The Ballon d'Or 2022 countdown starts now, with new reforms announced – which might scupper Lionel Messi's plans of an eighth award.
Starting from 2022, the prestigious trophy will be awarded for the previous season, rather than a calendar year, with the ceremony moved back to the autumn. Just 100 journalists will get to vote in future – from FIFA's top-ranked century of nations – while the women's award will be voted for by a journalist from the top 50.
We're over halfway through the 2021/22 season – and the favourites list for the Ballon d'Or is already shaping up…
Who are the favourites for the Ballon d'Or?
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1. Karim Benzema: 4/1
He just can't stop scoring. Big Benz has hat-tricks against Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea in the Champions League knockouts, along with a brace at the Etihad – surely that panenka is worth two goals, too?
Karim Benzema is now the favourite for the Ballon d'Or with the bookies, especially given that Real Madrid have sauntered to a title thanks to over 40 of his goals this season. Oh, and Benzema was a part of that Nations League win, too, with a goal in the final. He could be a good bet for the prize this time.
2. Mohamed Salah: 13/2 (opens in new tab)
The outstanding player in the Premier League this season, Mohamed Salah has gone from strength to strength.
Salah scored 16 goals in 21 Premier League games before going to the Africa Cup of Nations, where he finished as a runner-up, scoring vital goals for Egypt along the way. He's also notched eight goals in his first seven Champions League games – and with Liverpool expected to go far in Europe, that number can only increase.
With the Ballon d'Or switching to become more aligned with what a player achieves over a single season, there's plenty of hope for Liverpool fans that their Egyptian King will become only the second-ever African winner after 1995's George Weah.
3. Kevin De Bruyne: 13/2 (opens in new tab)
Kevin De Bruyne came into form at just the right time. After a slow first half of the season, the ginger genius has managed goals against Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, Atletico Madrid and now Real Madrid, to almost single-handedly drag Manchester City to twin titles of the Premier League and Champions League
While Bernardo Silva and Joao Cancelo have arguably been better than KDB, never underestimate the headline-maker to steal the plaudits. He's an outside bet at current but few would be shocked if De Bruyne doesn't play a huge role in at least one piece of silverware for the Citizens this season.
4. Kylian Mbappe: 12/1 (opens in new tab)
PSG's European exit has dented Kylian Mbappe's dreams of the golden ball and unfortunately, he'll only be trying his damnedest to drag France to another World Cup title after the Ballon d'Or has been awarded.
Mbappe at least has an ace up his sleeve, in that his Nations League final goal has already decided one 2021/22 trophy. Another, surely, will follow at PSG.
If this award was chosen on ability and talent alone, then Mbappe would surely be in the top two. He might have to score a few more goals and win a title in Paris in order to compete with other names this time around, though…
5. Robert Lewandowski: 14/1 (opens in new tab)
28 goals in his first 25 Bundesliga matches; 12 in his first eight Champions League games, including the fastest-ever hat-trick in a 7-1 rout of Red Bull Salzburg. By now, these numbers are routine for Robert Lewandowski.
For some, the Pole missing out on the last two awards – one due to COVID, one due to Messi – is a great injustice that needs correcting this season. Bayern stormed to a tenth title in a row – though their quarter-final Champions League exit will damage his case. France Football really look set to complete a hat-trick of ignoring this super striker, don't they?
6. Sadio Mané: 25/1 (opens in new tab)
He might have left Liverpool this summer, were it not for his incredible reinvention as a No.9. Sadio Mané is now front and (literally) centre for the Reds' dreams of four cups – and he's an outside bet for the biggest individual prize in football.
Should the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup all end up on Merseyside, Mané will stand alone as the only player to have won five major trophies this year, thanks to his win at the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal. Surely that's an achievement that even France Football wouldn't overlook – especially if he manages a couple of winning goals in finals…
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Mark White has been a staff writer on FourFourTwo since joining in January 2020, writing pieces for both online and the magazine. Over his time on the brand, he has interviewed the likes of Aaron Ramsdale and Jack Wilshere, written pieces ranging on subjects from Bobby Robson's season at Barcelona to Robinho's career, and has been to the FA Cup and League Cup finals, working for FFT.
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