Lionel Messi admitted Robert Lewandowski "deserved to win the Ballon d'Or". There is little doubt the Bayern Munich and Poland striker is a worthy winner of a second successive Best FIFA Men's Player award...
Further praise has unsurprisingly come from further up the club chain, with CEO Oliver Kahn stating that "nobody deserves it more than him" and that Lewandowski has “been setting the benchmark for strikers around the world for years”.
It’s a fair assessment given that the man from Warsaw has scored the most club goals in all competitions of any player in one of Europe’s top five leagues in each of the last three calendar years.
Watch: Nagelsmann on “perfect” Lewandowski
But it isn’t just within Munich that there are claims he’s the best. Former Wolfsburg, Werder Bremen and current Manchester City star Kevin De Bruyne said he would have picked Lewandowski for the Ballon d'Or gong.
“If I had to choose myself personally, I'm going to look at a two-year period, because we didn't have anyone [last year],” the Belgian said. “I'd choose Lewandowski for what he has done in the last two years - goalscoring wise, and also he's won a lot with Bayern. He would be my pick.”
It’s very difficult to get away from the fact that Lewy missed out in 2020 after the award was cancelled. He was in the midst of helping Bayern to a historic sextuple, having already won the Bundesliga, DFB Cup, UEFA Champions League, DFL Supercup and UEFA Supercup. The FIFA Club World Cup would follow in February.
And the striker also became the first person to win the continental treble while also being top scorer in each competition, with hauls of 34 goals from 31 Bundesliga games, six in five in the cup and 15 in 10 in the Champions League.
Watch: Lewandowski named Striker of the Year
But the FIFA Best Player prize is supposed to be about what players have done over the last year. So, how about earning the Golden Boot as Europe’s top scorer in 2020/21, netting 41 goals - from only 29 games - in the Bundesliga and breaking Gerd Müller’s 49-year record?
Or scoring the most goals of any player in a European first division in the calendar year 2021?
Or the most by anyone since this season began?
Or the most in the world for club and country this year?
Or going on a run of 19 club appearances with a goal, a Bayern record?
Or let’s talk about more than goals. The 2-1 victory over Dynamo Kyiv in November 2021 means Lewandowski has become the first player ever to win 21 Champions League games in a row. He’s also only failed to score in three of those, netting 29 times in total – including nine in six this season. The previous group game against Benfica match was also his 100th appearance in the Champions League, marking it with his 79th, 80th and 81st goals - no player has ever scored so many in their first 100 games.
When asked about being in contention for the Ballon d'Or, Lewandowski recognised what his inclusion meant, saying: "It’s a dream to be here and try to win this trophy, because I know how difficult it is. Also for a guy not from a big country – I mean a big footballing country with a great history - but I’m there."
Despite his remarkable achievements, Lewandowski remains humble and gave a nod to the teammates that have helped him reach such lofty heights: "I have a good chance to win it, and I’m grateful that I can be up there. I think that my performances – also in 2020 – everything that we did, what I did with my teammates, is enough to be thinking about this."
Watch: All 43 of Lewandowski’s Bundesliga goals in 2021
Bayern’s only European loss in the last two-and-a-bit seasons came when Lewandowski was injured – itself a rare occurance. There’s an argument to say that they surely would’ve avoided that away-goals defeat to Paris Saint-Germain if he’d been fit, and the six-time European champions would’ve been favourites to defend their crown.
Lewandowski’s former Borussia Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp recently commented on the fact that you seemingly need to win the biggest trophies to be awarded the Ballon d’Or. That's what helped someone like Jorginho succeed Lewandowski as the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year, and finish third in the 2021 Ballon d'Or poll. But there are a few who would claim that he’s even the best player in his Chelsea or Italy teams.
Lewandowski is the best player for his club and country. He’s Poland’s record scorer and has 11 goals in 12 appearances this year - including three at UEFA Euro 2020 - to help his nation to the 2022 FIFA World Cup play-offs.
“I know what it means that I’ve come from a so-called smaller nation, where there aren’t so many players at the top level,” Lewandowski said when picking up the European Golden Shoe. “You’ve had to do some harder work than the players from bigger nations with greater national accomplishments.”
Watch: Lewandowski wins the European Golden Shoe
It is a rare feat for someone outside of one of the European or South American powerhouses to receive awards. George Weah in 1995 is the only winner not to come from one of those continents, while only Croatia’s Luka Modric in 2018 has managed to break Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi’s stranglehold on the Ballon d’Or since 2008. That duo made the idea of scoring 40+ goals a season look normal, but it isn’t.
Without those two, there would’ve been no debate about Lewandowski being one of the world’s best over the past few years. He finally received recognition of that in December 2020 when named the Best FIFA Men’s Player, and there are surely no arguments now he has successfully defended his crown.
5 men who represented Dortmund and Bayern
Niklas Süle is set to join an elite band of players, including Messrs Lewandowski, Götze and Hummels, to have crossed the Klassiker divide down the years.
5 reasons to watch Der Klassiker
Dortmund take on Bayern in one of the must-see games in world football this Saturday. Here’s why.
Top 5 matches in Der Klassiker history
Ahead of the latest instalment between these two giants, bundesliga.com takes a trip down Klassiker memory lane...