His influence on Barca’s 2022-23 campaign was significant. The Polish striker scored 33 goals in 46 appearances in all competitions as Xavi’s side were crowned La Liga champions for the first time since 2019. There are many debatable things in life, but of this, there is no doubt: Lewandowski is still one of the most prolific forwards in football.
Since moving to Barca, the 34-year-old has become a key member and leader of this new-look team and he’s also embraced life off the pitch in Catalonia. He lives in Castelldefels, a town just down the coast from Barcelona where he’s frequently seen walking with his wife and kids, or even training at the beach. Two weeks ago though, few locals spotted Barca’s No 9 doing sprinting sessions while they were swimming in the Mediterranean.
The Athletic met with Lewandowski a little further from home, in the sunshine of Los Angeles, where Barca have been based for the start of their pre-season tour of the United States.
Inside the InterContinental Hotel in downtown LA, Lewandowski sat down to talk just after eating lunch with his team-mates. He confirmed he was not one of those who suffered from gastroenteritis over the weekend when a wave of illness left Barcelona unable to play their friendly with Juventus. He’s feeling good and was happy to report that those who were sick are recovering well.
“I feel like I’ve been in Barcelona for several years already; I love life in the club and the city,” he said as the interview began. But two months on from their title celebrations, he also knows there is work to do. He is relishing it.
“I’m full of desire to work very hard in pre-season,” Lewandowski continues. “The biggest regret we can have from last season is the Champions League (Barca were knocked out at the group stages). I think we were unlucky. We had a lot of injuries in the defensive line. If you rewatch the games against Bayern Munich and Inter Milan at home, the timing of everything was horrible.
“Now, we have the obligation to be ready for any kind of scenario. I hope it will be much better for us in Europe and of course to keep it the same way in La Liga.”
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Lewandowski’s words count for a lot within Barca’s dressing room. As a senior player with plenty of elite experience, he quickly became a role model for the bright young generation coming through, despite being a new arrival. The club wanted to provide players like Pedri, Gavi, Ansu Fati or Alejandro Balde with a figure who would help set standards — something Xavi identified as needing improvement when he took over as manager in 2021.
“I enjoy the fact of being a sort of figure to look up to for youngsters,” Lewandowski says.
“But it’s also difficult because with my experiences I’ve seen many things. I can identify when things might be good but still can become better. And sometimes this means saying or doing things that not everyone appreciates. You need to find the right balance. Not being too pushy, or angry; being as positive as you can be for the team.”
When he joined from Bayern Munich last summer, Lewandowski signed a three-year contract that could automatically be extended by an extra season depending on the number of games played. Next month he will turn 35, but he does not seem worried about the challenge of continuing to perform at the highest level.
“I compare myself to the rest of my team-mates and I feel that I’m still there,” he says. “I don’t know how long I’ll stay like that, if it’s two or three years when I start thinking that it’s enough. Maybe it’s longer. I think that, from a physical point of view, I’m going to be OK for the next two or three years. Maybe later someone close to me tells me that it’s enough, who knows? But right now, I don’t feel that, physically, I have the age I have. I don’t feel behind the rest.
“I’ve started to think about life after football. To be honest, I started to think about it when I was 20. I have some ideas, but I can’t tell you anything specific for now. I’ll reflect on this once I’m done. I’ll look for something that makes me feel happy.”
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The stats certainly back him up. Last season, Lewandowski registered 23 league goals and was La Liga’s top scorer. By the 12th matchday, he had scored 13 times following a blistering start.
After the World Cup, though, his form — and the rest of the team’s goalscoring threat — dipped significantly.
From January to April, Lewandowski found the net just four times in 12 league games and Barcelona only managed to score more than one goal in five of those matches. Last season, Barca won 11 La Liga fixtures by a 1-0 scoreline; a joint competition record. That’s possibly the reason Lewandowski identifies efficiency in attack as the area the team needs to improve — and urgently.
