The Ballon d’Or is arguably the most prestigious individual award in modern football, celebrating the beautiful game’s best player from the previous year.
Now it is worth noting that the Ballon d’Or is not the be-all-and-end-all of football. It’s often biased towards those who shine in the Champions League.
Media hype, big moments, and trophies won usually take precedence in the voting over individual performances.
In fact, all Ballon dOr winners since 2007 has either won the Champions League or been the competition’s top goalscorer, and all since 2007 have reached at least the semi-finals stage.
With no obvious standout, however, this summer’s international tournaments could be decisive. Lionel Messi and co. will compete in the Copa America, while Europe’s finest battle it out at the European Championships.
As things stand, here are the top ten leading candidates for the 2021 Ballon d’Or.
10) Erling Braut Haaland
Erling Haaland has absolutely exploded onto the scene in the last two years, going from a relatively unknown teenager to one of the game’s hottest properties.
Since his move to Borussia Dortmund, the Norwegian has been truly special, scoring a staggering 53 goals in 56 appearances in all competitions.
This has prompted several of Europe’s elite clubs to keep an eye on him, with a fierce bidding war expected this summer.
With ten goals, Haaland is almost certainly going to be the Champions League’s top scorer for 2020/21. This will be his main claim to the prize.
However, he may end the season without any silverware, with just the DFB Pokal left to play for. Even then, this probably won’t be enough.
In addition, Norway failed to qualify for Euro 2020. Haaland has been individually brilliant, but his chances are looking slim.
9) Phil Foden
Foden had to be patient before getting his opportunity at Manchester City. But it has all been worth the wait, and now he’s shining in a brilliant team.
The youngster has put in several top-class performances on the big stage for his club, scoring in both legs of the Champions League quarter-final against Borussia Dortmund and assisting Riyad Mahrez in the semi-finals. A big performance in the final will do wonders for him.
Being a young English talent in a big side, he has generated an incredible amount of hype, which will help his bid for the award.
On the other hand, he could be overshadowed by some of Man City’s other superstars (but more on them later).
Nonetheless, if he secures the treble at club level and does well with England in the summer, he may have a decent shot.
8) Harry Kane
Speaking of Englishmen, here’s the best of the bunch.
Tottenham Hotspur have been wildly inconsistent this season, but Kane has never let his standards slip. The forward reached new heights this year, leading the Premier League in both goals and assists with 21 and 13 respectively.
It is this form that has put him among the leading contenders for the PFA Player of the Year award. Given his numbers, he would be a worthy winner.
Furthermore, he is set to captain his country into a tournament while in the form of his life. Another international Golden Boot in his collection would surely draw in a few more votes.
However, Euro 2020 is his last chance to lift a trophy this term. The last player to win the Ballon d’Or without winning a trophy was Cristiano Ronaldo in 2013 – and he’s…well…Cristiano Ronaldo.
If he wins PFA Player of the Year as well as Euro 2020, Kane could have a shot at the Ballon d’Or. If not, then he is likely out of the running.
7) Bruno Fernandes
Fernandes is in a similar position to Kane. He is one of the favourites for PFA Player of the Year but may not win a trophy.
Even if Manchester United defeat Villarreal in the Europa League final, he will likely need a triumph with Portugal at Euro 2020 to stand a chance at the Ballon d’Or.
And, if Portugal win the tournament for the second time running, they have other stars who may take precedence.
But let’s not forget just how brilliant the midfielder has been this season. He one of only nine players in Europe’s top five leagues to hit double figures for goals and assists and put in a magical performance in their semi-final tie against Roma at Old Trafford.
If he scoops the PFA Player of the Year award, wins the Europa League, and performs well at Euro 2020, he would not be out of the contest.
6) Kevin De Bruyne
Man City have already won the Carabao Cup, are about to confirm the Premier League title, and are in the Champions League final.
Kevin De Bruyne is widely considered to be Man City’s best player.
Add these two pieces of information together, and De Bruyne becomes one of the favourites for the Ballon d’Or.
The Belgian has been excellent once again for the Cityzens, scoring five and assisting 11 in their comfortable Premier League season – only Kane has set up more goals.
But it’s his Champions League performances that have been really special. In his seven outings in Europe, the midfielder has bagged three goals and four assists, including a goal in every round of the knockouts.
Belgium are expected to compete for the trophy at Euro 2020, sitting at the top of the FIFA World Rankings. If he can end the season with four trophies under his belt, he will stand an excellent chance of winning the prize.
5) Cristiano Ronaldo
Remember when we said earlier that winning Euro 2020 might not be enough for Bruno Fernandes because other Portuguese players would take precedence? Yeah, this is the main man we were talking about.
Despite being 36 years of age, Cristiano Ronaldo continues to be one of the best players in the world. The forward is six goals clear in the Capocannoniere race, putting him on course for the fifth Golden Boot of his career.
However, he still has a long way to go if he wants to win his sixth Ballon d’Or. For his superhuman standards, he had a pretty underwhelming Champions League campaign, failing to register a goal against Porto as Juventus crashed out in the round of 16.
He has also missed out on the Serie A title and has only one chance left to win a major honour at club level this term. Even then, winning the Coppa Italia probably won’t draw in many votes.
But if he can get his hands on the Euro 2020 trophy, then he will be well among the leading candidates for the Ballon d’Or.
4) Ruben Dias
And somehow, there could be one Portuguese player who outshines Ronaldo. That man is Ruben Dias.
The centre-back was brought in from Benfica last summer for a club-record fee. It’s safe to say he’s been a hit at the Etihad Stadium.
