Tonight we will learn the 2021 Ballon d’Or winner, but has Robert Lewandowski’s chance at football’s most prestigious individual prize gone?
CaughtOffside spoke to Polish football expert Ryan Hubbard about Lewandowski’s rise from the Polish third division to being in contention to be named the best footballer in the world.
Read on for Ryan’s thoughts and analysis in our exclusive interview…
How do you rate Lewandowski’s chances of winning the Ballon d’Or this year?
His chances are very high – probably even higher than last year. 2020 was an injustice for Lewy, as he would have won last year’s award by a country mile. It is, however, quite possible that 2020 performances will be taken into account by the voting journalists this time; and if so, he’ll be the odds-on favourite. But Robert does have the numbers – if not the trophies – to back up his claim solely for this year, too.
What would a victory mean for sport in Poland?
For a Polish player to be held in such high regard, is a massive source of pride for many Poles. Anything to do with Lewandowski creates a buzz, so for him to become the first Polish winner of the Ballon d’Or would rank up there with some of the best ever Polish sporting achievements.
Is Lewandowski now the greatest Polish footballer of all time?
If he isn’t yet, he is definitely on the way to doing so. While Lewy has undoubtedly passed Wlodzimierz Lubanski as the country’s best-ever striker, there has always been a debate over whether he has surpassed both Kazimierz Deyna and Zbigniew Boniek to become the best that Poland has ever produced. The fact that those two have earned honours for the national team (third-placed finishes at the World Cup or, in the case of Deyna, an Olympic gold medal) has always put them ahead in the pecking order, but after the last few years, it’s hard to argue against Lewandowski having now edged past them.
Who would you say have been the biggest influences on Lewandowski in his career?
Lewy has often talked about how he has learned something from the majority of managers who have coached him: Klopp, Guardiola, Heynckes, Ancelotti. Klopp, in particular, he described as a “father figure” during his time at Dortmund, and continues to speak highly of the German’s ability to get the best out of him and help him improve.
The biggest influence, however, comes from his father, Krzysztof, who passed away in 2005 – before Robert became a professional football. Robert has often talked about how much his father sacrificed, whilst he was a child, to help him pursue his dream of becoming a footballer, and also of his belief that he continues to watch over him to this day.
Was his potential obvious from a young age or would you say he’s been more of a late bloomer?
There was talent in young Robert, but he was deemed too slight by hometown club Legia Warsaw, who released him from their youth team. Urged by his recently-widowed mother not to give up on his dream, he signed for Znicz Pruszkow just before his 18th birthday and instantly set the Polish third-tier alight.
Even as a teenager, Robert’s knack for scoring goals was evident; but, while not a late bloomer per se, his continual improvement year on year has been astonishing.
There’s a famous story here about Lewandowski’s failed move to Blackburn…what do you know about that transfer saga, and have there been any other moments when he was close to moving to a Premier League club?
Lewandowski was alleged to have been on his way to watch Blackburn against Everton when the ash cloud scuppered their plans. Prior to this, several other English clubs – notably Leicester City – had sent scouts to watch him in Poznan. But following his transfer to Dortmund, there was never any real chance he would move to England.
Messi has his incredible skill, balance, and intelligence; Ronaldo has his physical power and winning mentality – what is it that makes Lewandowski so special?
For me, few players can match Lewandowski’s work ethic. At every stage of his career, he has had to push himself to improve; whether that be in the gym, on the training pitch, or in front of 55,000 fans in Warsaw’s National Stadium. His leadership qualities have also developed significantly over the last few years, particularly after taking the captaincy of the national team; while, on the pitch, few can match his balance of strength, pace, and positioning.