“After the World Cup, we struggled to play well offensively,” he says. “I’m not talking about winning games but about creating chances and scoring goals as a team. Improving that is a huge challenge. We have to prepare better and find solutions within the structure of the team. This is our next step forward.
“If you ask about me, I always try to think what I can do better: in my positioning, in my work with and without the ball, where the spaces are to run. I also try to speak with my team-mates on what we can do better together.
“I’m sad if I don’t score, but it also depends on how the team has performed. We can be unlucky some days, or tired, or we can lose a bit of focus. I understand. But when I have the feeling that scoring just one goal is on us, then I’m more frustrated.
“It’s something we have to improve soon and should be the main focus of pre-season games. I understand it’s not possible to shine in every game, but if it happens in matches in a row, that’s too much for Barcelona.”
Lewandowski defines himself as an “honest guy”, who is “not afraid of talking”.
He says: “I prefer to say a thing I believe, a truth or any sort of advice, and to be honest rather than saying it behind anyone’s back. I won’t hide anything. I’m not this guy. On the one hand, it’s good, but on the other hand, maybe that’s not the best for everyone. I also accept it and try to manage it in the best possible way.”
He is an influential figure in the dressing room. However, after a vote that took place last week out here in LA, he was not selected as one of the team’s captains for the season, despite Xavi highlighting him months ago as a candidate to take over from Sergio Busquets or Jordi Alba. Sergi Roberto, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Ronald Araujo and Frenkie de Jong were chosen instead.
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“I didn’t expect to be captain, to be honest,” Lewandowski says. “It’s not my goal to be, after one year here, the captain of Barcelona. It won’t keep me from being vocal and expressive with my team-mates. I also know we have players who have spent a lot of years in Barcelona and I respect this. At my age, I don’t think I have the ego to get offended if I’m not in that group.”
Despite not being a club captain, it’s fair to say this summer he stepped into something of a sporting director role.
When he faced Germany in an international friendly with Poland on June 16, on the opposition bench was Ilkay Gundogan: an old friend, a former team-mate at Borussia Dortmund and then a Barcelona transfer target. Gundogan himself admitted having spoken with Lewandowski over a potential move to Catalonia. Now, Lewandowski reveals what they talked about.
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“I only tried to tell him the truth,” he says. “I have known Ilkay for a long time. When I spoke to him, he had not decided his future yet. I asked and he was still having doubts. We spoke about our players and everything around the club. About the city, the life there. I hope I made it easier to understand what it means to play for this club. He knows I spoke from my heart.”
Gundogan’s signing, just like Lewandowski’s a year earlier, proved that the pull of Barcelona is still there despite the noise around the club off the pitch.
“It’s true Barcelona still has some kind of financial problems, but certainly we are now in a better place than before,” Lewandowski says. “The club is getting back to the right track, but still for top players, it keeps being the place to be. It’s because of the city, the club, the history and just everything around it.”
And the amount of European experience in the squad now, with Gundogan also joining, is one of the reasons Barcelona fans are hoping this season could finally bring Champions League success after two years of failing to qualify for the knockout stages of the competition. But is it too much to expect Barcelona to fight for the trophy?
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“Well, what everyone can expect is a team that will be fully focused on what happens before the end of this year,” Lewandowski replies.
“That’s when the start of La Liga and especially the Champions League group stage is being decided. If we can win the group, then we will see.
“Just imagine last season if we had won the game at home against Inter Milan. We scored three goals and still couldn’t win the game, which is unusual. But within any season you have better and worse moments of form, you need to navigate them and take the best out of your team.
“I think Inter, for example, did it very well. I’m not saying that if we had won that game we would have played the final. Of course not. But maybe your team in December is not in top form and then eventually the season advances and you find your best version. You need to be ready for that.
“But, for now, step by step. That’s what I’d tell people to expect from Barcelona.”
(Top photo: The Athletic)