The Ballon d’Or awards return this year after their 2020 cancellation due to the pandemic which has predictably generated plenty of debate.
European champions Chelsea ’s Cesar Azpilicueta, Jorginho, N’Golo Kante, Romelu Lukaku and Mason Mount were all on the list, while Man City’s Kevin De Bruyne, Ruben Dias, Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling also included.
Serie A are second in terms of representatives with Nicolo Barella, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Simon Kjaer and Lautaro Martinez all on the list, with Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, Gerard Moreno, Pedri and Luis Suarez the five La Liga stars included.
Paris Saint-Germain quartet Gianluigi Donnarumma, Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar are also included along with Bundesliga striking duo Erling Haaland and Robert Lewandowski.
Which of these 30 players stand a realistic chance of securing a podium finish? These are our top 10 footballers of 2021.
10) Mohamed Salah, Liverpool
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This year saw a tougher year for Liverpool after seasons in which they won the Premier League and Champions League in back-to-back seasons.
Jurgen Klopp’s side finished last campaign trophyless but did secure a top three finish and reached the Champions League quarter finals after rallying in the closing months of the campaign.
Despite his club side not reaching the heights of previous years, Salah netted 23 goals at club level in 2021 with two-and-a-half months remaining.
The Egyptian continued to establish himself as a truly world class player and despite approaching his 30 th birthday, appears to be in better physical shape than ever.
Salah is unlikely to threaten the podium, but a top 10 finish would be merited.
9) Kylian Mbappe, Paris Saint-Germain
It has been far from a vintage year for Paris Saint-Germain – who were beaten to the Ligue 1 title by Lille – nor for Kylian Mbappe, but he was still the most consistently effective star in the French capital.
The striker has netted 35 goals and counting this year for club and country, including six goals in the Champions League knockouts last season – including a hat-trick at Barcelona and two goals at Bayern Munich.
He also starred for France as they lifted the Nations League title this month, netting in the semi-final against Belgium and scoring in the final against Spain.
Mbappe appears destined to win this award at some stage in his career as he continues his decisiveness in football’s elite.
8) Erling Haaland, Borussia Dortmund
Erling Haaland continued his machine-like efficiency for Borussia Dortmund and Norway in 2021 with 41 goals and counting.
His goals propelled Dortmund to the Champions League quarter finals last season and the DFB Pokal crown, continuing his ratio as scoring a goal-per-game.
Aged 21, Haaland appears to be establishing a long-term rivalry with Mbappe as the two successors to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in terms of their remarkable goal output.
His lack of trophies and Norway failing to reach a major tournament will count against Haaland but his skillset is absolutely remarkable and a colossal transfer is rumoured to be likely next year.
7) Kevin De Bruyne, Man City
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The only Manchester City player to be included in our top 10 list, which may seem a little harsh – but lack of glory internationally has counted against many of Pep Guardiola’s sides.
Now aged 30, De Bruyne has had injuries this year but was still majestic for City whom he starred as they regained the Premier League title and reached their first ever Champions League final.
He is arguably the best player at assisting in world football and is arguably the best technical player right now but missing out on Champions League and Euro 2020 glory prevent him from being a major contender this year.
6) N’Golo Kante, Chelsea
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The French midfielder remains imperious for both club and country but suffered a second season of having injury problems.
Kante started just 46 Premier League matches since the start of the 2019/20 campaign out of a possible 83.
He starred as the Blues won the Champions League – a key player from the start in both semi-final legs against Real Madrid and in the final victory over Man City.
Kante won the Man of the Match award for his performance in the final and won the Champions League Midfielder of the Season.
An outsider for a podium finish but injuries are likely to count against him.
5) Cristiano Ronaldo, Juventus/Man United
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Having won the Ballon d’Or award a remarkable five times and his remarkable goal output, Cristiano Ronaldo is always likely to be in the mix.
The Portuguese superstar missed out on the Serie A title last season with Juventus but did hit 29 league goals – the highest in the division, while winning the Coppa Italia.
