The Bayern Munich striker has been the most lethal goalscorer in the top five European leagues in 2019, but will that matter when the usual votes are cast?
Franck Ribéry was not a happy man. The former Bayern Munich winger claimed that he had been robbed of the 2013 Ballon d’Or in favour of Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi, the Portuguese and Argentinean once again occupying the top two places in the voting as they had done every year since 2011 until Luka Modric broke their stranglehold on the game’s most coveted individual prize last year.
Ribéry, though, felt that he should have been the player to upset the apple cart in 2013 after winning the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal, Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup with Bayern that year: “I won all the trophies. I could not do any more. For me, it’s like a theft, an injustice. I did not have my whole country behind me. I saw with my own eyes the French people who said it was for Cristiano. Did the Portuguese want Ribery or Messi to win? Impossible. Ditto for Argentina,” the Frenchman, who eventually finished third behind the usual suspects, said in 2018. And Ribéry’s point was not without merit.
As the football world gears up for the annual ceremony on 2 December in Paris, it is perhaps time to consider another contender for the gong: Robert Lewandowski.
Lewandowski in pole position for Ballon d’Or
The Bayern and Poland forward has never found himself on the podium at the Ballon d’Or awards, coming fourth in 2015 behind Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar. But the 31-year-old has never had a better claim to the throne than this year.
Since 1 January to the closing of voting on 27 November, no player has scored more goals, with more efficiency, than Lewandowski. The Bayern forward plundered 45 in 43 games during that period, ahead of Messi on 40 in 43. That is the Argentinean’s lowest tally over the same timeframe since 2013, when he narrowly lost out to Ronaldo in the Ballon d’Or voting. If the award is genuinely given to the best and most consistent performer over the permitted voting period, then Lewandowski should win hands down.
Unfortunately for him, most will be raised in the usual direction, a decision based as much on reputation and media coverage as the bare facts available to those with ballots to cast, if they even bother to look at them. Between August and October, Lewandoswki scored in 13 consecutive matches for Bayern.
Last season, Lewandowski scored 40 goals in 47 appearances as Bayern won a domestic double. Ronaldo managed 28 in 43 in his first season at Juventus while Messi hit 51 in 50. However, both Juve and Barça only won their domestic league titles. For the Old Lady that is bread and butter. Barça had the advantage of Real Madrid’s annus horribilis. As proven this season, the Bundesliga is by no means a less competitive league than LaLiga and can claim to be slightly less financially off-kilter than Serie A, where Juve’s nearest challenger in recent years, Napoli, have a record transfer fee of less than €40m.
Messi and Ronaldo well off the pace
Since the start of the current campaign, Lewandowski has whacked in 27 goals in 21 appearances in all competitions despite Bayern suffering a crisis of confidence that resulted in the sacking of Niko Kovac. Lewandowski has been the only constant, his goals keeping Bayern in the Bundesliga hunt and leading them to the top of their Champions League group. A day after any games could be taken into consideration for Ballon d’Or related business, the Pole hit the fastest quadruple in Champions League history, knocking four past Red Star Belgrade in 14 and a half minutes.
By contrast, Messi failed to find the net until October (although that stat is mitigated by injury) and has 10 goals to his name this season. Ronaldo has hardly hit the ground running either, with six in 15 appearances for Juventus.
But it seems inevitable that Lewandowski will not be the bride, or even the bridesmaid, with a popular swell of public opinion behind Virgil van Dijk to make up the rest of the top three. In what position remains to be seen, but to be seen by Ballon d’Or voters, it helps if your name is Messi or Ronaldo. What a single season produces is apparently never enough to sway the opinions of deep-rooted purveyors of the “but he’s the best of all time” chestnut.
The Ballon d’Or is a single calendar year award. On that basis, Lewandowski should be holding the trophy under the lights of Paris on Monday evening.