Robert Lewandowski: Don’t believe in luck
Once, I tried to deal with everything by myself; I closed everything inside myself. I dealt with the symptoms, but not the causes, so I didn’t cure anything. I know now that when I say out loud things that are important to me, they become lighter,” tells Polish national team captain Robert Lewandowski.
"RZECZPOSPOLITA": Is it still possible to have an honest and normal conversation in high-level sports, or do you have all the answers prepared by image specialists?
ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI: Nobody prepares answers for me. Honesty is important to me. If I didn’t have it I would lose repsect, even for myself. My name carries weight not only on the pitch. I always take responsibility for what I say and it wouldn’t feel right if I outsourced my statements to someone else. Anyway, nobody knows my opinion about everything. I am who I am. I’m sitting here after all.
When you played with a protective mask on your face two years ago after injuring your nose, I wondered how often you put on a mask in everyday life. When are you just yourself?
I never pretend to be anyone on the pitch, because then I’m not thinking about how I look and what I’m doing. I play and score goals. Of course, when I meet sponsors, carry out marketing duties or give interviews, I have to behave in a certain way, but that’s normal for everyone. I’m myself when I’m at home. When people enter their home, they take off their shoes – I take off my mask. I feel at ease with the people who are close to me. That’s when I do what I like and I don’t have to worry about anything.
Is there something that nobody knows about you?
Sure, there are loads things. Of course, I can’t control all the information about me; however, 70 percent are controlled leaks. I decide what people know about me. The rest is rubbish and not worth commenting on. Anyway, if I worried about it, I wouldn’t have time to play football. I know that my position in football means that every step and everything I say is commented or if I have appeared somewhere or not. Maybe I don’t arouse controversy, but I stimulate people’s imagination. They draw strange conclusions sometimes. Or stupid ones. Only friends know the true Robert, and they don’t sell it to the media.
Can you go home and say: "Ania, shall we go to cinema?" or are there more logistics to it?
I can do that. I don’t have millions of things to do every day. You need to understand that Lewandowski in Poland and Lewandowski in Germany are people living at two different speeds. I rarely come to Poland, and when I do it’s for a short stay, mainly to play for the national team. So, if I have a lot of things to do at once, it might look like I am going crazy. But in Munich, I have time for myself and my family, which is the most important thing. Marketing? Promotions? OK, I know how business works, but I agree to do things like that once a month. And I make sure I have a few days free to the next match. My basic duty and work is playing football, not doing photo shoots. There wouldn’t be any photo sessions without football.
Leo Beenhakker told you to keep your feet on the ground at the beginning of your international career. Have you managed to do that?
According to some, I've had my head in the clouds for a long time. Recently, someone was boasting that he knows me, that he’s been to my home, that he gets me to sign autographs. He also told people that I was going to visit a hospital, and then explained why I hadn’t shown up. It made me look bad. But I don’t even know who he is – I’ve never even spoken to him. I can’t straighten out, explain and correct everything. Those who know me know what my values are, how I operate, what is important to me. Football is only a stage in my life. I know that someday I’ll have to say ‘enough’, and I don’t want to ever think that I missed an important moment and didn’t get as much out of my career as possible because my attention was occupied by completely unimportant things.
Do you think of yourself as mature?
I grew up faster than my peers. Even by several years.
Because of what I went through when I was a kid. I know that there are important and even more important things. Sometimes small things can become big problems unjustly. That’s when you have to take two steps back and look at everything from a distance. Actually, I'm really lucky to be surrounded by people who love me. Ania and I recently visited children in the oncology neurosurgery clinics at a children’s hospital in Warsaw. I felt helpless; I knew that they were being well looked after, but I wanted to help somehow. It took me a long time to get over that visit. The image of suffering parents and kids who are battling for their lives stayed in my head. But also, an awareness that you always have to have faith and hope. Because later it can happen that someone who was only given one more month to live actually makes a full recovery. You have to appreciate what you have. After all, what problems do I have?
That I missed a goal. Or that someone wrote that I can’t play football. Or something seems important today, but tomorrow it doesn’t matter. They’re not real problems. But just because things are good now doesn’t mean that they always will be. You have to stay humble, not put yourself on a pedestal, and not pretend to be smarter than you are.
