Warsaw (AFP) – Out of a thick cloud of dust, it is just possible to make out a scrum of boys fighting for a football. The photo is old, taken years before Robert Lewandowski shot to stardom.
“The smallest one in the middle, that’s Robert,” said Krzysztof Sikorski, who coached the Bayern Munich striker and star of Poland’s team at the European Championship finals when he was just starting out.
The 27-year-old, who is known as “Lewangoalski”, scored his very first goals at the Varsovia youth club in the Polish capital Warsaw.
Sikorski, who heads the small club, was full of pride as he showed off a photo album of Lewandowski’s first team in 1997.
“We had just launched a class for boys born in 1988. Robert’s dad was a fan of Polonia Warsaw, our rivals from across the street, but that year they didn’t take kids born in 1988, so he reached out to us for his son’s first training,” Sikorski told AFP.
“Robert was small and scrawny, the tiniest in the group, but with the biggest heart and the most talent. The smartest of them all. You could see it from the get-go,” added Sikorski, who coached Lewandowski until he was 17.
– ‘Tragic’ pitch –
Varsovia was a small schoolboy club formed in the late 1950s, and had only rudimentary facilities.
“The pitch, it was all dirt and sand. In the spring and fall, it was tragic. You had to constantly flatten it,” Sikorski said.
“When it was hot, we watered it to limit the dust but as soon as it dried in the sun, it went back up in clouds. After every match, the guys were all black.”
The club does not have space for winter training, which means the boys play in the snow or at facilities leased from other Warsaw clubs.
The dirt ground has been replaced with synthetic turf but Varsovia still could not afford to cover the pitch for the winter.
“At first, we thought it would just be a training class,” Sikorski said of Lewandowski’s first team.
“But we quickly saw that it was a good team, so we signed them up to compete. It was a masterstroke! They always brought back medals.”
In 2002, the team went to a tournament in Germany. Lewandowski saw his future Bayern Munich stadium for the first time.
“The guys couldn’t get over seeing the beautiful pitch, the changing rooms, the equipment… a dream stadium,” said the coach.
Since he was little, Lewandowski said he would play for the national team, that he would be the best.
At 17, Lewandowski joined the Legia Warsaw reserve team, but was dropped.
“They cut ties with him, saying he was too weak, too gentle,” Sikorski said. “Robert almost fell into a depression, but they must regret it to this day.”
Lewandowski’s career took off when he arrived at Lech Poznan in 2008, before leaving for Germany, where he became the best striker in the Bundesliga while playing for Borussia Dortmund and now Bayern Munich.
He made history at the start of this season by coming off the bench to score five goals in nine minutes in a 5-1 rout of Wolfsburg. A Bundesliga record.
At 12, Tomasz Dabrowski already has six years under his belt at Varsovia. The football addict and Lewandowski fan is among 700 youths enrolled in the club.
“To be like Lewandowski, you have to work hard during training, concentrate before every match and then play as well as possible,” he said.
Or, as Sikorski put it: “Love the ball like Lewandowski, and the ball will love you too.”
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