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Robert Lewandowski, Lionel Messi, Mohamed Salah: A look at The Best FIFA Men's Player contenders

:Headline: Robert Lewandowski, Lionel Messi, Mohamed Salah: A look at The Best FIFA Men's Player contenders:
Ahead of Monday's The Best FIFA awards, Sports Mole takes an in-depth look at the three contenders to win the Men's Player of the Year award.
Sports Mole

FIFA will crown its best men's player of the year on Monday evening when its annual awards take place in Zurich.

After initially identifying a shortlist of 11 candidates, the final three have now been chosen, with Robert Lewandowski, Lionel Messi and Mohamed Salah all in contention to land the coveted individual prize.

Here, Sports Mole assesses the credentials of all three finalists ahead of the awards.

Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich & Poland)

The holder of The Best FIFA Men's Player award and a man whom many thought was hugely unfortunate to miss out on the Ballon d'Or - not just for 2021, but also in the cancelled 2020 awards.

Robert Lewandowski only seems to get better with age, and his individual exploits in 2021 are the very best of his glittering career so far as he wrote his name alongside one of the greatest goalscorers to have ever lived.

Gerd Muller - for so long the undisputed king of Bayern Munich strikers - saw his long-standing records for most goals in a Bundesliga season and most Bundesliga goals in a calendar year toppled by the 33-year-old Lewandowski, and the fact that the Poland international is edging closer to realistically rivalling 'Der Bomber' for a place in an all-time Bayern XI is about the highest praise you could give him.

Lewandowski plundered a staggering 41 league goals in 29 games during the 2020-21 campaign, topped the Bundesliga scoring charts for an unprecedented fourth season in a row and ended 2021 with 43 domestic top-flight goals.

Such prolific goalscoring prowess was by no means limited to the Bundesliga, though; Lewandowski netted 69 goals in 69 games for club and country throughout 2021, matching Cristiano Ronaldo's best-ever mark for most goals in a calendar year - only Messi has scored more in a calendar year from the modern era.

The striker found the back of the net on average once every 71 minutes he was on the pitch, only failed to score in 14 of his 69 games, helped himself to five hat-tricks and also weighed in with 13 assists, bringing his year total to a quite-frankly ridiculous 82 direct goal involvements.

Rightly or wrongly, team success also plays a major role in these awards and Lewandowski's exploits saw him help Bayern to yet another Bundesliga title, as well as the DFL-Supercup.

Lionel Messi (Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain & Argentina)

The Best FIFA awards are relatively new on the block, and many still regard the Ballon d'Or as the more prestigious of the two awards since they ended their brief partnership in 2016.

Lionel Messi now holds a scarcely-believable seven of those Ballons d'Or following his triumph in the most recent ceremony, and so it stands to reason that he has a very good chance of walking away with the top award on Monday night too.

There was plenty of opposition to the Argentine's 2021 Ballon d'Or win, largely down to the incredible form of Lewandowski and a perceived lack of recognition for the striker's record-breaking achievements.

However, suggestions that Messi was unworthy of being named the world's best player for a seventh time may also have been down to his ludicrously high former standards, which were so good that even his 2021 form - stunning by anyone else's standards - represented something of a drop-off from his unmatched prime.

The 34-year-old scored 43 goals and created 18 more for his teammates during his 61 appearances over the course of the year - an average of a goal involvement every game.

On top of that, he picked up the La Liga top scorer award for the fifth year on the bounce and an eighth time overall.

Perhaps most crucially as far as this award is concerned, those figures saw him scoop two major team trophies too, leading Barcelona to a Copa del Rey triumph before finally ending his long wait for international glory at the Copa America, where he was named the tournament's best player and top scorer.

Off the pitch, it was a tumultuous year for the maestro as he was forced to bid a tearful goodbye to cash-strapped Barcelona and join Paris Saint-Germain, and while the French giants have only seen brief glimpses of his best so far, Messi is still well on course to add to his bulging trophy cabinet at the Parc des Princes.

Mohamed Salah (Liverpool & Egypt)

If Lewandowski's position of second in the Ballon d'Or voting was widely considered harsh, Mohamed Salah's seventh-placed finish was laughable.

The Egyptian wasted no time in making a mockery of the voting too, continuing his relentlessly prolific goalscoring rate at Liverpool to put him well on course for a third Premier League Golden Boot.

By the time he left for the Africa Cup of Nations, Salah had scored 23 goals and created nine more in 26 appearances for Liverpool this season, only failing to directly contribute to a goal in four of those outings.

The style beyond the stats perhaps contains Salah's strongest argument to win this award, though, with particularly memorable solo efforts against Manchester City and Watford in successive matches, followed up by a hat-trick against bitter rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Many have professed the 29-year-old to be the best in world football right now, but whether he can challenge Lewandowski and Messi over the entirety of 2021 is a different matter, and his lack of silverware may harm him in that respect.

Even though his own personal levels barely dipped despite those around him struggling, Liverpool's trophyless 2020-21 campaign is likely to have an impact on the voting.

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