You said you grew up quickly after what you went through as a child. It means in your private life or in sport?
I lost my dad when I was 16, so I had to grow up quickly and learn how to cope without him. Later, Legia showed me the door. All of this forged my character. I had two choices: either give up or say I can do it.
I won’t ask what you chose.
It worked out well for me because I proved that I don’t give up and that I’m ambitious. If I start something, I finish it and finish it well, as best as I can. I also quickly learned about responsibility, or rather an awareness of what I say and do.
Do you remember your father?
Yes, very well.
Do you ever wonder what he would have thought if he could see you now?
My dad always drove me to training, back when I was at Delta Warsaw. But he didn’t see the first senior match I played even though I was still quite young. It would be nice to talk to him sometimes, man to man. About life, family, football. I don’t dream about it though; I do not visualise it. I know he won’t meet my daughter. I had to deal with that a long time ago and I have to deal with it now.
You have changed lately – toughened up. And I'm not just thinking about the gym.
I’ll be thirty soon. I think fatherhood changes you a lot. I have to admit, when I used to hear friends talking about how it feels to have a child I didn’t really understand what they meant. I was happy that they were happy, but I only really understood when Klara was born. A child can change you, although you might not be aware of it. Recently, I was asked what Klara has changed in me, and the answer is that she’s opened me to things in the world that I hadn’t seen before.
Do you get up at night sometimes or is proper rest more important?
I get up. I can’t imagine being a dad who can’t do something for his own child. It follows from who I am. I can change her nappy, prepare food or help her fall asleep. Of course, I could tell Ania that I can’t do it. But as I said, I'm not going to say that I can’t do it. It would make me feel bad. I want to know everything about my daughter. When Ania stops feeding, I want to be able to stay with Klara alone at the weekend. It’s great, even now, when we have a few hours to ourselves. It’s time that nobody can take away from us and I really look forward to it.
How much of a man's success is down to his woman?
If it wasn’t for Ania, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I wouldn’t have gone past a certain level. Maybe I would have remained a journeyman footballer. My wife showed me that I can train more often, more intensively, that I can get better results and be a better player. In Poland, no one was able to tell me what I should change; I had to learn everything myself and catch up.
You mean in Poland when you started your career?
Training in Poland is what it is. My first trainer was Ania. She’s also a personal psychologist, sometimes a coach. I’ve never come home with a problem and heard “it’ll be alright." Athletes don’t need to hear that. Maybe Ania knew because she was also involved in sport. She knew about daily training and that empty words lead nowhere. What she said to me hit home. And then there was proper nutrition – you can’t cheat your body. I started believing in it when I saw the effects and realised that I could do more than others.
At the beginning of your career, did you try to impress her on the pitch?
Come on! When I was playing for Znicz Pruszków, I didn’t think that I would always be a footballer. It was only in Lech Poznań that I realised that I could make a living and earn money for myself and my family. I met Ania at a seminar before starting college. In fact, just enjoying student life for a year was a great experience and one that not many footballers have.
You're now a graduate with a bachelor's degree. Why did you do it?
Ania and my mother persuaded me to do it, that I should finish what I started. I’ll admit, it wasn’t particularly hard to finish. I was interested in the subject and I already had the practice, so I just had to learn a bit of theory. My parents were teachers and I spent most of my childhood in the gym hall. Besides, I want my children to know that their father didn’t just play football but he also graduated from college. I don’t want them to have any cards up their sleeves when I try to motivate them. I know that the degree probably won’t be much use to me, but the fact that I managed to achieve something outside of football that I was focused on for half my life makes me really happy.
Does Ania motivate you?
I used to be quite a closed person, but I found that talking helps. When I say out loud things that are important to me, they become lighter. Problems disappear and things are easier. Once, I tried to deal with everything by myself, I closed everything inside myself. I dealt with the symptoms, but not the causes, so I didn’t cure anything. Saying out loud difficult thoughts allows you to leave them behind and look to the future. It’s good to talk, there’s nothing to be afraid of. It also defuses ticking bombs. If someone said something about me, it is better to ask if it's true or what exactly they meant. Misunderstandings are best cleared up straight away. We often create problems in our minds that don’t exist or are so small that we shouldn’t bother about them.
