Football Features

Ballon d’Or nominees 2021: The arguments for, and against, Robert Lewandowski

By Chris Smith

Published: 22:25, 21 November 2021

It will come as no surprise that Robert Lewandowski has been tearing shreds out of defences in 2021.

At 33 years old, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Poland international would be starting to slow down. But no, if anything, Lewandowski is only getting stronger.

He once again played a key role in Bayern Munich winning another Bundesliga title. In May, on the final day of the 2020/21 season, he broke Gerd Muller’s long-standing record of 40 goals in a single German top-flight campaign, netting his 41st in the 90th minute of Bayern’s 5-2 win over Augsburg. A feat made all the more remarkable by the fact he spent most of April sidelined with a ligament injury. Without those goals, Bayern would have finished all the way down in sixth last season.

The groundswell behind Lewandowski’s Ballon d’Or bid is growing by the day, especially with many feeling he was robbed of the award in 2020, when it was shelved altogether due to the global pandemic.

So, should he finally receive the most coveted individual award in world football for the first time? Let’s look at the arguments for and against.

Lewandowski Ballon d’Or winner odds

Bookmaker Odds Bookmaker link
Sky Bet 4/5 Link
SBK 5/8 Link
Unibet 8/11 Link

For: Better than all the rest

Nobody can match Lewandowski’s output in 2021, and it’s not even close.

Since the turn of the year, the Polish striker has scored 48 times in 35 combined Bundesliga and Champions League games, at a frankly ridiculous rate of one every 62 minutes. Erling Haaland is his nearest competitor among players in Europe’s top five leagues, a whole 17 behind.

That Lewandowski is so far ahead of the pack is testament to just how phenomenally ruthless he is. It’s also his best argument in favour of winning the Ballon d’Or award.

Against: No Champions League or Euro 2020 success

The Ballon d’Or is an individual award and really should be judged on that basis. But we all know how much influence silverware has on its destination.

The big glaring miss on Lewandowski’s rap sheet in 2021, a Bundesliga winner’s medal aside, is the lack of major honours. Jorginho won both and Euro 2020 with Chelsea and Italy, respectively. Lionel Messi won Copa America with Argentina. Even Karim Benzema won the Nations League with France, though that’s unlikely to hold too much weight.

But Lewandowski’s Poland crashed out of the Euros at the group stage without a single win — though he did score three of their four goals. And Bayern were dumped out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage.

Again, this is incredibly harsh on Lewandowski himself. He scored nine goals in those two competitions combined. But finding arguments against him winning the Ballon d’Or this year is tough.

For: Because De Bruyne and Suarez said so

Who better to ask who should win the biggest individual prize in football than the players themselves?

“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],” Kevin De Bruyne 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.”

Former Barcelona, Inter Milan and Spain striker Luis Suarez even promised to give Lewandowski the award he won back in 1960, should he be overlooked again.

He told Spanish broadcaster Carrusel Deportivo: “Give Lewandowski the Ballon d’Or, damn it! If not, I’ll give you mine!”

Pretty compelling arguments, don’t you think?

Against: Lionel Messi’s Argentine narrative

In any other year, we probably wouldn’t even be debating this issue. Lewandowski has been head and shoulders above every other player on the planet, in a goalscoring sense at the very least.

But this is no ordinary year. This is the year Lionel Messi finally broke his international duck. The now-PSG star won the Best Player and Top Scorer awards as Argentina went all the way at Copa America over the summer, ending his nation’s 28-year wait for a major trophy. It was his first-ever with La Albiceleste.

While Messi is 19 goals behind Lewandowski in league and Champions League goals this year, he did admittedly play in a much worse Barcelona team for most of it and still guided them to a Copa del Rey title.

“I think Leo will win Ballon d’Or for sure,” Gerard Pique said in October. “The parameters for this trophy are so distorted that people no longer know what we are valuing.

“If we are valuing trophies, Jorginho should be the winner but if you value the best player in the world, Leo must be the winner.

“If it’s valuing trophies plus performance plus figures… The winner is also Leo. Leo should have won more than seven times.”

It’d irritate some to see Messi given the award again. But this is a narrative that may be too strong to hold back.

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For: Due recognition

“I can’t think of anyone else deserving the award like he does after he over the past years continuously delivered goals,” Bayern manager Julian Nagelsmann said of Lewandowski. “That is what makes him a special one. He is without any doubt the world’s best striker.”

Nagelsmann is right. Across the last 11 seasons (including this one), Lewandowski’s overall goal return has dipped below 30 on just three occasions. It’s never gone below 24, and that tally is in the current campaign, so we all know he’ll demolish that.

But the fact he’s been around, doing this for so long raises an important point; how many more chances will Lewandowski get to win the Ballon d’Or?

Growing old isn’t just about losing outright pace. You lose a certain amount of agility as you advance into your thirties, both mentally and physically. And injuries take much longer to recover from. We’re not saying one knock will floor Lewandowski, or that he’ll fall off a cliff in the next 18 months. But his years at the top are numbered.

Aside from actually deserving it on the pitch all year, it’d be a travesty to let this absolute icon of the game pass by without due recognition.

How do Lewandowski’s stats compare to the other favourites?

*Goals and assists are in Europe’s top five leagues, national cups and Uefa club competitions. 

Player Goals Assists Club trophies International trophies
Robert Lewandowski  50  5  2  0
Lionel Messi  32  9  1  1
Karim Benzema  32  12  0  1
Mohamed Salah  31  8  0  0
Jorginho  7  2  1  1
Kylian Mbappe  36  18  1  1
Bruno Fernandes  18  17  0  0
Cristiano Ronaldo  29  6  0  1

 

As mentioned, Lewandowski is leagues ahead of the chasing pack in terms of goals this year, while he’s the only player among the serious Ballon d’Or favourites to win two club trophies — though one was the DFL-Supercup.

In terms of combined goals and assists, Kylian Mbappe is his nearest challenger with 54, one short of Lewandowski. Some way further back is Karim Benzema, on 44.

Jorginho’s goals and assists cannot be taken into consideration given he’s a holding midfielder, but he’s one of just three players in the above list to win trophies with club and country (alongside Messi and Mbappe).

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