There are a few managers who might have signed Robert Lewandowski. But for the Icelandic ash cloud that cancelled his flight, he might have joined Sam Allardyce at Blackburn. He was offered to Roberto Martinez at Wigan, who since Lewandowski had three agents representing him, was unsure what precisely was on the table.
After he had played the game of his life, becoming the first man ever to score four goals in a European fixture against Real Madrid and the first in any European Cup semi-final, his representatives became busier.
After the 4-1 rout of Madrid in the Westfalenstadion, he would never be worth more. He had been called by the Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, and invited by Lionel Messi to play alongside him in a benefit game. Lewandowski was 24 and his contract with Borussia Dortmund had 14 months to run. The club had known for some time that it would not be renewed. His manager, Jürgen Klopp, had described the loss of Mario Götze, perhaps the single best young talent in German football, as “like having a heart attack”. He had long known that Lewandowski would leave.
However, when it was disclosed that he was thinking of joining Götze at Bayern Munich, the thought of the Bundesliga’s best striker pairing up with the club that had just won the championship with a goal difference of plus 80 was met with alarm.
The Dortmund general manager, Hans-Joachim Watzke, the man who steered the club from the edge of bankruptcy to the championship, reportedly told Lewandowski that he could go anywhere provided it was not to Munich. Lewandowski’s stock answer is that he will decide his future in the summer, although the fact that his agents – he is now down to two – have been invited to Bayern’s post-match party did not go down well on the Ruhr.
Yet that is not to say Lewandowski will not shine at Wembley. The last time he faced Bayern in a final – last season’s German Cup – he scored three times. Those goals, like all his important ones, were dedicated to his father, who played judo for a living and died of a stroke when Robert was 16. His mother and sister played volleyball. His fiancée, Anna Stachurska, won bronze in the karate World Cup and looks glamorous enough to feature in the next James Bond film. Sport is in his blood.
In the build-up he has been defiant: “I know precisely what I need to motivate myself,” he said. “Reading quotes from other people doesn’t count for anything. Once I lift the cup in London, everything will become clear. We are the worst opponents Bayern could have.”
His position is not that different from Kevin Keegan’s when he went into the 1977 European Cup final knowing it would be his last match for Liverpool. Keegan so tormented Berti Vogts that the defender decided to abandon Borussia Mönchengladbach’s post-match party, which had become a wake, to pay his respects.
Many have hesitated over buying Lewandowski but those who have signed him have always been rewarded. When Lech Poznan’s manager, Franciszek Smuda, paid a visit to Znicz Pruszkow, the Third Division club where the then 20-year-old was plying his trade, he turned to the man who had tipped him off and shouted: “You owe me petrol money.” Smuda eventually signed Lewandowski and made rather more than petrol money – £3.6m – when Klopp, having delayed a bid by a year because he thought the forward too fragile for the Bundesliga, brought him to Dortmund.
Lewandowski’s first professional contract was worth 1,500 zloty a month – about £280. If he looks grasping now, he has come a long way from Leszno, the village 17 miles west of Warsaw where he grew up.
After making it big, he drove back to Leszno. The car had a big ribbon around it and was a present for his mother. Dortmund are hoping for a farewell gift of their own, also with ribbons coloured yellow and black.
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