Do you cry sometimes?
I cried on 4 May, when my daughter was born. That’s normal. I was okay when I cut the umbilical cord, but before that I could barely see through the tears.
Do you scream?
Sometimes it's better to shout something out. Crying and screaming are ways to throw away thoughts. Often, people don’t admit that they scream because they think it’s a weakness. Maybe I don’t mean shouting, rather ‘words spoken very loudly’.
Do you speak very loudly when you hear the word ‘crisis’ after three matches without a goal?
No, I just laugh. It doesn’t bother me. I wait to see who comes out with it first. Sometimes I think they’re just joking, or they’re trying to get clicks. But I also think that if after three matches nobody writes ‘crisis’ then maybe something is wrong. If you lose and don’t score goals and nobody says anything then that’s not normal. I know that every situation is analysed thoroughly and that sometimes statistics are more important than what actually happens on the pitch. I hope that fans' awareness will grow with each passing year, because it would be beneficial for the whole of football.
Is it true that at the highest level many goals are scored because of what’s in your mind?
Everyone has problems. If you can’t deal with them, you take them onto the pitch. You can really see that! Then it's hard to put in a good performance and score. For me, mental training is just as important as training on the pitch. I’ve learnt that you have to have an emotional off switch and leave everyday life in the dressing room. I'm focused only on hitting the back of the net. When you play a lot of matches and you are tired, you can still play – you wake up and do a sprint or a slide, maybe all a little slower, but you do it. But if you have to score a goal, fatigue has a colossal influence – just one centimetre or a fraction of a second and it’s too late. Scoring goals is the hardest job. But the best paid.
Have you come to terms with the fact that people are interested in how much money you have?
It's different in Munich. It's the richest region in Europe and if I go out on the road in a nice car people applaud me and give me a thumbs up. They’re happy to see a nice car and congratulate me. I’d also like to have neighbours who have good cars rather than bad ones. I’d go over to them and take a look and enjoy it with them. I definitely wouldn’t be angry that they bought one when I couldn’t.
And in Poland?
It might surprise you, but in Poland people are also very positive towards me. What actually happens in Poland and what happens on the internet are two completely different things. There’s no such thing as life on the internet. Articles are either okay, clever or stupid, but I don’t look at the comments. For me, the comments don’t exist because they’re not people's comments; they’re often written by bots.
Every now and then information appears about your new investments.
Some information appears, but it doesn’t cover all my financial decisions. I don’t have a problem talking about it and I don’t keep everything a secret. Football will end one day and my earnings too. At the moment I get paid monthly, but that won’t last for ever. Knowing that I can earn money that’ll last for the rest of my life isn’t enough for me. I prefer to invest in something that will bring me a regular income for the rest of my life. I don’t know if it is ambition or satisfying my ego, but I’m not satisfied just by having money in my account. I have to be sure that I can carry on making money, or maybe that I’ll still have something to do. I don’t think I’d be able to do nothing after my career ends. Okay, I’ll probably go on holiday one, two or maybe five times. But I’ll get bored eventually.
Some of your investments are strange. What do you really know about start-ups?
I invest in many things. Start-ups belong to one of the investment segments that I’m interested in. Due to what I do, I’m not involved on a daily basis, but as far as I can, I know and I am interested in what is happening in new technology and start-ups.
Which investments do you focus on?
I could mention real estate, land, digital agencies (that build the image of companies on the internet - ed.)... When a new topic interests me, I don’t take it to my advisors straight away. I want to know everything, to read and think about it. If I don’t understand something, I get advice, but I need time to work it all out, meet people, and then draw conclusions, whether something is good for me or not. I’m a bit suspicious.
I’ll put it another way: I know that sometimes you have to be trusting, but it’s even better to trust when you are in control of everything. When I work with people and talk about investments, I can’t be naive and take everything at face value. I like to ask good questions – why is it this way not that way? Yes, I am a footballer, but I’m also a man who has his own mind.
Have you ever made a mistake?
Never big ones. Over the years, probably yes, I’ve never lost all my savings though. I diversify my investment portfolio. And mistakes, just like on the pitch, make you realise that you have to be focused and concentrated all the time.
