After being cancelled in 2020 due to the outbreak of the pandemic and disruption in football across the globe, the Ballon d’Or award race is heating up once more. The award is considered the most prestigious individual accomplishment any player can achieve in the game of football, and the player receiving the award receives international fame and attention. Awarded by France Football magazine annually, the shortlist for this year’s award consisting of 2019 winner Lionel Messi and 29 other players was released earlier this month.
A panel of captains, coaches and journalists will decide the final recipient of the award, which will be announced on 29th November. As the race for the prestigious award heats up, we take a look at the players’ power rankings and their claim to the award:
#5: KYLIAN MBAPPE
Kylian Mbappe was once heralded as the next bright star of the footballing world. The 22-year-old has accomplished numerous feats since then, earning the coveted Ligue 1 Player of the Year twice and finishing as the league’s top scorer for three consecutive seasons. Along with Antoine Griezmann, Mbappe was one of the orchestrators in making France the world champions in 2018 and finished as the tournament’s Best Young Player.
The French striker has only increased his utility at Paris Saint-Germain since then, scoring 42 goals and 11 assists for his club last season. While the lack of trophies will hamper his chances to win the award, what hurts his case more is the relative lull in the Euros held earlier this year, where he failed to score even a single goal.
#4: CRISTIANO RONALDO
Cristiano Ronaldo’s feats on the field cannot be measured purely based on the number of trophies he has in his cabinet – but he sure does have a lot of them. The Portuguese superstar has won the prestigious award five times, just one behind his rival Lionel Messi. He finished in third place in 2019, behind Messi and Virgil Van Dijk. Barring his first Ballon d’Or, all four of Ronaldo’s awards came during his spectacular stint at Real Madrid. The shift to the relatively non-competitive Serie A reduced the impact of his contributions, and it’s been four years since Ronaldo last won the award.
Making his case for the award are the 29 goals he scored in the Serie A last season, finishing as the league’s top scorer despite Juventus losing the crown. He also was the top scorer at the Euro 2020 tournament, claiming the Golden Boot despite Portugal’s early exit. Lack of trophies due to poor support from the club and national teams might hurt his chances this year, but a shift to Manchester United can make him one of the prime contenders for the award next year.
#3: N’GOLO KANTE
N’Golo Kante was the crucial linchpin in the mid-season turnaround that Chelsea went through earlier this year under Thomas Tuchel. His defensive acumen, linkup play and ability to create chances that Tuchel used to full advantage made Chelsea one of the best teams in Europe within a span of weeks. Kante was awarded the Man of the Match award four times in the Champions League, including the final when they defeated Manchester City.
Several commentators have made the case for N’Golo Kante to be awarded the Ballon d’Or solely based on his performance in the Champions League. Kante upped that claim by continuing the form in the Premier League this season – the Blues are currently sitting at the top of the table and are one of the favourites to win the title. Kante has been picked as the UEFA Midfielder of the Year for his performances in the Champions League and certainly deserves to be in contention for the prestigious award.
#2: ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI
If the Ballon d’Or award was not cancelled last year, Robert Lewandowski would have certainly won it. The Polish star striker has been prolific since the start of the pandemic, scoring 48 goals for Bayern Munich last season while breaking the record for the most number of goals in a Bundesliga season along the way. He led Bayern Munich to yet another league title and has scored 10 goals already this season. At the Euros, he scored three goals in the tournament, despite Poland’s relatively lacklustre campaign.
Lewandowski’s best finish at the Ballon d’Or is fourth all the way back in 2015. Since then, he has scored more than 250 goals for his club and is not looking to slow down anytime soon. Bayern’s near-total domination of the Bundesliga is coming under threat this year, but the presence of Lewandowski is the crucial weapon in their arsenal. With a strong claim to the award based on his goals and the trophies he collects, Lewandowski is the closest competitor to Messi this year.
#1: LIONEL MESSI
Lionel Messi’s entire professional career had been spent only at one club until the start of this season. For any other player, such a long bout at a single club can be a recipe for disaster. But for Messi and Barcelona, his long stint was a blessing. Never short of competitiveness and the impending threat of defeat, Barcelona provided the perfect environment for Messi to shine both at the domestic and European stages. The Argentinian superstar has won a whopping six Ballon d’Or awards during his stay at the club – including four consecutive awards from 2009 to 2012.
The only gap in his long list of achievements was the lack of an international trophy – which he finally filled as he led Argentina to win the Copa America in the summer. By scoring four crucial goals and providing five assists in the tournament, Messi won both the Golden Boot and Best Player of the Tournament awards, completing the best international summer of his career. On the domestic front, Messi scored 30 goals for Barca last season, winning the Pichichi trophy. His move to Paris Saint-Germain has been filled with a few hiccups over his role in the team, but regardless of the initial troubles, Lionel Messi is still the favourite to win the Ballon d’Or this year.