Image: Wikimedia Commons / Sven Mandel
Image: Wikimedia Commons / Sven Mandel

Does Lewandowski’s award-night triumph mark the end of the Messi-Ronaldo era?

A few weeks ago now, Robert Lewandowski was rightfully crowned men’s player of the year at FIFA’s The Best awards. What does this mean, though, for Messi and Ronaldo?

For over a decade, two players have always stood head and shoulders above the rest. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have long been hailed as the two greatest players currently active in the sport, possibly of all time.

With 11 Ballons d’Or between them, the mark they have left on the beautiful game is undeniable. They each have the ability to carry a team almost single-handedly to wins, and have done on many occasions. The magnificence of these two players cannot be overstated.

But in recent times, criticism of them has grown.

Though both players continue to post remarkable numbers for Barcelona and Juventus respectively, gone are the days of 91-goal seasons and averaging more than a goal a game.

They may still be the best players on their teams by a country mile, but the unbelievably high bars they set themselves over the last ten or so years now have them looking almost average by comparison.

Nothing should be detracted from the year that Lewandowski had

With Luka Modric taking home the 2018 Ballon d’Or, and Robert Lewandowski beating both to the award this year, the duopoly of Messi and Ronaldo seems to slowly be ending.

Nothing should be detracted from the year that Lewandowski had. A treble of trophies with Bayern Munich in 2019/20, already a UEFA Super Cup win this season, and truckloads of goals to top it all off, the Polish striker has been absolutely unmatched over the course of 2020. However, the decline of these two greats has indeed been in the works for a while now.

Inevitably, both Messi and Ronaldo will one day hang up their boots. As alien as they may have appeared for the last fifteen years, they are indeed human, and age will, and has already begun to, take its toll.

However, I find that we as football fans have remained in denial about this fact for far too long now.

We have been treated to the genius of these two players for a long time, now – entire lifetimes, in some cases – and the thought that one day they will no longer be there to amaze crowds as they always have done is, of course, saddening.

The loss of this year’s award to Lewandowski, however, combined with the failure of both Barcelona and Juventus in the Champions League, has given us a harsh reality check. Maybe Messi and Ronaldo aren’t the players they used to be, and maybe, just maybe, they aren’t the best in the world anymore.

An end should be brought to the debate regarding who is the better player

So, yes, we could well be nearing the end of the line for Messi and Ronaldo, at least at the very highest level.

Though you can expect both to remain in peak physical condition and continue to give their all on the pitch, it is likely that there are only a few years left of their illustrious careers in Europe, with the dazzle of American lights beckoning.

I find it appropriate, then, that an end should be brought to the debate regarding who is the better player. It is likely that neither will win a Ballon d’Or again, and their club sides are similarly struggling on the European front.

Therefore, we should simply enjoy what we have left of these two greats. They have given a lot to this game, and their contributions should be cherished while they can be.

As for the future, with Lewandowski similarly ageing, we look to the younger generation of players to continue the ridiculous legacy of the Portuguese and Argentinian legends.

Yes, this award may signal the end of an era of dominance at the top for Messi and Ronaldo, but with the end of one day comes the dawn of another. The time for a new beginning will soon be upon the beautiful game.

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