Does money still motivate you?
It’s important but not the most important. I know what I'm talking about. If money was the only important thing, I could have earned more in the last few years. I want to make money, but I also want to fulfill my dreams and pursue my interests. I’ve never been guided by just money when I’ve chosen which club to play for. I’ve had better offers, so I could have been in a completely different place. I have always been guided by reason – when I’ve changed club it has been to be a better player and happy.
Are you happy?
I do what I love. I also love my wife and daughter and I have them with me. I play in one of the best clubs in the world so if I said I wasn’t happy I’d be lying. I value what I’ve managed to do and where I am. Of course, I still think about what else I could improve.
You’ve recently caught up with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in the Bundesliga list of top scorers. Can you go further?
I know that I’m close to being the highest scoring foreigner, but I’m not counting on it. These are records that nobody really pays attention to, so they are not a big deal for me.
I'm asking, because you are 200 goals away from first place. So if you were going for it you’d have to play in the Bundesliga for a lot longer.
If you play for Bayern, it’s very difficult to go to another club. There is not much you can do after that. Only three or four teams count. On one hand, it’s a great privilege, but on the other it forces you to think about what you want to achieve in life. I feel great in Bayern, so I’m not waiting for the phone to ring with offers. They might come, or they might not. I am happy with where I play and the city I live in and I think that a lot of footballers would like to be in my place.
Who are you competing with? With Ronaldo, with Messi or with yourself?
I’m focused on myself. Two years ago, I thought I could take free kicks. I came to the conclusion that if I put the effort in and train more, I can score a few more goals a season. I simply expanded my repertoire. If I stop thinking about what I can do better, what to do to get to the next level as a footballer, it’ll mean that I’m reaching the end.
Do you like rankings?
Only the ones I win.
So you don’t like FIFA player of the year much? You once said that these rankings were a cabaret.
Some of them have clear rules and I respect them, but there are some that I don’t understand. I have no control over them, and as you know I like to be in control all the time. Of course, I’d like to receive statuettes – it's nice to have your work appreciated once in a while. Places outside the FIFA top three don’t count and everyone can vote for who they want. If I was a journalist from Africa, I’d probably vote for an African. But I didn’t get a single vote from a journalist from Poland. But it’s not my problem. After all, everyone’s an expert on football.
Is there something you don’t like about yourself?
I am punctual, and even when we can be somewhere late I say to Ania that we have to be on time. In this respect we’re the same – we have to keep our word. I would say that I am a bit too meticulous. Sometimes I’d like to let go and relax, but I find it hard to do. I can get hung up on simple, everyday issues the same as if they were business issues. People demand a lot from me, so it seems fair that I have the right to demand from others. But I think sometimes I demand too much.
Where do you feel at home – in Poland or in Germany?
Munich is the place where I live. I feel at home there, because that’s where I am every day. But Warsaw is my home, the city I’ll go back to and where I’ll live after my career.
People who have money and success often dream about power. Has being captain of the national team tickled your ego?
The fact that you have a lot to say in the dressing room doesn’t mean that you are someone important on the outside. I think that my position in Polish football doesn’t come from being captain, but from leaving my heart on the pitch when I play for Poland. For the fans.
You’re going to your first World Cup at nearly 30 years old. Is it a dream come true?
Yes. We’ve had the Euros, so it’s time for the World Cup. I dreamed about it as a child. I’ve always wanted to play at that level and score goals. I’ve always watched the World Cup on television, so now I want to go to Russia and prove that we are not just there to make up the numbers.
What are we playing for?
I'm not going to make wild predictions. In Poland, the bigger the expectations, the worse it gets. We'll wait to see who we get, but in my opinion the first match will be the most important. Getting out of the group will be a big success.
Did you feel during the qualifiers that sometimes you were carrying your teammates on your back to victory?
We all attack the same goal. The fact that I scored the most goals is down to the team, not just me. Someone had to throw me the ball, pass accurately or work in defence. I hope we can always take advantage of our individual strengths. Don’t believe in luck! It favours only those who work hard to achieve their goals.
Interviewed by: Michał Kołodziejczyk