The Golden Ball award has four cool contenders even without Messi and Ronaldo

The best player will be chosen based on the season’s results, not the year: the main criterion is personal statistics.

Robert Lewandowski,  Lionel Messi and Cristano Ronaldo in the Best FIFA Football Awards
Robert Lewandowski, Lionel Messi and Cristano Ronaldo in the Best FIFA Football Awards

Over the past 14 years, only one player squeezed in between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi on the list of the most prestigious individual trophy – Luka Modric took the Golden Ball in 2018. The Croatian won the vote mainly due to Real Madrid’s triumph in the Champions League and the national team’s appearance in the World Cup final. In March, L’Équipe revealed the new rules for determining the best player. The team’s success is now only second best. Here are the main changes that have been introduced since this year:

  • The best player is determined by the season’s results, not the year.
  • The main criterion is an individual achievement
  • Team awards come in second place.
  • In third place is the player’s class and commitment to Fair Play.

The results of the 2022 World Cup will be taken into account in the election of the best player next year. With the new interpretation and timing of the World Cup awarding, there should be fewer disputes and scandals like last year – Lewandowski was better in terms of statistics; still, Messi had a big trophy with the national team. On the other hand, it is unclear how you can compare the individual achievement of a goalkeeper and a striker or a holding midfielder with a playmaker? Or, van Dijk, Kante, or Courtois now have no chance for the award because of their role: the stats of the attacking players will always look cool.

There are four clear contenders for the top individual prize in soccer. None of them has taken the trophy before. Compared to Messi and Ronaldo, their stats are from another universe this season.

In addition, Messi and Ronaldo failed for the second year to pass the Champions League 1/8: in the spring of 2021, it was Barça and Juve; now, it is PSG and Manchester United. The era of the two major stars of world soccer is ending. We cannot say that young kids are replacing them: Salah is 29, Lewandowski is 33, Benzema is 34. The 23-year-old Mbappe stands out from this line. It is worth recalling that Messi won his first Ballon d’Or when he was a year younger. 

MORE: How to watch Barcelona live stream

Who’s up for the Ballon d’Or award this year?

Kylian Mbappe (PSG)

  • What can win this season: The French League 1
  • What he won’t win: Champions League, French Cup

Right now, the Frenchman is the best performer among all the contenders. Injuries bypass Kylian – this season, he has missed several matches, primarily due to yellow cards. Mbappe’s performance against Real Madrid was convincing: he brought the win in the first game and gave his team the lead in the return leg, but his efforts were undone by a disappointing 17 minutes in the second half at the Bernabeu.

Mbappe’s stats are fine, but if he is equal to his rivals (Lewandowski and Benzema are not so far behind), the teams’ performances will already come to the forefront. PSG is already out of the Champions League in the 1/8 finals, significantly reducing Kylian’s chances. If he really desires the throne after the departure of the two kings, he should opt for Real Madrid in the summer, but judging from the latest news, the Qatari owners managed to persuade Mbappe to a new contract with PSG.

MORE: How to watch PSG live stream

Robert Lewandowski (Bayern)

  • What can win: Champions League, The German Bundesliga
  • What he can’t win now: German Cup

The Pole deserved the Golden Ball for his outstanding performance. Twice in a row, he was skipped with the award: in 2020, France Football decided to cancel the vote because of the pandemic, and last year he was beaten by Lionel Messi. Lewandowski is currently 37 points ahead of the Argentine in goal+passes. Bayern has already won PSG in the UEFA Champions League and is not going to stop – they were drawn against Villarreal in the quarterfinals. Lewandowski leads the list of top scorers in the Champions League (12) and the Bundesliga (31).

The main threat to Robert regarding future voting is Karim Benzema, who is also all right with his results. In the final, the Champions League playoff grid does not rule out a meeting between Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. If one of the forwards manages to become the hero of the decisive match, his chances of winning the Ballon d’Or will increase manifold.

Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)

  • What can win: Champions League, La Liga
  • What won’t win: Spanish Cup

A hat-trick against PSG lifted the Frenchman to the top of the list of contenders for the Ballon d’Or. But even without that, Benzema had an outstanding season. 34 goals for Real Madrid is a record for his career, and there are still a dozen games ahead of him. If we compare his influence on the team’s game with the other contenders, Karim will outplay everyone.

Even with Lewandowski’s performance, his absence on the pitch does not affect Bayern much as Benzema’s loss to Real Madrid. The Frenchman is better than anyone else at creating and finding chances, and in that sense, only Mbappe can be compared with him. If Real Madrid manages to take the Champions League this year, Benzema is the favorite to win the vote. In the case of a Bayern win, Lewandowski will be the favorite.

Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)

  • What he can win: Champions League, EPL, FA Cup
  • Already won: English League Cup, Africa Cup silver

In terms of personal performance, Salah is inferior to the main favorites. Still, his performance is very high, and together with the teams’ trophies, the Egyptian has a chance to compete for the Ballon d’Or. He has already won the English League Cup with Liverpool and reached the African Cup finals with the national team. 

The likelihood of winning the UEFA Champions League and the EPL is very high – with such a track record, you can aim for the primary individual award. According to, Salah is now third in the rankings behind Lewandowski and Benzema. The remaining two months of the season in this race will be decisive.  

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