poznan brought him back to the top flight and gave him a taste of playing in Europe in the UEFA Cup. 

In Poznan, he finished as the Ekstraklasa top scorer in 2009-10 with 18 goals, with many European clubs, including Blackburn Rovers and Borussia Dortmund, beginning to take notice of his talents.

"I knew that the next step would have to be abroad. I also definitely wanted to move to a club that had at least Europa League ambitions," the striker continues.

"Borussia Dortmund had already made me an offer a year earlier, but at that time a move would have come too early for me. After two years I felt ready.

"Dortmund had a compelling coach in Jurgen Klopp, a young team and played a system that suited me."

A goal in the Revierderby against rivals Schalke helped him quickly earn the affection of the Dortmund fans, but Lewandowski was not happy with his first few performances in Germany.

"The first three months at Dortmund were difficult. But I still know exactly when the situation got better," he admits.

"We lost an away game in the Champions League in Marseille. At the time, I didn't really know what my position was with the coach.

"After the game I talked to Jurgen Klopp and asked him openly what he expected from me. We spoke for almost two hours. I told him what was on my mind, and he explained to me what he expected from me.

"After this conversation everything worked better. We won the next game 4-0 against Augsburg, I scored a hat-trick and got an assist."

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Lewandowski went from strength to strength after that, scoring 20 or more goals in each of the following three Bundesliga seasons, winning two Bundesliga titles and the domestic double in 2011-12.

Dortmund reached the Champions League final in 2013, but an all-German affair saw Bayern lift the trophy ahead of their rivals.

And, after achieving all he could at the Westfalenstadion, the Pole swapped Dortmund for Bayern in 2014.

He has won the Bundesliga every year since, adding four more German top-scorer trophies to the one he had earned in his final campaign at Dortmund.

After routinely falling short in the Champions League, it looked like Lewandowski and Bayern would not return to the promised land of a European final, especially in 2019-20 when the team stuttered under Niko Kovac.

A 5-1 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt saw Bayern's bosses pull the plug on Kovac and replace him with Hansi Flick.

The rest, as they say, is history.

"We noticed that it wasn't working. That was particularly evident in this [Frankfurt] game," he reveals.

"Obviously we needed a little time to collect ourselves. After two or three weeks [under Flick] it went really well. The players knew what the coach was expecting, and confidence returned.

"We have grown together as a team and have developed positively, especially in terms of the way we play. We can now respond better to problems."

An 8-2 win over Barcelona in the quarter-finals of the Champions League proved Bayern's class to Europe, but also to themselves after Flick instilled a ruthlessness in the team which led to them ultimately claiming the treble.

"The first half played a very special role. We scored a lot of goals and pressed perfectly," he says of that already legendary victory in Lisbon. "We quickly had the feeling that we were marching to victory and that there was no way we would lose the game.

"Hansi said that we should keep up the pace. That worked well against Barcelona. We always want more, we always want to play forward.

"We played a great first half, but we wanted to top it. This is our DNA. You notice that in every training session."

As Germany's most successful club, winning is Bayern Munich's DNA, and now after securing the Champions League and the Goal 50 award, it has become part of Lewandowski's DNA too.

But he's not resting there. The perfect striker wants more, even after the perfect season.