Poland legend Robert Lewandowski became his country’s leading scorer but before his debut his sports-mad dad passed away – The Sun
HE'S Poland's greatest ever footballer and stands between England all but securing their qualification for the World Cup on Wednesday night with a win.
But behind Robert Lewandowski's remarkable success story for both club and country is a heartbreaking story.
The Bayern Munich striker, who is his nation's all-time leading scorer with 72 goals, will have one regret when he steps onto National Stadium pitch in Warsaw.
A year before Robert, 33, made his professional debut, his hero and sports-obsessed father passed away, missing the opportunity to see his son play professionally.
Krzysztof Lewandowski was well recognised for his sporting achievements in his homeland.
Aside from being a judo champion in the 1970s, Krzysztof played second division football for Hutnik Warszawa.
And sport was very much the main focus for the Lewandowski family, with mother Iwona a former pro volleyball player too.
With such a heritage, it seemed inevitable that Robert would follow in his parents' footsteps.
He caught the football bug at a young age, so Krzysztof happily accompanied his boy to Partyzant Leszno's training sessions, spotting young Robert's talent with a ball early on.
By the age of nine, Lewandowski was training with local team Varsovia Warszawa, honing the skills that would serve him well in the future.
Playing on hard, sandy, grassless pitches, the close control he's now known for began to develop in the poor footballing conditions he was first introduced to.
And if the quality of the turf was lacking, the changing rooms weren't much better either.
Unheated old barracks with broken windows while playing during the cold, winter months didn't deter Robert's drive and determination to make it to the top.
Within seven years, he signed for Delta Warsaw – a fifth tier Polish side known to be a direct supplier of players to one of the country's biggest teams, Legia Warsaw.
It was then that a 16-year-old "Lewy", as he was known to his teammates, started to realise his potential.
Legia's scouts were impressed. His attitude and appetite for the game resulted in rapid progress.
He scored goals for fun, stood out from the crowd and whispers were reverberating around the club that Legia were interested in signing him up.
However, Robert's world came crashing down at a critical time when football was starting to become his chosen career path.
In 2005, his dad Krzysztof underwent a potentially life-saving operation, but the long-time cancer sufferer died just a few days after when he suffered a stroke.
Lewandowski told Bild: “His death was the toughest time for me.
“Suddenly, I was the man of the house and had to be a grown-up. The memory of my father still drives me on."
To lessen the financial burden on his mum, brave Robert left his family home and moved into a small flat with his sister Milena in Warsaw.
Whatever he earned with Delta, he shared with his mum and sister, who later achieved her dream in becoming a professional volleyball player.
Legia decided to give Lewandowski a one-year deal with their reserves, and he often trained with the first team.
But an increase in training levels, coupled with his then-slight frame, saw him struggle with injuries.
After a year, Legia decided to cut their losses. Lewandowski was released, without making his senior bow and his football ambitions seemed in tatters.
Desperate for a goalscorer, third division Znicz Pruszków gave Lewandowski another shot.
It was a decision that both parties will forever be thankful for.
In his first season, he put aside his injury problems to fire his new team into the second division – scoring 16 goals in 29 games in all competitions, aged just 17.
A year later, he was the leading goalscorer in Poland's second division – finding the net 21 times in 32 league games.
He was snapped up by Lech Poznań for 1.5 million złotys in 2008, the equivalent today of around £300,000.
Lewandowski was soon on his way, playing in Poland's top league, the Ekstraklasa.
The sad thing was, his proud dad Krzysztof wasn't around to see his son's rise to becoming one of the most feared forwards in the world.
"After his death I quickly had to become an adult," Robert said in a candid interview on a Polish TV chat show hosted by Magda Molek in 2015.
"He always knew that I would be playing abroad. He said that was why he gave me the name Robert so that no one would mistake my name.
"I regretted many times that I did not talk to him about something, that I did not say something to him.
"I regret the most that he did not see my first match in seniors and that he cannot be at my matches live.
"I hope, however, that he looks down on me and helps me in all this. I believe it."
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