(Reuters) - Poland’s talismanic striker Robert Lewandowski changed his approach to his domestic season at Bayern Munich in order to arrive at the World Cup in the best possible form both mentally and physically.
Lewandowski is vital for the Polish team, just like Lionel Messi for Argentina, Cristiano Ronaldo for Portugal or Harry Kane for England.
One of the world’s most complete centre forwards for some years, he scored 16 goals out of Poland’s 28 in qualifiers, beating Predrag Mijatovic’s record for a single UEFA qualifying campaign.
Reaching the European Championship quarter-final in France two years ago brought some long-unseen international success for the Poles, but, surprisingly, the team’s biggest star Lewandowski had a quiet tournament.
The all-time Polish top scorer found the net just once, blaming fatigue after a demanding domestic season.
Now approaching his 30th birthday, Lewandowski realised that without proper rest he might also struggle in similar fashion during the World Cup in Russia.
So, last December, he urged his club bosses to bring in a back-up striker for him. Bayern recognised it was not a bad idea and a month later Sandro Wagner arrived in Munich.
“That was the plan,” Lewandowski told the Polish newspaper Fakt in early April, after winning a fourth Bundesliga title with Bayern and a sixth overall after the pair he had earned at Borussia Dortmund.
Bayern secured the title against Augsburg while the Polish captain sat out that game on the bench and Lewandowski ended up playing his fewest minutes in a season since his debut 2010-2011 Bundesliga campaign at Dortmund.
It still did not stop him creating history in April when he came off the bench against Hannover to score his 105th league goal for Bayern, the most by any foreign player for a German club.
He also took a third Torjaegerkanone prize as the season’s top scorer in the league, a feat achieved before only by Germans Gerd Mueller and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
“Since the beginning of the year I tried to slow down and play optimally. I didn’t want to play each game and butcher myself,” explained Lewandowski.
“It gives nothing to me and the team in the long run. I always had to be available even though I had struggled with injuries.
“Now the situation has changed. I can sit on the bench sometimes and don’t need to get up. It’ll play an important role in my preparations, especially given the World Cup on the horizon.”
Editing by Ian Chadband