There was no Ballon d’Or last year. Interrupted domestic campaigns and the wider effects of COVID-19 meant France Football scrapped their annual bash. Instead, Robert Lewandowski – undoubtedly the best player in the world in 2021, having led Bayern to a treble courtesy of 48 goals in 40 games – had to make do with his FIFA and UEFA Best awards. The poor soul.
Fortunately for the goal-guzzling Pole, he’s among the favourites for the crown again this time. But he may have to outscore a familiar face if he’s to get what he’s owed from last season…
Lionel Messi (Odds from Bet365 – 1/2)
That’s right. The six-time-winner is the bookies’ favourite to win it again, after leading Argentina to Copa America glory back in July. It was Messi’s first major international triumph (if you don't count the Olympics) as he was crowned the best player and the top scorer (with four goals) in Brazil.
There will be some who claim Messi deserves diddly-squat after making a slow start to life in Paris, but let’s not forget he also won the Copa del Rey and La Liga’s golden boot after scoring 30 goals for a poor Barcelona side last term. There’s nothing like cold hard facts to spoil a pile on.
Robert Lewandowski (5/1)
It is widely believed that Lewandowski is “owed one” following last year’s frankly insane achievements. But, just to vanquish any talk of a gimme, Lewy has ensured the goals have kept raining down in Bavaria. There were 41 in the Bundesliga last season, a total which broke a 49-year-old record set by Gerd Mueller.
Lewandowski's goals inspired Bayern to another title last year – their ninth straight Meisterschale – and he has started this season in typically ruthless fashion. A quiet Euro 2020 may cost him, however.
It’s been a year to remember for Chelsea’s midfield metronome, who chased Champions League triumph against Manchester City in May with victory at Euro 2020 with Italy.
The 29-year-old was among the standout players at UEFA’s summer competition, ranking in the top five players for passes made and ball recoveries; evidence of his importance to Italy’s midfield. He also had the bottle to take penalties in the biggest moments – even if he did fluff a potential winner against England in the final shootout. An ever-present, ever-influential cog for club and country.
N’Golo Kante (12/1)
Like some belligerent nightclub doorman high on his own self-importance, N’Golo Kante takes great pleasure in deciding who can and can't join the party. If he doesn’t like the look of you (and your ten mates – honestly, what were you thinking?), you can forget about getting past him.
The classic water-carrier has been at it again this year, helping Chelsea to the Champions League title with a muscular man of the match display in May’s final. Without him, Jorginho couldn’t dictate games for the Blues, and Paul Pogba’s joyful passing range would be seen less regularly for France. He is the ultimate enabler. The creme de la creme of midfield generals.
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Cristiano Ronaldo (16/1)
Five goals in four games at Euro 2020 was enough to scoop the golden boot for a man who turned 36 before the tournament began. CR7 continues to defy time, rocking up at Manchester United over the summer – a homecoming Red Devils fans had been dreaming of for 12 long years – and immediately grabbing headlines.
The Portuguese was also top scorer in Serie A last season – despite Juventus having a meltdown under Andrea Pirlo – and will be hoping to secure the same title in England this season.
Mohamed Salah (50/1)
He's a bit lower down the list than some others not mentioned here (Kylian Mbappe at 20/1 Kevin De Bruyne at 25/1, Erling Haaland at 33/1...) but Salah's odds tumbled after his goal against Manchester City reminded everyone not on the Kop what a special, special player he is.
At the moment he's an outside bet, but don't count on that lasting long.
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