The Ballon d’Or is back for 2021 after a one-year hiatus, with Robert Lewandowski one of the frontrunners on the 30-man shortlist for the award on 29 November. The Bayern Munich striker was undoubtedly denied the honour by last year’s cancellation, but 12 months later he’s still fully deserving of the accolade.
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 – a rival for the award this year – has come out to say he would pick Lewandowski.
“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.
But the 2021 Ballon d’Or 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 4-0 victory at Benfica means Lewandowski has become the first player ever to win 19 Champions League games in a row. He’s also only failed to score in three of those, netting 25 times in total – including five in three this season.
Watch: All 41 of Lewandowski’s 2020/21 Bundesliga goals
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 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 puts someone like Jorginho – Lewandowski’s successor as the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year – as a frontrunner. But there are few who would claim that he’s not 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 nine goals in 11 appearances this year, including three at UEFA Euro 2020.
“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 Lionel 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 last December when named the Best FIFA Men’s Player, but he will feel one more deserved accolade missing is the Ballon d’Or.
“The last Ballon d’Or was cancelled and we had such a great season. We’re still thinking about why,” the 33-year-old told FCBayern.tv on receiving the European Golden Shoe. Come 29 November 2021, there should be few thinking about why Lewandowski is standing on stage in Paris with a golden ball.