Robert Lewandowski’s goalscoring exploits have transcended ridiculous, and the man now embodies the ‘scoring for fun’ phrase.
After effortlessly sinking 493 goals in 657 career outings across all competitions, Lewandowski stands tall in a class of his own. His trophy haul counts 79, inclusive of 28 club trophies and 51 individual accolades.
Those numbers make it unimaginable that former Orlando Pirates striker Takesure Chinyama was once the reason Lewandowski’s boyhood club Legia Warszawa let go of him.
Of course, the two are no equals now. On Monday, the Bayern Munich poacher added another entry – The Best Fifa Men’s Player – to his long list of accolades while the 39-year-old Chinyama has taken a back seat from the game. However, in the history books of the Polish Ekstraklasa, those two names will forever be read in the same line.
As the world takes a bow in awe of Lewy’s achievements in Bundesliga, the former Zimbabwe international – six years his senior – remembers him as that scrawny Legia B team ‘reject’. He recalls how Legia’s reserve team released 19-year-old Lewy. The record nine-time Polish Footballer of the Year was not seen as anything special.
“I’m convinced that the reason his manager took him to a rival club [when his loan spells were over] was deliberate. He wanted to prove a point that they were letting go of good talent. So, after being developed at Legia – a club from his hometown – Lewandowski ended up playing for their biggest rivals Lech Poznan. More like Pirates and [Kaizer] Chiefs.
“If I remember well, we played against him four times, and he came back to hurt us. He’d always score against us,” Chinyama tells FARPost from his Norton base, just 30km from Zimbabwe’s capital Harare.
Back then, just six years after the turn of the millennium, it made sense to keep the Zimbabwean and let young Lewandowski join a bitter rival.
In any case, Chinyama, born in Harare, later made history when he was crowned the first non-European to win the Golden Boot in the Ekstraklasa in May 2009. Of course, a then 21-year-old Lewandowski was also recognised for his massive impact in his maiden season in the elite league of Polish football.
After topping the scorers’ charts in the Polish Third and Second Divisions with Znicz Pruszkow, Lewandowski scored 14 goals in an impressive spell – a bold pronouncement of his arrival on the big stage. His tally was five goals shy of Chinyama’s haul of 19, which put the then Warriors forward at the crest of the scorers’ chart.
“When I became the first foreigner to win the Golden Boot, Lewandowski was second behind me,” a proud Chinyama, who also had a stint with the now-defunct Platinum Stars, recalls.
Interestingly, Lewandowski almost equalled his record-setting tally in the following season – 2009/10 – scoring 18 goals to win the Golden Boot.
“I struggled with injuries that particular season and Lewandowski beat me to the award,” adds Chinyama.
Interestingly, as Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund came knocking for the then youth international, Chinyama also had his Germany suitors. Eintracht Frankfurt were keen on the Zimbabwean’s signature.
However, an injury stood in the way of a potentially life-changing move to Western Europe.
“I got injured when I was about to sign in Germany. If I had that breakthrough the same year as him, who knows how far I could have gone with Eintracht Frankfurt. Unfortunately, they couldn’t take me while injured.
“I still think if I had that chance, I could have reached the same level. But then again, maybe it was meant to be like that,” he says.
Today, Chinyama watches the Poland captain with both pride and a feeling of what could have been.
“I don’t spend days thinking that I could have been this and I could have done that. I’m fine with what I did with my career, and I consider myself a lucky guy because I have played at an excellent level,” he says.
He reveals that there was no doubting that Lewy was one for the future, even in his early days in the lower ranks of Polish football. Of course, the physical specimen the world sees now was not in such chiselled condition.
In fact, one of the things said about him when released by Legia was “being too weak”. Krzysztof Sikorski, one of his early coaches, is on record as saying: “He was skinny. His legs were like sticks, and I was always scared that others would break them.”
Chinyama is convinced that it was all down to his impeccable work ethic that he evolved into one of the most lethal strikers in world football.
Perhaps it’s also down to the extraordinary athletic genes spread through his family. His late dad, Krzysztof, was a soccer star and Polish judo champion. His mom, Iwona, and elder sister, Milena, played competitive volleyball.
Lewandowski married a karate World Cup bronze medalist, Anna Stachurska, a renowned sports nutritionist. She is credited for helping her husband get into top shape.
“We’ve got a gym at home, and I use it on my days off, usually with my wife Anna,” he told an interviewer in Germany.
Former Dortmund teammate Nuri Sahin said: “Lewy has the most incredible body; it’s just pure muscles. It stuns the other players in the changing room.”
Chinyama concurs with former Bayern mentor Pep Guardiola, who said he was stunned to learn of Lewandowski’s physical and mental dedication to the sport when he worked with him at Bayern.
“I remember reading somewhere Pep saying he is the most professional player he had ever met. He appears to be a guy who knows what to do to stay in the best condition from a distance. I think his success also comes from the fact that he takes good care of himself and is hardly injured.”
The Polish league, he believes, would have prepared him for the harsh rigours of European football.
“It’s a physical league in Poland, and it turns you into a very tough player. Over and above, Lewandowski is a natural finisher, who has instinct and can score with any part of his body,” Chinyama tells FARPost.The ex-centre forward, who spent the 2012/13 season at Bucs, describes the all-time Poland top scorer as a “very humble, sociable person who loves to learn”.
“He was very sharp and spoke some good English,” concluded Chinyama, who is currently not involved in the game.