Since 2007, only one man not named Messi or Ronaldo has won the Ballon d’Or. That 2018 trophy went to Luka Modric in a decision that felt fair—Modric’s Croatia made a surprising run to the World Cup final, and his Real Madrid was coming off its third consecutive European Cup—but still somewhat unsatisfying. It’s a shame, then, that there won’t be a 2020 Ballon d’Or, because the soccer world would have likely had a first-time winner that would’ve felt completely deserved. Robert Lewandowski was the best player in Europe last season and, given his hot start to the 2020–21 season, it doesn’t appear like the Bayern Munich striker is going to slow down any time soon.
The latest example of the Polish striker’s brilliance came on Wednesday, during a UEFA Nations League match against Bosnia and Herzegovina. Poland came away with all three points thanks a little bit to a 14th-minute Bosnian red card and a whole lot to Lewandowski, who had a direct hand in all three Polish goals, scoring two of them and assisting the other:
The win put Poland in first place in a tough Nations League group that also includes Italy and the Netherlands. It also gave Lewandowski his sixth and seventh goals of the young season, the pair of international goals adding to his five goals for Bayern. In all, Lewandowski has seven goals in 353 minutes of play so far this year, a ludicrous rate of one for almost every half of soccer he has played.
Four of those Bayern goals came in one game, to be fair, though they came against an extremely game Hertha Berlin side on October 4. Not only did Lewandowski fill up the stat sheet, but he also rescued the full three points for Bayern, first putting his team ahead 3–2 in the 85th minute, before countering Hertha’s 88th minute equalizer with a 93rd minute penalty to win it:
Scoring goals by the bucket load is nothing new for Lewandowski, but the consistency with which he’s been dumping in those goals, and his ability to score them in the biggest moments, has elevated him into the conversation for the best player in Europe. Between winning the treble with Bayern last season and barely losing out on the European Golden Shoe to Lazio’s Ciro Immobile, the Ballon d’Or would have been Lewandowski’s to lose. Awards don’t particularly matter in the grand scheme of things, but still, it would’ve been nice to reward the man who’s been one of Europe’s best center forwards for the better part of a decade now with the game’s premier individual trophy after a season that thoroughly deserved it.
No need to get too weepy for Lewandowski, however. Even at 32, he’s yet to show any significant signs of decline. He has never had an injury that cost him more than three matches, his game isn’t exactly reliant on raw pace—though his acceleration in tight spaces has always been an asset—and his ability to suss out scoring positions and then finish the resulting chances isn’t something that drops with age.
While it’s no guarantee that Lewandowski will ever win the Ballon d’Or, his start to the new campaign bodes well for Bayern and Poland fans. With the Euros scheduled for next summer, and with Bayern well positioned to try to become only the second club to win back-to-back Champions League trophies, those fans will be looking at Lewandowski to perform at the same elite level in order to bring more glory to club and country. Given that both Bayern and Poland have built their attacks around Lewandowski’s talents, they will go where he carries them. If the first handful of games of this season are any indication, that could be straight to the top.