Richard Buxton: Lionel Messi’s chance to prove Lothar Matthaeus wrong
Argentine can dispel German's notion that Bayern's Lewandowski is world's best
If Lothar Matthaeus is to be believed, Lionel Messi should surrender the Ballon d'Or.
Supposedly, the Barcelona captain is now a pale imitation of the man that he will come up against in tomorrow morning's (Singapore time) Champions League quarter-final.
According to Matthaeus, Robert Lewandowski has already assumed Messi's mantle as the world's greatest footballer by virtue of his performances for Bayern Munich.
Statistics appear to vindicate his assertion, with the Pole racking up a combined 61 goals and assists in all competitions compared to the Argentine's own return of 56.
Lewandowski's potency has seen Bayern emerge as heavy favourites to win Europe's elite club competition this season under its current mini-tournament guise in Portugal.
But platitudes for the Poland international are unlikely to be forthcoming on account of France Football's decision to shelve plans for this year's Ballon d'Or due to Covid-19.
Outshining Messi in Lisbon's Stadium of Light represents his best chance of staying in contention for the accolade when it is scheduled to return in less than 18 months' time.
By then, Lewandowski will be 33 - the same age that Luka Modric broke a decade-long continuum between Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to win the coveted award in 2018.
The Croat's road to the top incorporated a hat-trick of Champions League triumphs with Real Madrid and an improbable World Cup final appearance in Croatia's checkerboard kit.
Lewandowski's tilt at the title, however, comes from a position of greater adversity.
His only tangible success has been an unbroken streak of Bundesliga titles, having joined Bayern a year after they last claimed the Champions League, and is almost a decade older than Messi when the Argentine won the first of a record-breaking six Ballon d'Or awards.
Lewandowski also cannot command the spotlight in the same way as his Barca counterpart. A brace in the Bavarian side's Round-of-16 victory over Chelsea last weekend was dwarfed by the sheer brilliance of Messi's goal which helped eliminate Napoli.
Virgil van Dijk can sympathise with the striker's plight, after Liverpool's imposing centre-back mirrored Modric's exploits for club and country last term.
He helped Juergen Klopp's side become European champions but still lost out in the Ballon d'Or to Messi.
The free-kick which eluded van Dijk and his teammates in their Champions League semi-final, first-leg loss at the Nou Camp is still remembered, along with the remarkable comeback that the Reds went on to produce in the return fixture just six days later.
In the case of the two marksmen, Messi's solo effort against Napoli sticks in the mind more vividly than Lewandowski's prolific haul. That narrative is unlikely to change in Lisbon tomorrow.
Collectively, Barca are weaker than Bayern heading into their latest showdown. They remain a team that are greater than the sum of their parts; hopelessly dependent on their 33-year-old talisman conjuring up a moment of magic to see them through games.
Such disparity will count for precious little if Messi is able to drag Quique Setien's side to within 90 minutes of their first Champions League final appearance in over five years.
Were that to happen, everyone else can forget about usurping him to the Ballon d'Or.
No matter what happens in Lisbon, Lewandowski is almost certain to claim the competition's Golden Boot for this season. But the Golden Ball is still likely to elude him.