Lukasz Piszczek made his 300th Bundesliga appearance in what could be his final season in German football.
Former Borussia Dortmund teammates Lukasz Piszczek and Robert Lewandowski joined the Bundesliga's 300 club at the weekend, becoming only the 17th and 18th non-German players in history to reach the milestone appearance mark.
A patient breakout in Berlin
It's difficult to think of Piszczek as anything but a marauding right-back in the black and yellow of Dortmund but there was a time when the now 34-year-old plied his trade both further up the pitch and further west of the country.
Lukasz Piszczek made his debut in the Bundesliga with Hertha Berlin.
A barnstorming UEFA Under 19 European Championship with Poland put the world on notice of the teenage Piszczek as he took his goal scoring exploits in Gwarek Zabrze's academy to the international stage. He would finish up joint-top scorer in the competition with four goals, including an effort against a Germany side featuring Mario Gomez and Rene Adler, despite the Poles finishing bottom of their group and losing three out of three matches.
It was at youth international level that a burgeoning relationship with Jakub Blaszczykowski would form, albeit with Piszczek featuring alongside his future BVB teammate in attack rather than bombing past him on the overlap. And those performances would prompt Hertha Berlin to make their move for Piszczek in the summer of 2004 but after loaning him to Zaglebie Lubin for three seasons, he would not make his Bundesliga debut until August 2007.
He did so as a centre-forward in the 1-0 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt and Piszczek would spend his early days in Germany flitting across Hertha's front-line. A maiden Bundesliga goal would come in April 2008 but his second season with the Old Lady became what defined him: A cruel run of injuries first saw him miss 20 successive Bundesliga matchdays before a run at right-back for the final five matches of the season helped shape his future.
Watch: Piszczek Top 5 Bundesliga goals!
Who was the coach that masterminded Piszczek's move to full-back? Why none other than Lucien Favre, the man who now calls upon his former Hertha charge as one of Dortmund's most experienced players.
"Above all, he was a striker. My assistant coach and I saw that he did really well [at right-back]. It was surprising," recalled Favre to BVB Matchday Magazine. "You're a striker and all of a sudden you're supposed to play right-back. He was not convinced and I understand that. He was not too excited about it but bit-by-bit he understood that it was pretty good for his career."
A home from home
Favre's departure from Berlin in September 2009 preceded Piszczek's by only nine months, the 65-time capped Poland international recruited by Jürgen Klopp despite Hertha's relegation, as the German tactician plotted the club's first league title in nine years.
Borussia Dortmund head coach Jürgen Klopp was a match made in heaven for Lukasz Piszczek.
And boy did Piszczek have an impact. His searing pace, relentless running and superb delivery provided seven assists and aided 14 clean sheets as Klopp's men romped to the Meisterschale with the Polish trio of Piszczek, Blaszczykowski and Robert Lewandowski at their heart. It was a remarkable first season at the club and by the time Piszczek had helped defend Dortmund's Bundesliga crown while adding a DFB Cup trophy to the Signal Iduna Park's halls a year later, he had clearly endeared himself to the Yellow Wall's revered faithful.
"I've spent two years in Dortmund, during which time I've become firmly embedded in the football culture, the club and the Borussia Dortmund fans," he said at the time. And it's little wonder fans from this mining region - famed for hard work - took so fondly to Piszczek, who has built his legend with every one of his 10 seasons in Dortmund colours on the back of a highly professional and dedicated approach. Just ask anyone who has seen first hand how Piszczek sets the example for those around him to follow.
"He's really conscientious, a role model, the best you could hope for. He embodies everything that is good about BVB and what BVB should stand for," said former coach Thomas Tuchel, while Dortmund's sporting director Michael Zorc adds: "'Piszczu' is an absolute model professional and, as such, a role model for our younger players."
Lukasz Piszczek won back-to-back Bundesliga titles with Borussia Dortmund in 2011 and 2012.
While the trophies Piszczek has helped deliver to the Dortmund cabinet speaks volumes for his importance to the team over the last decade, those that they've missed out on similarly communicate his significance. And there is no more relevant case in point than the 2017/18 Bundesliga season.
Dortmund were rampant as they went on a seven-game unbeaten start under Peter Bosz, moving five points clear of Bayern Munich at the top of the table. But a ruptured knee ligament sparked a subsequent run of eight games without a win that led to the Dutchman's departure. Peter Stöger stepped into the role and with Piszczek back in his side, Dortmund immediately went on a 10-game unbeaten streak.
They would lose just four league matches and concede 21 goals from Piszczek's 24 appearances that season, compared to five defeats and 20 goals shipped in the 10 he missed through injury. That led Dortmund to finishing fourth and a whopping 29 points behind champions Bayern, with Dortmund's CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke saying the team missed Piszczek and fellow absentee Marco Reus "like a fish misses water."
With the Yellow Wall behind him, Lukasz Piszczek has been a fan-favourite warrior in the black and yellow of Borussia Dortmund.
In total, Piszczek has sat out 102 games in all competitions due to injury over his time at Dortmund, a spell that could have been even more trophy-laden had both the player and club enjoyed a little more luck. Despite these spells on the sidelines, Piszczek's longevity is undeniable and after 300 Bundesliga games, 48 assists, 18 goals, two league crowns, a DFB Cup double and a trio of German Super Cups in the bank, it's been a truly memorable career in Germany for one of Dortmund's most iconic players in recent memory.
More to come?
Although Piszczek initially suggested that he would see out his career with Dortmund at the expiration of his contract next summer, his legacy has already been established both on and off the pitch as seen by his launch of the Lukasz Piszczek BVB Academy in his hometown of Goczalkowice-Zdroj, in partnership with Dortmund.
"I grew up here, this is where I developed into the man I am today, which is why I wanted to give something back," he said at its announcement and Piszczek may not be done on the pitch, either.
Lukasz Piszczek is already giving back to football before he has called time on his incredible career.
"Right now, I don't want to say for certain that I'll end my career next year," he told Polish sports magazine, Przeglad Sportowy. "We'll see how it goes. If there's an option to extend, I'll be open to it."
And if he does say goodbye to Germany at the end of the season? "I will return to Poland and – just for fun – play for my old club LKS Goczalkowice. It would be nothing more to do with professional football – I will only keep myself fit there."
You'd think he's more than earned the right to go back up front, too.