Football Features

Six wonderkids tipped to one day win a Ballon d’Or

By Harry Edwards

Published: 17:15, 17 April 2024

We’re finally approaching the time of an open battle for the men’s Ballon d’Or.

It is expected Lionel Messi’s win  will mark the end of the Messi-Ronaldo Ballon d’Or duopoly. Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland have been tipped to dominate most of the Ballon d’Or contests to come, but beyond the immediate future there are so many more players capable of mounting a challenge.

Let’s take a look at some of the early predictions made by those within the game.

Jude Bellingham

We’ll start with the most obvious — a player who has even been tipped to win the Ballon d’Or this year. Jude Bellingham started life at Real Madrid fantastically, a key figure in their push to win La Liga and the Champions League.

Still only 20, Bellingham has hit 20 goals for Real Madrid across all competitions this season in 34 games, as well as providing 10 assists. He won the 2023 Kopa Trophy, the equivalent of the Ballon d’Or for players under the age of 21, so it’s not too much of a surprise to see him in the conversation.

“If he keeps doing what he’s doing then why not?” Wayne Rooney said last year when asked about Bellingham potentially winning the Ballon d’Or.

“Again we’ve gone through that cycle of Messi and Ronaldo where they’ve dominated that. I’m sure there will be five or six players fighting to try and win the next one. I’m sure if he keeps doing what he’s doing he’ll be right up there.

“It’s great to see a young English lad take the opportunity to go and play abroad, be brave, he did really well in Germany and is now at one of the biggest club in the world and really shining. I’m really pleased for him and hopefully he can take that into the Euros and help us be successful.”

Phil Foden

One Englishman who could rival Bellingham for years to come is Phil Foden. Slightly older now at 23, Foden is more of a star for the present (and future) than a wonderkid, but he still gets included in the conversation.

This season Foden has really stepped up as Manchester City have had to deal with the absences of Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne at various points, and he has been directly involved in 32 goals in 45 games across all competitions. It’s already his best-ever season for Man City, but this isn’t a purple patch, Foden has been on the up for years. He’s also becoming a bigger part of England’s team, though Gareth Southgate struggles to get as much out of Foden as Pep Guardiola does.

Nevertheless, Brentford manager Thomas Frank believes Foden is England’s best chance for a Ballon d’Or winner, saying recently: “Phil Foden is a very good player. For me, he’s the closest England get to a Ballon d’Or winner in the future. I think he has that potential, that level.”

Florian Wirtz

The latest man to be backed for Ballon d’Or glory is 20-year-old Florian Wirtz, and it’s so easy to understand why. Wirtz has been the next big thing to come out of Germany for a few years now, but his progress was hampered by an injury suffered in March 2022 that kept him out for the rest of the year.

Already an assist king, Wirtz picked up exactly where he left off in 2023. This season Wirtz is the only Bundesliga player to hit double figures for goals (11) and assists (10) this season and is one of just two players in Europe’s top five leagues to achieve the feat, after Ollie Watkins. Wirtz reached the double-double with a hat-trick against Werder Bremen at the weekend, coming off the bench to help Bayer Leverkusen secure their first ever Bundesliga title.

He is already being linked with a host of big European clubs, including Barcelona. But while Bayer Leverkusen CEO Fernando Carro has ruled out an immediate departure for Wirtz, he did back the German for a potential future Ballon d’Or.

“I don’t want to compare players, but Wirtz for me is one of the best German players – if not the best,” Carro told AS when asked about comparisons between Wirtz and Pedri.

“In his position there are many good young players at Barça, but for me this is clearly a possible future Ballon d’Or [winner].”

Lamine Yamal

Pedri and Gavi have both been backed to win the Ballon d’Or in the future, but both of their careers have momentarily stagnated due to injury problems. However, Barcelona do still have a potential Ballon d’Or winner in their team, and he’s been given the highest of backings.

Lamine Yamal made his La Liga debut last season but played just seven minutes in a 4-0 win over Real Betis towards the end of the campaign. He was bumped up to the first team last summer and hasn’t looked back. At times, Yamal has been the shining light in periods of struggle, and has hit 10 goal involvements in La Liga this season. Just in case you didn’t know, he’s 16.

Yamal is the youngest ever player to play in a Champions League knockout game, doing so aged 16 years and 223 days, while also being the youngest player to score for Spain, the youngest to score in La Liga, the youngest to assist in the Champions League, the youngest player to assist in a Champions League knockout game and the youngest to score in the Copa del Rey.

When discussing potential future Ballon d’Or winners, Messi namechecked Yamal among some of the more understandable favourites.

“There is a generation of players that can compete in the coming years. There are the cases of Haaland, Mbappé, Vinicius… I don’t know, there are many young people,” he told L’Equipe after winning his eighth Ballon d’Or.

“Lamine, who is now very young and is already playing at Barcelona and being important… will play a prominent role and fight for it in the future too. There are always good players. A very nice stage is coming to for us to enjoy.”


Moving back to Real Madrid, Vinicius Jr is another name that has been talked about a lot when it comes to future Ballon d’Or winners. But it’s his compatriot Rodrygo who has been tipped by Real Madrid president Florentino Perez to win the Ballon d’Or.

Just six months younger than Vinicius, Rodrygo has had to play second fiddle for most of his Real Madrid career, but he has been thriving these past few seasons. This year, Rodrygo has been the main man to replace Karim Benzema through the middle, scoring 10 goals in La Liga so far — one of three Los Blancos players to hit double figures for goals in the league this season after Bellingham and Vinicius Jr.

Jamal Musiala

It’s pretty unfair for Germany to have two of the best young attacking midfielders in world football playing at the same time. We already spoke about Wirtz, so now it’s time to mention Jamal Musiala, Kopa Trophy runner-up to Jude Bellingham last year

It wasn’t a close contest, but Musiala had a good claim for the award after scoring 12 goals and providing 10 assists to help Bayern Munich win the Bundesliga.

Even this season, while Bayern have dropped the title for the first time since Musiala was nine, the German has 10 goals and six assists in the Bundesliga.

“He’s a fabulous footballer. In a world where we talk about stats and data, he ticks that box, but it’s on the eye test where he comes alive; the way he receives the ball, he’s elusive, he rides a tackle and gets through traffic with HD. He’s a fantastic footballer,” Rio Ferdinand said of him recently.

“I think the highest compliment I can give him is that I don’t know where his ceiling is. Most players even at 20/22 years old, you go ‘I think they are going to get to this level and that’s them.’

“This guy has the potential to win the Ballon d’Or. I’ve said it before, he has the potential to do that if the path goes the right way for him and he’s in a successful team. That’s the platform and foundation for that.”