By Bennett Osedumebi Atumah
The Best FIFA Men’s Player Award ceremony held on 17 December, at the FIFA headquarters Zürich, Switzerland.
It is an annual football award by the world’s football governing body, anointing one footballer as the world’s best player. This year, it deservedly went to Polish international and Bayern Munich forward, Robert Lewandoski. It was an extraordinary year as the dreaded COVID-19 wreaked havoc to anything and everything football.
The resilience of the organisers ensured it held, though without the razzmatazz we know of this event. However, millions of viewers stayed glued to their tubes and other social media platforms to know who the greatest footballer of the world would be.
Robert Lewandoski invariably was favourite for the fifth Best FIFA Men’s Player award after helping the Bundesliga giants to a historic treble. The performances of the 32-year-old forward was without equal in the 2019/20 season, scoring 55 goals in 47 appearances as Bayern swept the German Bundesliga, UEFA Champions League and DFB-Pokal. He was the top scorer in all three competitions.
He finished top scorer with 15 goals in the UEFA Champions League. The Polish striker has continued his stunning form into the new season and recently scored his 250th goal in the Bundesliga. As it seems, Ronaldo and Messi took their feet off the gas as 2020 unfolded, surrendering the Best FIFA Men’s Player award to Robert Lewandoski, at the end of the season. Some thought Luka Modric was glimpsing as he beat Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to clinch it in 2018 after winning the UEFA Champions League, FIFA Club World Cup and 2018 World Cup Runner-up with Croatia. Lewandoski again broke the Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi football duopoly of over a decade rivalry to win the coveted prize.
Lewandowski is a player with exquisite records but under-hyped in the game because the German Bundesliga does not attract the publicity some other European leagues attract. On 24 April 2013, Lewandowski became the first player to score four goals in a Champions League semi-final’ helping his former club, Borussia Dortmund defeat Spanish giants Real Madrid 4-1 in the first leg at Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion.
The same year he won The German Super Cup, Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal, a historic treble with Dortmund. On 22 September 2015, he set a record as he came on, as a substitute to set a Bundesliga record with Bayern that was trailing 0-1 to Wolfsburg and scored five goals in 8 minutes and 59 seconds; the most goals scored by a substitute. He equalled Ronaldo’s record of scoring in nine consecutive away games in the Champions League on 25 February 2020. On 14 August 2020, he scored in Bayern’s 8-2 thrashing of Barcelona in the quarterfinals.
Lewandoski joins the elite rank of football greats that have seen it all in football. They include Liberian President, George Opong Weah (the Liberian forward and only African who in 1995 won the Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year award to put Africa in global football computation), late Diego Amando Maradona, Michel Platini, Marco van Basten, and Zinedine Zidane.
Others include Ronaldo da Lima, Romario de Souza Faria, Luis Figo, Fabio Cannavaro, Ronaldo de Assis Moreira (Ronaldinho), Luka Modric, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. In 2013, Edson Arantes do Nascimento known as Pele, voted as World Player of the Century. “When we think of football, we think of his name above all others. No other player has had such an influence on the sport or touched so many people. His verve and skill will never be forgotten” said Sepp Blatter, former FIFA President while handing Pele the award. `
At different times in their football primes, these players made the beautiful game thick. If you have 11 players in a team and they do what they are supposed to do then there is no game. There has to be one star that brings the game alive so we call it football, said Blatter on Maradona. With this, we understand the award is exceptionally for the best of the bests in the sport. `To no surprise, only the best players in European football win it.
Over the years, no player has ever won it without winning any of the major UEFA competitions except in a world cup year where the performance at the world fiesta determines the winner. Crucial factors contribute to this narrative given that the standards of other football Confederations do not meet up to UEFA standards.
The selection criteria for the players of the year are sporting performance, as well as general conduct on and off the pitch. Media representatives, national team coaches, and national team captains decide the votes. In 2016, it was announced that the public would also be allowed to vote. Each group has 25 per cent of the overall vote.
French magazine, France Football that initiated the award, has been awarding the Ballon d’Or (Golden Ball) to the best player in Europe since 1956. The tradition continued with eligibility extended to players from any club in the world in 2007. In 1991, the FIFA award was designed thus complementing the Ballon d’Or. The European Footballer of the Year and FIFA World Player of the Year awards merged into the FIFA Ballon d’Or award in 2010.
The FIFA partnership deal with Ballon d’Or was for six years with FIFA presiding over the FIFA Ballon d’Or after agreeing to pay £13million to France Football. In 2016, the merger deal with FIFA ended thus resurrecting the FIFA World Player of the Year award that ran from 1991 to 2009. This time it became Best FIFA Men’s Player while the Ballon d’Or returned to Paris.
Reports have it that FIFA’s decision not to renew the deal was to improve the organization’s strained relationship with English FA. There were fears that FIFA president Gianni Infantino wanted to move one edition of the Award ceremonies from Zürich to London and that did not go down well with Ballon d’Or organisers that lost Paris as the home of the awards in the merger. The feeling that they have given up the name and tradition than they got back in the deal may have caused a problem.
That should not cause any problem after all the same Ballon d’Or organisers favoured the first winner from England. With football having its roots in England, the inaugural prize went to English Sir Stanley Matthews in 1956. There was no Ballon d’Or this year, the first time since inception. Organisers of Ballon d’Or awards, France Football’s editor-in-chief Pascal Ferre believe that all conditions for fair judgement were not met because of the COVID -19 pandemic.
Analysts and enthusiasts, reacting on which award reflects the true choice of a World Player of the Year argue that the real world’s best emerged from the merger. Is the FIFA award a duplication of the Ballon d’Or? Out of the 19 times FIFA and Ballon d’Or awards existed side by side, from 1991 to 2010, 12 of the winners were the same players.
The claims and criticisms that the voting process is not transparent should be addressed to enhance the credibility of the awards. Again, attack-minded players (forwards and attacking midfielders) have won the awards with only four defenders, Franz Beckenbauer securing two (1972, 1976), Matthias Sammer won in 1996 and Fabio Cannavaro in 2006. As for goalkeepers, only one Lev Yashin, the ‘Black Spider’ in 1963 was the first-ever and still the only custodian to have achieved that feat.
The argument is that the game is for scoring and defending goals. As it stands will Robert Lewandoski run away with the Best FIFA Men’s award in the coming year? Football has the audacity to stun the world.
Bennett Osedumebi Atumah is a Football commentator and student of the Nasarawa State University, Keffi