Following up on the Copa America 2021 title, Lionel Messi finally has a World Cup title with Argentina; something that had evaded him for the better part of his international footballing career. The fairytale is now complete, and Messi can draw his career to an end on the ultimate high note, but he’s still got plenty of club football left in him at Paris Saint-Germain and beyond.
Messi has won a total of seven Ballon d’Or awards during his playing career, amongst a very long list of both personal and collective accolades, but with his World Cup triumph in Qatar, former Bayern Munich and current Barcelona striker Robert Lewandowski feels that he already has the next Ballon d'Or in the bag. For the first time in what feels like ages, Messi didn’t even crack the top three for the 2022 honors, as Sadio Mane and Kevin De Bruyne finished second and third behind Karim Benzema, but for Lewandowski, there should be no debate at this point for the 2023 honors.
“There is only one World Cup that decides who will win [the Ballon d'Or] this season, and right now Leo is securely in first position for what he accomplished,” Lewandowski told Mundo Deportivo, as per a tweet from ESPNFC.
Robert Lewandowski says 35-year-old Lionel Messi is in pole position to win his eighth Ballon d'Or pic.twitter.com/Iler157dph— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) December 25, 2022
Of course, Messi’s exploits in Qatar with Argentina and current season with PSG have been far more inspiring than his 2021/22 campaign in the French capital, where he missed quite a few Ligue 1 matches through injury. He finished with 6 goals and 15 assists in Ligue1, while he tallied 5 goals in the Champions League. For any other player, that might be remarkable, but for Messi’s standards, failing to break the double-digit tally for goals in both the domestic and European competitions is rare.
This season he’s already got 11 goals and 14 assists across all competitions for France, and he inspired Argentina to their World Cup triumph with 7 goals and 3 assists as well as converting both of his spot kicks in the shootouts against the Netherlands in the quarterfinals and France in the final. He deservedly won the Golden Ball award and just narrowly missed out on the Golden Boot to club teammate Kylian Mbappe.
Ironically enough, it was Lewandowski who genuinely deserved to win the Ballon d’Or in 2020 when the award was scrapped altogether and then again in 2021 after breaking Gerd Müller’s single season scoring record in the Bundesliga. Instead, France Football made the decision to award Messi the Balllon d’Or and essentially create the Gerd Müller, or “best striker of the year” award for Lewandowski, for what seemed like an effort to not completely rob him, but also pay homage to the late, great Müller.
It seems like this year’s award won’t have anywhere near the same controversy.