Ronaldo, 36, also won the Golden Boot at Euro 2020, despite Portugal being eliminated at the Round of 16 stage, with five goals in four appearances.
Have we got our rankings right? Should players be lower or higher? Or who have we missed? Let us know in the comments section below
Additionally, Ronaldo became the all-time leading international goalscorer (currently on 112 goals – three clear of Ali Daei) and has bagged nine goals in 10 appearances for Portugal in 2021.
A fast start at Manchester United – five goals in six appearances – will also help boost Ronaldo’s cause.
4) Lionel Messi, Barcelona/Paris Saint-Germain
The record six-time Ballon d’Or winner is many people’s favourites to add another title to his collection.
After all, Messi scored 38 goals in 47 games last season in what proved to be his final season at Barcelona before winning the Copa America (where he was top scorer and top assister) with Argentina – his first international title.
His output of 39 goals and 14 assists since the start of the 2020-21 season also stands in his favour, but not making his mark in the Champions League counts against him and also, the Copa America does not hold the same standing as achievement of the Euros.
Do not count against him winning the award again, but his history in this competition coupled with the outstanding achievements of others may count against him.
Messi said in a wide-ranging recent interview with France Football when asked on who he would vote for: “In my team there are at least two players for whom I’ll vote in Kylian and Neymar.
“Then [Robert] Lewandowski, who has had a great year. But there’s also Benzema.”
3) Jorginho, Chelsea
The one player who played a key role in both the Champions League and Euro 2020 successful teams this season makes Jorginho an automatic contender for the award.
The Italy international won the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year 2020-21 and was included in the Euro 2020 Team of the Tournament.
Blues boss Thomas Tuchel has said: “Jorginho deserves to win the Ballon d’Or. He’s a very intelligent player and it’s a pleasure to be his coach.”
Italy coach Roberto Mancini added: “He won everything last season. I would find it really strange if he does not win the trophy.”
Only four midfielders – Luis Figo in 2000, Pavel Nedved in 2003, Kaka in 2007 and Luka Modric in 2018 – have won the Ballon d’Or since the turn of the century.
Non-goalscoring midfielder Luka Modric won the award in 2018 – do not count out Jorginho scooping the prize.
2) Karim Benzema, Real Madrid
Karim Benzema currently leads Europe’s major leagues for both goals and assists in 2021-22 with a remarkable 40 goals and 16 assists for Real Madrid since the start of last season.
He has also enjoyed a return to the France international setup, for whom he netted five goals in 10 games and helped secure the Nations League title for them – netting in both the semi-final and final, the latter of which was a remarkable strike.
Real Madrid have lost stars in recent years but Benzema has not only become their most important and influential player, but also the standout player in La Liga.
Real Madrid tweeted after the Nations League final in Milan: “Congratulations to @equipedefrance and to all of the France football fans for the extraordinary #NationsLeague title and congratulations to our spectacular player @Benzema, Balón de Oro.”
Benzema said in an interview last week: “Since I was little, I have had the dream of winning the Ballon d’Or, which is the dream that all footballers have.”
The 33-year-old has enjoyed a trophy-laden and glorious career with an individual title a fitting reward and a podium finish should be expected, despite being an outsider with bookmakers.
1) Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich
Had the 2020 Ballon d’Or award not been cancelled – a decision which has subsequently been questioned – then the Poland international would surely have won his first individual crown.
His goals – 47 of them that year – spearheaded Bayern Munich to an emphatic treble with the German giants the best team in European football.
Lewandowski’s personal output increased even further this year – netting 50 goals across club and country, while Bayern’s Champions League exit coincided with his injury.
He broke Gerd Muller’s long-standing Bundesliga goalscoring record last year with a scarcely believable 41 goals in just 28 league starts.
Lewandowski did not win a major European or international title, but his numbers speak for themselves, and nobody could begrudge him the Ballon d’Or crown.