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Robert Lewandowski reminisces about the time Nigerian striker Emmanuel Olisadebe fired Polonia Warsaw to their first Polish Championship in 54 years [Pulse Exclusive]

October 22nd 2021, 3:13:00 pm

In an exclusive interview with Pulse Sports, Poland legend Robert Lewandowski fondly recalled watching Emmanuel Olisadebe, the Nigerian striker who went on to play for the Polish national team.

Robert Lewandowski recalls his earliest memory of Emmanuel Olisadebe
AFP/AFP

From Warri to Warsaw

Born in Warri, Delta State, Olisadebe played for local Nigerian club Onitsha-based Jasper United before moving to Poland in 1997 to play for Polonia Warsaw, traditionally the poor relations to the city’s premier team, Legia Warsaw.

He was a key player for the so-called Czarne koszule (Black Shirts) in their memorable 1999-2000 season, scoring 12 goals in 24 games to help the side to their first Polish Championship in 54 years.

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Olisadebe became a popular figure in Poland as the immigrant who acquired citizenship and became the first black player on the Polish national team, where he scored an impressive 11 goals in 25 games.

Lewandowski, by some way Poland’s record ever goalscorer, has early memories of watching Olisadebe, telling Pulse Sports that he watched the Nigerian in 2000 in the game that won Polonia Warsaw the coveted Championship.

The game was a 3-0 win for Polonia Warsaw at the home of bitter rivals Legia Warsaw, and it was Olisadebe who opened the scoring, somehow managing to wriggle through two Legia defenders before deftly flicking the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper.

Lewandowski recalled his vivid memories of the day: “I remember exactly the game that they won the Polish championship in 2000...I was at the game because my own club was on the street behind the stadium,” the Bayern Munich striker said.

I wanted to see [the players] before the game during the warm-up - how they move, what they do, what they are going to do. That for me was interesting,” Lewandowski recalled.

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“Like a hero in Poland”

Lewandowski went on to cite Olisadebe as an early influence.

“I remember him in the national team because he scored some very important goals for the national team, and he was like a hero in Poland.

Olisadebe not only scored eight goals in the 2002 World Cup qualifiers to help Poland qualify for their first World Cup in 16 years, but scored with an emphatic thumping finish against the United States in the finals before Poland’s first round exit.

“He was the guy who showed everyone that he can score so many goals, important goals.”

“I was very young, 12 years old and that was the guy I admired at that time.

Legacies

Olisadebe scored 11 goals for Poland in 25 games; Lewandowski has since overtaken the Nigerian-born striker and is the highest-scoring Polish footballer in history with 72 goals in 126 international games.

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After retiring from football aged 34, following stints in England, Greece, and China, Olisadebe returned to Nigeria, where he runs a construction company. He has publicly stated that, whilst he appreciated his time in Europe, he prefers the quality of life in his homeland.

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Steve Dede

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