Dias has been colossal at the back for Man City and is one of the frontrunners for the PFA Player of the Year award. He has already one trophy in the bag and will likely add at least one more.
But it’s not just domestically where he has been excellent. In the Champions League, he has put in some top-class performances, keeping the likes of Erling Haaland, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar quiet. He won Man of the Match for his battling display in the second leg against PSG and has even drawn comparisons to Man City legend Vincent Kompany.
Premier League, Carabao Cup, PFA Player of the Year, Champions League, Euro 2020 – if Dias wins all five, it will be tough to ignore him.
3) Robert Lewandowski
Last year’s honorary winner is back to contest for the crown.
In the 2019/20 season, Lewandowski won the Bundesliga, DFB Pokal, and the Champions League, finishing as the top scorer in all three competitions. If that’s not Ballon d’Or worthy, then nothing else is.
The 32-year-old may already have a few votes in the bag out of sympathy for last year’s award being cancelled.
But if he does win it this time around, it will be his exceptional numbers that earn it for him. At the time of writing, the forward has scored 39 (yep, THIRTY-NINE) league goals in 27 appearances.
If he scores two more in his final two games, he will set a new record for most goals in a single Bundesliga season, currently held by the great Gerd Muller.
Unfortunately, a poorly timed injury could prove costly. He missed about a month with a knock sustained on international duty, which kept him out of both Champions League quarter-final legs against Paris Saint-Germain, which Bayern Munich lost on away goals. The general consensus is that they would have progressed had he been on the pitch.
He may also have a hard time making an impact at Euro 2020. Playing for Poland, he is unlikely to get very far. At the World Cup in 2018, he failed to score a goal and was eliminated in the group stages.
Then again, if he can continue to score goals and drag his side to the latter stages of the tournament, it will only strengthen his case – much like Luka Modric in 2018.
2) Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi will be amongst the contenders for the Ballon d’Or until the day he retires, probably – given that he’s considered by many to be the greatest player ever to kick a ball.
It took a while for the little man to get going, but once he hit his stride, he was producing the magic that we’ve come to expect from him.
He has scored 36 goals in all competitions – including a brace in the Copa del Rey final – and has added a further 12 assists. And that’s not factoring in the ridiculous amount of work he does outside of direct goal contributions.
As things stand, Barcelona are looking like they will miss out on the La Liga title. With three games remaining, they need Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid to both drop points.
If this happens, however, a domestic double will be useful for Messi’s cause, especially given the off-pitch troubles that the Catalan side have had over the past year.
His Champions League output will hinder him, however. Aside from one screamer against PSG, the Argentine was well below his usual standards in the tournament.
Whether he wins a seventh Ballon d’Or could all hinge on this summer’s Copa America. The biggest criticism of Messi’s illustrious career is his failure to win anything on the international stage.
If he can get that elusive trophy with Argentina, it will probably make him the favourite for the award.
1) Kylian Mbappe
Kylian Mbappe is expected to win the Ballon d’Or at some point in his career. It could come sooner than you think.
As mentioned earlier, those who produce in the Champions League are often favoured for the prize. The pacey forward did exactly that.
His knockout campaign began perfectly, netting a hat-trick at the Camp Nou in a 4-1 victory. He continued this into the second leg, converting from the penalty spot.
His next fixture came against Bayern Munich, who had defeated PSG in the final a year earlier. Mbappe got his revenge, scoring a brace at the Allianz Arena from just two shots.
Unfortunately, there is a decent chance that the 22-year-old could go trophy-less this season.
They are three points behind Lille with just two games remaining and were eliminated from the Champions League by Man City in the semi-finals. They’re still in the Coupe de France, but this won’t attract a lot of attention.
But this cannot be blamed on Mbappe, who has been brilliant in all competitions. He is Ligue 1’s top scorer, netting 25 – six more than Memphis Depay and Wissam Ben Yedder in second.
He will also be expected to continue this form into Euro 2020. He was one of the stars of the World Cup in 2018, winning Young Player of the Tournament and scoring in the final as France grabbed the trophy. If they repeat this feat, the award will surely be his.
Hype? Check. Big moments? Check. Goals? Check. High chance of starring at Euro 2020? Check. As of now, Mbappe is leading the race for the Ballon d’Or.
Neymar – The dazzling Brazilian can perhaps consider himself unlucky to have never won this award before. In fact, he would have had two if Messi and Ronaldo had not existed.
Neymar played reasonably well in the Champions League, especially in the quarter-final tie with Bayern Munich.
However, he failed to score a knockout goal, and has not met his usual standards in the league. He would likely need a supernatural performance at the Copa America to stand a chance.
Antoine Griezmann – A few months ago, it would’ve been absolutely ridiculous to consider Antoine Griezmann a Ballon d’Or candidate. In 2021, however, the Frenchman has started to live up to his nine-figure price tag.
The former Atletico Madrid man has been influential in getting Barcelona back among the title contenders and also scored the opener in the Copa del Rey final. If he shines for France in the summer, he could have a chance.
Griezmann has twice come close to winning the Ballon d’Or. In 2016, he was Player of the Tournament at the European Championships as France reached the final.
In 2018, he helped his national side to a World Cup triumph. He finished third in the voting on both occasions.
Romelu Lukaku – Juventus have dominated Serie A for a long time, but Inter Milan toppled them this season – and Romelu Lukaku was one of the main reasons why.
The Belgian has netted 21 league goals this campaign, behind only Ronaldo in the Capocannoniere race.
Crashing out in the groups of the Champions League may hurt his chances, but a strong Euro 2020 will be good for him. He often shines for his national team, becoming their all-time top goalscorer.