Robert Lewandowski has won the FIFA Best Men's Player award ahead of Lionel Messi and Mo Salah. bundesliga.com weighs up the numbers behind the winner and fellow nominees under the microscope...
Lewandowski missed out on the Ballon d'Or, but he did win the new Striker of the Year award at the ceremony in Paris back in November. In fact, who else could have possibly picked up that honour as the Poland international's sensational stats speak for themselves.
After his 34 league strikes (from only 31 games) — the most ever scored by a non-German — in the 2019/20 season, he outdid himself, and absolutely everyone else who has ever played in the Bundesliga in 2020/21. His last-gasp strike in the Matchday 34 win over Augsburg was his 41st of the Bundesliga campaign, and meant he broke Gerd Müller's single-season scoring record, which had stood since 1972. He then also took Müller's 1972 record for most Bundesliga goals in a calendar year by scoring his 43rd Bundesliga goal of 2021 on Matchday 17 of the 2021/22 season.
Watch: Robert Lewandowski, Striker of the Year
While Messi matched Lewandowski's feat of finishing as his league's top scorer, Salah fell one short of the title in England. The Egyptian 'only' bagged 22 goals in 37 Premier League appearances, while Messi netted 'just' 30 in 36 La Liga games for Barcelona in 2020/21. While Salah has been rampant at the beginning of 2021/22, he is still four back from Lewandowski's 20 goals in 18 league games thus far, two fewer matches than Salah has played. Meanwhile, Messi has started the 2021/22 season — his first at PSG — slowly, taking five Ligue 1 outings to net his first league goal and has also struggled for fitness.
Neither of those have been a concern for Lewandowski, who struck 19 goals in 17 Bundesliga games in the first half of this campaign and made it 20 for the season in his first appearance of 2022. Admittedly, this is a 'dip' in form compared to the outrageous 22 he got in the opening 17 matchdays of 2020/21 (one of which he missed due to injury), but it's only not superhuman by his own stratospheric standards.
In goal terms over the calendar year, Lewandowski has the edge by some margin: 69 strikes in 59 games to Messi's 43 in 62 and Salah's 39 in 60. That's an astounding average of 1.17 goals per match for the Bayern man, 0.69 per game for Messi and 0.65 for Salah.
How they score
All three players are attacking all-rounders, but obviously score more with their stronger foot. Lewandowski netted 44 in all competitions at club level with his lethal right boot in 2021 while the left foot wands of Messi and Salah conjured up 32 and 34, respectively.
The Argentine got just one finish with his right foot and the Egyptian five in the calendar year, while Lewandowski found the net nine times with his 'weaker' left foot. There is a significant height differential between the 5'5" and 5'7" pocket geniuses of Messi and Salah to the strapping six-foot Pole, so Lewandowski's six headers to one apiece is no surprise.
The Bayern man comes out on top with 17 penalties to four each for his peers, though Messi outdoes them both having whipped three direct free-kicks into opponents' nets. Lewandowski, for one, has to leave the set-piece opportunities to Joshua Kimmich & Co. in the Bayern ranks.
Watch: The evolution of Robert Lewandowski
It is difficult to compare Lewandowski to the other two in this regard given they play in different positions. Given their slightly deeper roles, Messi (19) and Salah (14), naturally, have the upper hand to Lewandowski's 11 over the calendar year. Given the Pole does not take but is rather on the receiving end of Bayern's set-pieces, usually finding himself inside rather than outside the penalty area, getting into double figures for teeing up teammates is quite an achievement.
For all Salah's brilliance, he doesn't quite measure up to Messi or Lewandowski when it comes to trophies and he didn't pick up a single winners' medal in 2021. Salah aside, though, this one is a difficult category in which to pick a 'winner' between the remaining two. While Lewandowski won the Bundesliga — Bayern's ninth successive league triumph — Messi missed out on the La Liga crown, but did lift the Copa del Rey, Spain's domestic cup competition.
Despite all his success at club level and the quality of the Argentina squad over the last decade, the Albiceleste's senior team had not won a major trophy with Messi. They have now, defeating arch-rivals Brazil in the Copa America final last summer with their mercurial number 10 instrumental in the success.
National team performance
Messi finished joint-top scorer in the competition with four goals and was named the tournament's best player as he led Argentina to the summit of South American football.
He netted nine goals in 16 international appearances in 2021, including a hat-trick in his nation's 3-0 win over Bolivia in September's 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier.
While we are certain to see Argentina and Messi — injury permitting — at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, Lewandowski's future at the final tournament remains in question with a play-off against Russia and then — if successful — versus Sweden or Czech Republic. Salah, too, must help Egypt negotiate a two-legged tie in March against yet to be drawn opponents to book his and his country's ticket to Qatar.
Lewandowski does not have the same supporting cast at international level, but has carried his nation with 11 goals in 12 2021 internationals. Three of those strikes came at UEFA Euro 2020 where he very nearly took his team into the knockout stages, which would have been some achievement. In contrast, Salah scored just twice in seven international outings in 2021, with 2022 a far more significant year for Egypt as they tackle the 2022 African Cup of Nations for starters.
One of the criteria for the Ballon d'Or is a player's entire career, and in this regard, Messi has very few — if any — peers with even Lewandowski trailing him and Salah some way back on the Bayern man.
While Lewandowski has nine Bundesliga titles, Messi has 10 La Liga crowns and there are seven Copa del Reys compared to four DFB Cups. As for Salah, he has a sole Premier League crown - you can ignore 2014/15 when he featured just three times for Chelsea and spent the second half of the season on loan to Fiorentina in Serie A - in his collection.
Messi also has four UEFA Champions Leagues to Lewandowski's one from the 2019/20 treble-winning season and Salah's the previous year, while the Bayern man has finished top scorer in the competition once to Messi's six.
Lewandowski can boast of having tallied more goals in a single UCL season than both: his 15 in 2019/20 is one better than the new PSG man's best from 2011/12 when he was still with Barca and Salah's 10 from 2017/18.
Also Messi is the competition's second-top scorer of all-time with Lewandowski behind him in third, while Salah is back in equal 19th. But the Bayern man's 82 goals have come in 102 games - the most any player has ever scored in their first 100 appearances - at an incredible strike rate of 0.8 goals per match in European club football's top competition. Messi's 125 in 155 appearances also average out at 0.8 goals a game, while Salah is clocking in at 0.55.
The difference between the Ballon d'Or, the Pharaoh, and The Best, is that the latter should focus solely on achievements over the last 12 months. Argentina finally living up to potential and Liverpool trying to keep pace with the league leaders doesn't quite have the same impact as smashing scoring records that had stood for half a century.