KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- No-one will forget the year in which Robert Lewandowski was hailed at the leading footballer in the world at the annual FIFA gala – though not, of course, because of his sporting attainments.
Yet Lewandowski is not only the first Pole to win the Best award but the first Bayern Munich star to do so and the combined votes of national team coaches and captains, media and fans crowned him the outstanding candidate in a year which saw the game shut down for four months or more because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The 32-year-old was only the second player in 12 years to break the stranglehold on the award – in its various guises – commanded by old rivals Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
The only other interloper in that time was Croatia and Real Madrid playmaker Luka Modric in the World Cup year of 2018.
Another breakthrough success was achieved by Lucy Bronze. The Manchester City defender became the first English winner of the women’s best player prize.
Top men and women’s managers or coaches were Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp, for the second successive year, and Netherlands’ Sarina Wiegman. Best goalkeepers were Germany’s Manuel Neuer and France’s Sarah Bouhaddi while the Puskas prize for the most spectacular goal was awarded to Tottenham and South Korea’s Heung-min Son.
Lewandowski dedicated his award to his family and the many people “who had my back”. He said: “I have had difficult battles in my life and I am very proud today. It will take me time to realise what has happened today, to be declared the best player in the world.”
His insatiable hunger for goals has been evident ever since his first appearance for Poland when he marked his debut against San Marino with the first of 63 goals in a subsequent 116 internationals over 12 years.
That tally represents a Polish record, far outstripping old heroes such as 1970s stars Wlodek Lubanski (48 goals), Grzegorz Lato (45) and Kazimierz Deyna (41).
Lewandowski, along the way, struck the first goal in the Euro 2012 finals which Poland cohosted with Ukraine. He then equalled the Euro qualifying goals record with 13 in the run-up to the 2016 finals. He followed up with a remarkable 16 in qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
The centre-forward, remarkably deft and quick for a man of his height, first made the Polish game take notice when, as a teenager, he was leading marksman in both third and second divisions with Znicz Pruszkow.
A 2008 transfer to Lech Poznan saw him win the league, cup and super cup and another top-scorer prize which secured a move to Germany with Borussia Dortmund in 2010.
Goals and glory followed to the tune of two league titles, one cup and a runners-up medal in the UEFA Champions League before a further move to Bayern Munich resulted in six more Bundesliga titles.
Lewandowski has scored more Bundesliga goals (117) than any other foreign player and led Bayern last season to a treble triumph climaxed by victory in the UEFA Champions League.
FIFA launched its top player award in 1991, merged it briefly a decade ago with France Football’s Ballon d’Or then reclaimed its independence. France Football cancelled its prize this year. Lewandowski was named World Player of the Year in the long-running annual poll run by the British magazine World Soccer.
The top three:
Men’s Best Player: 1, Robert Lewandowski (Bayern, Ger) 52pts; 2, Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus, Por) 38; 3, Lionel Messi (Barcelona, Arg) 35.
Women’s Best Player: 1, Lucy Bronze (Manchester City, Eng); 2, Pernille Harder (Chelsea, Den) 40; 3, Wendie Renard (Lyon, Fra) 35.
Best awards list
Men’s player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich, Ger)
Women’s player: Lucy Bronze (Manchester City, Eng)
Men’s coach: Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool)
Women’s coach: Sarina Wiegman (Netherlands)
Men’s goalkeeper: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich, Ger)
Women’s goalkeeper: Sarah Bouhaddi (Lyon, Fra)
Goal, Puskas award: Heung-min Son (Tottenham v Burnley)
Fan: Marivaldo Francisco da Silva (Brz)
Fair Play: Mattia Agnese (Ita)
FIFA Foundation: Marcus Rashford (Manchester United, Eng)
FIFPRO Men’s World11 squad: Alisson (Liverpool, Brz) – Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool, Eng), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid, Spa), Van Dijk (Liverpool, Net), Davies (Bayern Munich, Can) – Thiago Alcantara (Bayern /Liverpool, Spa), De Bruyne (Manchester City, Bel), Kimmich (Bayern, Ger) – Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus, Por), Lewandowski (Bayern, Pol), Messi (Barcelona, Arg).
FIFPRO Women’s World11 squad: Endler (Paris Saint-Germain Fra) – Bright (Chelsea, Eng), Wendie Renard (Lyon, Fra), Bronze (Lyon/Manchester City, Eng) – Bonansea (Juventus, Ita), Boquete (Utah Royals/AC Milan, Spa), Cascarino (Lyon, Fra) – Harder (Wolfsburg/Chelsea, Den), Heath (Portland Thorns/Manchester United, US), Vivianne Miedema (Arsenal, Net), Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign, US).