Ballon d’Or 2021 Shortlist — The Frontrunners, the Dark Horses and the Missing
After a gap of two years, the footballing world will finally witness their best players grace the streets of France, but in a formal attire. With COVID-19 at its peak last year, the ceremony of Ballon d’Or which recognizes the best players in the world for the past calendar year did not take place at all. But as the pandemic comes to a silent halt, the best in the game will surely get their much needed appreciation.
Just a few weeks ago, the French Football Federation announced its 30-man shortlist for the men’s best player award, which was received by the fraternity with mixed emotions. While some of them were the recurring greats, some were expected newcomers, other deserved players missed out on the list because of obvious numerical constraints. Nevertheless, with the award due to be handed out on the 29th of November this year, the next 30 days become extremely crucial in bridging the gap between the top few contestants who are expected to win the accolade.
First things first, let’s take a quick look at the 30-man shortlist announced and who are in the running to mark their place in the history books. Embed Tweet:
Without much ado, let’s dive straight into the stars who are leading the race for the award, those who could prove to be real dark-horses leading to a top-five finish and those who deserved to be on the list and did not make it. Here we go!
The Frontrunners — Those who lead the charts for the Ballon d’Or
You know you are the best, when you are recognized by the greats! In a special interview given to Bundesliga.com, Belgian midfielder Kevin de Bruyne backed Polish striker Robert Lewandowski for the coveted award, stating the latter’s heroics in front of the goal, which have not stopped even for a bit since 2020 began. In fact, Lewandowski has not gone more than 270 minutes without scoring a goal in the past couple of years or so. Incredible! Nobody matches the Poland International’s goal-scoring tally during this period.
The Bayern Munich striker had 32 goals in 26 games for his club in 2020 and stands at the tally of 55 goals in 47 games for his club till date in 2021, continuing from 2020. This led to Lewandowski winning the FIFA Men’s Best Player of the Year 2020, but the Ballon d’Or is considered to be the ultimate prize. Robert Lewandowski has to be the majority’s favourite to win the award this year.
In his illustrious career which is unparalleled when it comes to major awards, the only thing Lionel Messi lacked was an International honour. But 2021 greeted him with a lifetime surprise as the Argentine led his country to the Copa America trophy earlier this summer. On an honest note, Messi wouldn’t have been even close to the top-three of the Ballon d’Or 2021 if it wasn’t for the Copa America triumph.
The 34-year-old almost got closer to the award when he was on a hat-trick for his new club Paris Saint-Germain recently, but selflessly passed the opportunity for his team-mates to get on the score-sheet. The ex-Barcelona legend scored a cheeky but memorable panenka penalty against the German opposition, RB Leipzig, though. Lionel Messi is the only player who comes the most close to Lewandowski in the race for the Ballon d’Or 2021.
It was a summer that the Brazilian born — Italian International wouldn’t forget in his life-time. Unless of course, he replicates it. Jorginho won possibly everything in Europe with club and country at the end of the previous season. The Champions League with Chelsea and the Euros trophy with Italy puts him right up there with Lewandowski and Messi in the top-three race for sure.
More importantly, it was also a rebirth of the Italian Regista after he lost his place at Chelsea under Frank Lampard, just to become a core member of the team under new manager Thomas Tuchel. His exploits with Chelsea led to Roberto Mancini fixating him as the classic pivot for Italy, and the rest is history. Jorginho also won the UEFA Best Player of the Year earlier last month, and he is definitely making the top-three this year in the Ballonb d’Or race.
The Dark Horses — Those who could have a surprise entry to the top-five
It won’t be an exaggeration to say that Romelu Lukaku spear-headed Inter Milan’s title charge last season and with the blue half of Milan welcoming the much-awaited Scudetto, Lukaku’s purpose was fulfilled as he headed back to his boyhood club Chelsea. Nevertheless, with the Belgian scoring 24 goals and getting 11 assists in the process for the Nerazzurri, he could be well in place for a top-five finish in the Ballon d’Or race.
Not only that, but Lukaku was also instrumental in Belgium’s Euro run earlier this summer as he bagged four goals in five games, which included the penalty against the later winners Italy to hand the Azzurri their first failed attempt to keep a clean sheet after almost a year. The now Chelsea striker has been up and running for his new club too, scoring all types of goals as the Blues attempt to win over England this season.
