Barcelona striker Robert Lewandowski was handed on Monday the Muller Trophy which recognizes the player who scored the most goals with his club and the national team during a single season.
The Barcelona No.9 recorded his best-ever scoring tally last year. He netted 50 goals for Bayern Munich in all competitions – 35 of which came in the Bundesliga, 13 in the Champions League and two in the DFL-Supercup. To his tally must be added the seven goals he scored with the Polish national team.
France Football magazine created this award to honor Gerd Muller, who passed away in August 2021. The former Bayern Munich and Germany striker won the World Cup in 1974. In May 2021, Lewandowski broke the record that Muller had set 49 years earlier for the most goals scored in a single season.
Setting sights on the Ballon d’Or
Last year, Robert Lewandowski was handed the Striker of the Year award at the Theatre Chatelet in Paris.
The Barcelona striker has hit the ground running this season, having already scored 14 goals across all competitions. After joining the Catalan club, Lewandowski did not hide his desire to win the Ballon d’Or in the future. The Poland international was favorite to win the prize in 2020, but the ceremony was cancelled.
Lionel Messi leads the way with seven Ballon d’Or awards followed by Ronaldo, who has five. Modric finished in ninth position, Vinicius Junior in eighth and Thibaut Courtois in seventh.
The two men to complete on the podium were Sadio Mane and Kevin De Bruyne with Erling Haaland sitting tenth, Kylian Mbappe sixth and Mohamed Salah fifth.
Benzema and Modric are the only two players who have managed to break the Ronaldo-Messi Ballon d’Or duopoly since 2008.
It wasn’t easy for the Frenchman to reach this level, but he adapted to his role after joining Los Blancos and his efforts paid dividends.
Support from the president
The most crucial moment for Benzema in his almost fourteen years at Real Madrid came after the Lisbon final against Atletico Madrid.
He was subbed off that day when Real Madrid urgently needed a comeback, leaving the pitch amidst whistles. From within the club there were people who believed that he should depart Real Madrid.
However, there was one person who never stopped believing in him, and that was none other than Perez. The Real Madrid president backed Benzema and time has proven him right.
It is clear that this Benzema is very different from the one who arrived in 2009. His transformation has come from the hand of a full identification with what Real Madrid represent.
After Ronaldo’s departure, he was given maximum responsibility on the pitch. Assuming what other players such as Gareth Bale or Eden Hazard avoided, he reached the top two months shy of his 35th birthday.
“It’s a source of pride,” Benzema said during the ceremony.
“It’s a childhood dream. I grew up with it in my head. Then I had the motivation. I had two role models in life: Zizou and Ronaldo.
“I’ve never given up. I thank my teammates at Real Madrid and in the national team. Also my great president, who is like family to me.
“Also to the Lyon academy and the president [Jean-Michel] Aulas. Thanks to him I fulfilled my dream of playing for Real Madrid. I’m very happy that Ronaldo is here. I always wanted to be like him.”
Courtois was the star of the Champions League final against Liverpool, as he managed to almost singlehandedly keep his team in the game with some big saves.
He competed with extraordinary goalkeepers such as Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, Alisson, Ederson and Jan Oblak but managed to win the prize for best shot-stopper worldwide.
Decisive in the Champions League
Courtois was criticized for his statements on the eve of the Champions League final against Liverpool, when he insisted that “when Real Madrid play finals, they win them”. His remarks were controversial due to his Atletico Madrid past.
The Belgium international was happy during his time at Atletico, but this does not mean that he wasn’t a Real Madrid fan when he was a kid.
Dream come true
When Real Madrid expressed their interest in signing Courtois, Chelsea tried to prevent him from departing the club. The Belgian star forced his exit to make his dream come true.
“I want to thank my team because thanks to them I have been able to win this trophy,” Courtois said.
“I want to remember my family and my children for the support I received from them throughout the year.”
Gavi was handed the 2022 Kopa Trophy award during the Ballon d’Or Gala which was held in Paris on Monday. The Barcelona prodigy was voted ahead of other talented players, such as Real Madrid’s Eduardo Camavigna, for the finest U21 player’s prize.
The Spain international has stolen the limelight since he debuted with Barcelona last season. He is picking up the baton from teammate Pedri, who won the same accolade last season and became the first Spaniard to do so.
The 18-year-old midfielder has become a key player for both Xavi Hernandez and Luis Enrique in the Spanish national team. He has already played 60 games for Barcelona and another 12 for La Roja, where he has made history.
A month ago, the Catalan club renewed his contract until June 2026, and included a one-billion-euro buyout clause in the deal.
This trophy is named after the first ever Ballon d’Or winner, French footballer Raymond Kopa.
The final Kopa Trophy ranking
The Barcelona midfielder was followed by Camavinga (Real Madrid), Jamal Musiala (Bayern Munich), Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Nuno Mendes (Paris Saint-Germain), Josko Gvardiol (RB Leipzig), Ryan Gravenberch (Bayern), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Karim Adeyemi (Borussia Dortmund) and Florian Wirtz (Bayer Leverkusen).
