With the ceremony set for November 29, the first Ballon d’Or award in two years is set to recognise the best player of the past year – we look at the top contenders.
Lionel Messi – 4/7
At 34, Lionel Messi’s move to Paris Saint-Germain threatens to precipitate the end of his career. Shorn of his comfort zone at Barcelona and at only his second professional club, he has struggled to adjust. There is a sense that given all he achieved last season against the backdrop of Covid-19 and club strife, with 38 goals in 47 club appearances coupled with his 2021 Copa America win, there’s enough cover to give him a final Ballon d’Or ahead of his retirement.
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Robert Lewandowski – 5/2
Lewandowski’s best finish in the Ballon d’Or is fourth place in 2015. He has scored more than 250 club goals since then, and has 15 goals in 11 appearances for Bayern Munich so far this season. Aged 33, he shows signs of becoming better, rather than entering decline caused by age. He is a ridiculous player who continues to win European and domestic trophies with Bayern, and for all their dominance, his club would struggle without him even if they brought in a replacement.
Jorginho – 7/1
Jorginho is perhaps the obvious choice outside of Messi and Lewandowski. Not many players win the Champions League and European Championships in the same season, but the Italian international held the respective teams together with his usual poise and incisive passing – and that is before mentioning his nerveless penalties. After struggling at times under Maurizio Sarri and then Frank Lampard, his emergence as an essential midfielder at Stamford Bridge is a huge achievement.
Mohamed Salah – 10/1
Salah is ‘the best in the world’, everything he touches ‘turns to gold’ – Klopp
Karim Benzema – 16/1
The Real Madrid striker has faced challenges from one player after another for his space, but nobody has been able to dislodge him from Gonzalo Higuain onwards. At 33, one would expect the arrival of Kylian Mbappe to trouble him, but as Didier Deschamps has shown, it appears many believe that there will be even greater reward by turning them into a partnership. After four Ligue 1 titles, four Ligas, three Champions Leagues and now the Nations League after years away from the French national side, his is a career that deserves recognition.
N’golo Kante – 20/1
Kante was also integral to Chelsea’s Champions League success, and after a year of relative underperformance, there was speculation that he might be moved on. Instead, Thomas Tuchel has got the Frenchman back to something like his best. If Jorginho had not also taken his country to success as well, then Kante would have a similar claim to the Ballon d’Or.
Cristiano Ronaldo – 25/1
Ronaldo has also left a major European club to go to relative strugglers, just as his peer and nemesis Messi did this summer. Already, he is cutting a frustrated figure, and who can blame him? He signed up for a season that would start with McFred in midfield and with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in charge on the bench. That hasn’t stopped him being typically excellent, just as he was at Juventus, but it might not be enough to win any more awards.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)
Image credit: Getty Images
Kylian Mbappe – 33/1
Mbappe is a long shot. He is a player who burst onto the scene almost fully formed, but if this is far as he comes, we might even be disappointed. Until the 22-year-old striker is tested regularly, and given the chance to play with a squad such as Real Madrid’s, observers will want to know if he can deliver more on the pitch. To become even more dangerous, and even more of a leader. He did nothing wrong at PSG last year – though this season promises to be more difficult – but others played better.
Lorenzo Insigne – 33/1
With two goals at Euro 2020, including a vital contribution against Belgium, Insigne was a key part of the Italian side under Roberto Mancini that brought back the trophy. He is 30 now, and until then he had little to show for a playing career that had mainly been spent with Napoli. There is perhaps little hope that he will get honours on the domestic front, so a sympathy vote this year for the Ballon d’Or has an outside chance.
Kevin De Bruyne – 33/1
De Bruyne was Pep Guardiola’s most important player across the title-winning season, and if he were not for injury then perhaps he could have taken Belgium further. The midfielder is perhaps underrated because his brilliance is no longer remarkable – it is just what he does. Perhaps Belgium or City need to win a major international trophy before he will be given the pre-eminent individual award.
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