Kevin de Bruyne
If there is one synonym for the term ‘Big game player’, it is surely none other than Kevin de Bruyne. The Manchester City stalwart has been at the peak of his career for quite some time now, but has never been formally acknowledged by the Ballon d’Or rankings yet as one of the top players in the world. This time though, with the numbers to support his pedigree and the titles to further support his claim, De Bruyne might just make it to the top-five of the list in the final rankings.
The 30-year-old had a phenomenal 2019–20 season as he ended the footballing year with 16 goals and 23 assists to his name. This was one of the top-three goal contribution tallies in Europe in the previous year. 2020–21 was a bit silent compared to the preceding season, but the attacking midfielder managed to still get 10 goals and 18 assists in a season which is considered to be his worst! That’s some numbers for someone who is now entering his 30s.
The nicest person in football who is always smiling, N’Golo Kante is a serial winner wherever he plays in Europe. After winning the miraculous Premier League title with Leicester, he has won the league with Chelsea too, adding a Champions League trophy and a World Cup trophy in his shot to fame. But this past season, he took his individual performances to another level as he was named the Champions League man of the match three times in the penultimate stages.
Kante also won the UEFA best midfielder of the year award a couple of months ago, which adds to his chances of making it to the top-five of the Ballon d’Or rankings this time. If the Frenchman gets enough votes to make it to the top-three, it will be an ode to his world class performances over the years even when his team has not performed well.
The Deserving — Those who missed out despite a marvelous season
One important factor which the footballing community tends to forget is that the Ballon d’Or 2021 award consists of an extended period of assessment this year. Due to the cancellation of the ceremony in 2020 due to COVID, the 2021 award will be the recognition of talent over the past two seasons. Despite this claim of the French Football Federation, there have been quite some big names missing on the list.
Though the English full-back’s previous season was marred by injuries and set-backs, Trent Alexander-Arnold was nothing short of legendary in Liverpool’s first Premier League title in 30 years, back in 2019–20. With 15 assists and 4 goals to his name, adding to it the innumerable times that the young Englishman contributed indirectly to Liverpool’s ferocious attacks, Alexander-Arnold was simply the world’s best right-back at one point of time.
After the debacle of a season last year, the Liverpool academy starlet has continued from where he left, this season, as the Reds continue to rampage onto the title on the back of some mind-blowing performances in the Premier League. Trent Alexander-Arnold at least deserved a top 30 spot for his exploits in the last two years.
One of the most under-rated players of this new generation, Joshua Kimmich just exploded in 2019–20 as he guided Bayern to the second Champions League title in his career. Kimmich, who had the best ball retention rate in Europe that season, continues to win trophies with Bayern Munich every year and is an integral part of the setup. His progress under new manager Julian Nagelsmann is surprising as to how the German manages to perform so consistently well.
Recently, after Bayern’s 5–1 win over Bayer Leverkusen, Kimmich was specifically asked about his curious omission from the Ballon d’Or shortlist, on which the 26-year-old was quick to brush aside any disappointments. Kimmich was reportedly ‘not bothered’ about individual accolades and wants to focus on winning trophies with his club and country.
There was a point of time during the 2020–21 season when Manchester City were struggling in the bottom half of the table after dropping a lot of points due to their leaky defense. In comes the Portuguese wall, Ruben Dias, and changes the entire scenario of the Premier League title race in a flash. Hailed as the signing of the season and further awarded as the PFA Player of the Year, Dias was instrumental in Manchester City winning their third title in the space of four years that too after one of the worst ever starts to the campaign.
The ex-Benfica defender also guided City to their first ever Champions League final, which they almost won, just for Chelsea to edge it with a 1–0 cushion. Nevertheless, Dias’ game-changing season was rewarded with the UEFA Defender of the Year award in the ceremony earlier this summer, which was very well deserved by the young centre-back.
The Ballon d’Or 2021 ceremony will be held at the Theatre du Chatelet in France on the 29th of November 2021. It will be interesting to see if Lionel Messi makes history by winning the award for the record seventh time in his career, or whether Robert Lewandowski or Jorginho edge out their name in the history of the game by beating Messi to it. Either way, football wins.