It has to be noted that the winner of the Kopa Trophy is voted on by previous Ballon d’Or winners such as Michel Platini, Zinedine Zidane, Mario Van Basten, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric.
The Kopa Trophy was created in 2018 and it was not awarded to any player in 2020 as the ceremony was cancelled due to Covid-19. Kylian Mbappe won it in its first edition followed by Matthijs de Ligt, and Pedri, who also received the Golden Boy prize last season.
The director of France Football, Pascal Ferre, remains silent on the identity of the next winner of the Ballon d’Or, which will be known this Monday, and in the face of Karim Benzema‘s status as favourite, he spoke of how Real Madrid know how to orchestrate campaigns to propel their players towards the award.
“Florentino Perez orchestrates the campaigns well, tacitly, without drifts, everything he does is authorised,” Ferre said in an interview with EFE.
The head of the magazine that has been awarding the prize since 1956 says that campaigns “don’t make you win, but they can make you lose when there is a bad message or a bad gesture”.
“There are machines like Real Madrid that are very strong. Their intelligence is that they support a single player. For years it was Cristiano Ronaldo and now it’s Karim Benzema. That prevents votes from being dispersed,” he says.
“They know how it works. It’s no coincidence that they’re the club that have won it the most times,” says Ferre in the office he has occupied since 2005.
Off the pitch
Ferre recalls that off-field reputation is also a criterion when awarding points, but does not believe that the conviction for complicity in blackmail handed down against Benzema should be an obstacle to him becoming the first Frenchman to win the award since Zinedine Zidane in 1998.
“I think that has already been taken into account by the juries, but I don’t think it is an essential element. The Ballon d’Or is not the Nobel Peace Prize, they have voted on eleven months of competition,” he said.
For the first time in 15 years, Lionel Messi, winner of seven editions, does not appear among the candidates, “a gigantic event in the history of the award”, according to Ferre, who considers that “the Ballon d’Or is Messi and Messi is the Ballon d’Or”.
“His record is going to be very difficult to match, he is someone who embodies the Ballon d’Or well, because he combines individual and collective performance, but also a certain idea of showmanship and longevity,” he says. He remembers the Argentinian being “tremendously excited” when he called him on the last two occasions to announce that he was the winner.
“In 2019 he told me that he had forgotten the pleasure of winning it (three years after the last one), he had realised that he missed it. In 2021 I had the impression that I was talking to a child,” he says.
He also recalls Cristiano Ronaldo’s excitement when he was announced in several editions and believes that the Portuguese “has not digested being left behind his great rival”.
“It is a very important award for them. The Ballon d’Or is one of the few things you can’t buy. It makes them humble in the face of this kind of reward, it makes them like children,” he adds.
Messi and Ronaldo “have been the protagonists of one of the most intense rivalries in the history of sport”, says Ferre, happy that the Ballon d’Or has helped to fuel it, while considering that it will be some time before a similar duel is repeated.
“There is a lot of talk about the rivalry between Mbappe and Haaland, but neither of them have won the Champions League. At Mbappe’s age, Messi already had two Ballon d’Ors. If they want to establish a similar rivalry they have to start winning major trophies now. Messi and Ronaldo didn’t take that long,” he says.
Ferre is aware that the Ballon d’Or is not without controversy “because everyone has their favourites”, but when he reviews the list of winners he believes that “there is no one who has disgraced the award”.
Xavi and Iniesta, a scar
“I don’t think anyone is missing from the list. It’s obvious that there are some names missing. In my opinion there are three, Poland’s Robert Lewandowski and Spain’s Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta,” he admits.
“For me it’s a big scar, because (Xavi and Iniesta) are two players who I rank very highly and who embody football as the Ballon d’Or sees it. But in 2010 they were up against Messi and I think they paid for the fact that, in that Spanish national team, the votes were divided between many names, which reduced their support.”
He knows that, for many, Raul Gonzalez is another of those absent from the list of winners, but he believes that “he is a step below” and recalls that he never won the World Cup.
On Lewandowski, Ferre also regrets that the Pole did not win it in 2020, when he was the big favourite but France Football decided not to award it because of the pandemic.
“We did it out of a desire to be fair, not all the championships had stopped. Robert keeps asking me if I don’t regret it, but I think we did the right thing,” he says.
For a few days now, his phone has been ringing off the hook. “Representatives, clubs, players… they want to know if they’ve won, it’s inevitable.”
The winner of 2022 already knows that he will embrace the golden trophy next Monday. Ferre has already gone through the usual ceremony of announcing it in person at his home.
“We try to keep it as secret as possible. Sometimes we disguise ourselves so that no one sees us arrive. And we tell the winner not to tell his wife or children,” he says.