It was announced in March that the rules for Ballon d’Or voting have changed, the key difference being that the award will be based on performances over a single season rather than a calendar year. The nominees will be announced in August, and the winner will be announced in October. So performances at the 2022 World Cup, which will begin in November, will not be weighed this year — maybe they’ll be remembered for the 2023 award.
A further change is to reduce the importance of trophies won, the intention being to identify the best footballers over the season, not simply those who benefited from being on top teams.
I have to say that I dislike this sort of award, which elevates a few players above their teammates, seemingly the antithesis of what wins matches and silverware. But I know that a many fans really like the idea, so I’ll look at some of the favorites for this year’s award, and I hope that you will share your thinking and other suggestions in the comments below. I doubt that everyone will see things exactly the same way!
Looking back over the award winners over the past 15 years (noting that no award was made in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic), two names stand out: Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. At least one of them has been in the top three EVERY year since 2007, and one of them won 12 of those 14 awards.
Still, things must change eventually, and perhaps this is the year? Since neither Messi nor Ronaldo won many trophies this season, perhaps the rule change will allow one of them to sneak in?
That’s not what the bookies think though, so let’s look at some of the favorites. The odds are sourced from bookmakers.co.uk, and are correct at time of writing, but they’ve been fluctuating a lot so nothing is certain!
Cristiano Ronaldo (39/1)
Seriously? People will vote for him just because he’s Ronaldo? Considering the poor state of the rest of his Man United team, Ronaldo does stand out, scoring 18 Premier League goals and six more in the Champions League, plus a further eight in competitive games for Portugal. He’s unquestionably still a key player for both club and country, but he can’t win this time can he?
Lionel Messi (25/1)
Messi was a slightly surprising winner last time, so this is surely the bookies just raking in dumb money. He managed only six goals (plus 14 assists) for Paris Saint-Germain over the season, and arguably he wasn’t even the stand-out player for his own team, let alone in the world. But you can’t completely discount him.
Kylian Mbappé (20/1)
Another PSG player, and his figures dwarf those of Messi: 39 goals plus 26 assists. PSG comfortably won Ligue 1, but fell at the last 16 stage in the Champions League. Trophies aren’t meant to have as much importance this year, so Mbappé’s chances hinge on how much that’s taken into account.
Robert Lewandowski (20/1)
Last year’s runner up is again one of the challengers for this year’s award. He was an early favorite but has been slipping in the betting so that (for many) he’s no longer in the top three. 35 Bundesliga goals in 34 appearances is impressive by any measure, and his consistency over the past few seasons must count for something, but last year was the only time he finished in the top three, so perhaps not. Still, he has cracked the podium, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him there again.
Mo Salah (14/1)
It’s surprising to find that Salah has never made it to the Ballon D’or podium, so could this be his year? Joint winner of the Permier League golden boot with 23 goals plus a further 13 assists to lead the league, earning two English cup trophies and coming agonizingly close as runner up in the African Cup of Nations (to Senegal), Premier League Title and Champions League while losing out to Senegal (again) in World Cup qualifying. His was a tremendously successful season by any standard, yet he is not even the bookies’ favorite from Liverpool!
Sadio Mané (12/1)
His figures are not as impressive as Salah’s, with ‘only’ 16 Premier League goals plus 2 assists. But his goals often came at critical times, like the Champions League semi-final, and his superior record in internationals puts him narrowly ahead of Salah in current odds. He’s ahead of Salah on trophy count, thanks to his exploits with Senegal, so it will be interesting to see how this pans out, and will be a good indicator of how effective the lessening of importance of trophies really is.
Karim Benzema (1/5)
Here is a clear bookies favorite, and with good reason given his end of season exploits in the Champions League. Real Madrid won La Liga title comfortably, Benzema contributing 27 goals plus 12 assists there. Sound enough, but look at what he did in the Champions League: 15 goals plus 2 assists with most of those goals coming in the crucial knockout games. Hattricks against PSG and Chelsea (including the winner in the second leg), two goals against Man City, and the coolest penalty winner in the second leg. OK, he didn’t score in the final, but Real Madrid would have been nowhere near the final without him.
So it looks like Benzema is the nailed-on winner, but the podium places are quite uncertain.
Two Liverpool players? Will they count against each other?
No Man City players in the top few — Kevin De Bruyne has slipped in the odds, otherwise he’d have been mentioned above. Manchester City has such breadth of talent that it is hard for individuals to stand out, and although they won the Premier League, their extremely narrow defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinal hurts their players’ chances.
Who else do you think should be mentioned? What criteria would you be using to rate players for the award? Why are all the favorites forwards? How could the award reward players in any position? After all, if a team had only forwards they would not be very successful. Whom would you pick as winner? Please take our poll and let us know in the comments below.
Who should win the 2022 Ballon d’Or?
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