Paris (AFP) – A topsy turvy football year could end with another surprise as Robert Lewandowski challenges the golden duo of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for FIFA’s player of the year award.
The coronavirus pandemic is playing havoc with football’s glitzy year-ends awards galas just as it has on the field.
The venerable Ballon d’Or has been cancelled and the FIFA Best awards have been moved on-line. They will be broadcast from Zurich on Thursday at 1800 GMT.
The Best awards began in 2017 after a brief merger with the Ballon D’Or and the FIFA Player of the Year award, which was created in 1991. FIFA added a women’s award in 2001 and now hands out 11 sets of its 6.4kg platinum-coated trophies.
There are prizes for men’s and women’s coaches and goalkeepers, men’s and women’s world 11s, a fair play award, an award to fans and the Puskas award for goal of the year.
Lewandowski’s stellar season for all-conquering Bayern has already been recognised by UEFA who awarded the Polish striker European player of the year in October. Danish striker Pernille Harding, who is among the FIFA finalists, won the women’s award.
While Lewandowski could become only the second player to interrupt the 13-year Messi-Ronaldo hegemony, the women’s award could also could also break a long trend. Harding’s two challengers are both defenders.
Messi is the holder of the men’s award while American Megan Rapinhoe won the women’s prize last year.
– ‘Mainly attacking players’ –
Messi and Ronaldo were both among the three finalists for the first time in 2007, when Kaka won. Since then each has missed making the top three only once and the only other player to win the award, in its various guises, was Luka Modric in 2018.
At 32, Lewandowski has had a breakthrough season.
While he has won the Bundesliga in each of his first six seasons at Bayern, finishing as league top scorer in four of the last five seasons, his international profile has been hurt by Poland’s mediocre form and his failure, at Dortmund and Bayern, to win the Champions League.
Last season, he was spectacular as Bayern won every game in Europe. Lewandowski finished with 15 goals in the competition, five more than the next best striker, Erling Braut Haaland.
He “deserves” this trophy “like no one else. It was the season of his life,” Bavarian club president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge told AFP.
Messi was top scorer in last season’s Liga, but that was a rare bright spot in a disastrous year, the low point of which was an 8-2 loss to Bayern in which Lewandowski scored and the 33-year-old Argentine did not.
While the 35-year-old Ronaldo finished as his club’s top scorer as Juventus won Serie A, he could not propel his club past Lyon in the Champions League round of 16.
Harding, who moved from Wolfsburg to Chelsea this season, is the favourite to edge two defenders who won the women’s Champions League with Lyon: Lucy Bronze, who has since joined Manchester City, and French veteran Wendie Renard.
Renard made a plea for defenders on the FIFA web site.
“Over the last few years, it’s been mainly attacking players,” she said.
“It’s often the final touch, the fantastic shot or the beautiful goal that get recognised. But before it gets to that stage, there’s a job that gets done, and it deserves to be highlighted a bit more.”
Bayern’s coach, Hansi Flick is one of the finalists for men’s coach alongside two Premier League bosses: Argentine Marcelo Bielsa, who won promotion with Leeds, and a second German Jurgen Klopp of champions Liverpool.
On the women’s side, Frenchman Jean-Luc Vasseur of Lyon is among the finalists along with Chelsea manager Emma Hayes and Dutch coach Sarina Wiegman.
The winners are chosen by national team captains and coaches, more than 200 journalists and fans.
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