The Ballon d’Or is the most coveted individual trophy in world football. Is is presented by French news magazine France Football and has been awarded since 1956, making this the 65th version in 2021.
Up until 2018, when Luka Modric’s performance at the 2018 World Cup and in the Champions League with Real Madrid saw him finally break the stranglehold, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi had won 10 consecutive Ballon d’Ors between them and Messi picked up the last gong in 2019 too, before last year’s version was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Messi, unsurprisingly, finds himself favourite for the trophy this time around too, but he faces competition from Robert Lewandowski, who racked up plenty of individual and team trophies in the 2020/2021 campaign at Bayern Munich, and until recently was odds-on to win the trophy with most bookmakers.
Let’s take a look at some of the frontrunners for the award this year.
Lionel Messi’s long wait for a first international trophy was finally ended in the summer as Argentina lifted the Copa America by beating their old rivals Brazil at the Maracana in July, a tournament in which he ended top scorer with four goals and he was also the Golden Boot winner in La Liga. Barcelona weren’t able to lift that trophy, but Messi did at least pick up another Copa Del Rey before leaving for PSG in the summer.
Robert Lewandowski’s career has been full of highlights, but the 2020/2021 campaign has to be seen as the pinnacle thus far. The Poland international racked up no fewer than 48 goals in just 40 appearances in all competitions for Bayern Munich, firing the club to a Bundesliga trophy just one year after he won his first ever Champions League medal (in the year in which there was no trophy awarded).
Karim Benzema enjoyed the most prolific goalscoring season of his Real Madrid career last season with an impressive 23 goals in just 34 La Liga appearances. Although he wasn’t able to lead Los Blancos to a trophy, he did at least mark his long-awaited return to international football by helping his country France to the UEFA Nations League.
It’s perhaps unfortunate for Mohamed Salah that his incredible recent burst of form has come after voting for the Ballon d’Or came to an end as talk about him being the best player in the world currently appears to be splashed all over the internet. He is the leading light of Jurgen Klopp’s twinkling Liverpool side and appears to only be getting better at the age of 29. Maybe next year will be Salah’s year for this particular award.
It’s hard to ignore any player that managed to win both the Champions League and an international tournament in the same season. Step forward Jorginho, of Chelsea and Italy, who was a key member of both squad’s with his calming influence and technical ability in the middle of the park. He isn’t the kind of player to get himself in the headlines but he won’t mind too much if that holds him back from lifting the Ballon d’Or after what has been a remarkably successful campaign.