2021 Ballon d'Or
The 2021 Ballon d’Or will be handed out in December, but it is never too early to look at the potential candidates, including Lionel Messi. (Photo by Kristy Sparow/Getty Images)

Ballon d’Or Candidates: Will Messi Get His Seventh?

Football’s ultimate individual honor was canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Robert Lewandowski’s incredible season with Bayern Munich was left unrewarded as football’s most important golden ball escaped him once again. Fear not, Bayern and Polish fans, because, despite an injury, the 32-year-old once again finds himself amongst the candidates for the 2021 Ballon d’Or. The award will not be handed out until December, providing players with ample opportunity to either cement themselves as favorites or fall out of contention entirely. With that, here are the top five 2021 Ballon d’Or candidates.

Honorable Mentions

  • Cristiano Ronaldo; Striker; Juventus and Portugal
  • Kevin de Bruyne; Midfielder; Manchester City and Belgium
  • Erling Haaland; Striker; Borussia Dortmund and Norway
  • Harry Kane; Striker; Tottenham and England
  • Neymar Jr.; Forward; Paris Saint-Germain and Brazil

5. Romelu Lukaku: Striker – Inter Milan and Belgium

The Belgian striker has fully assimilated into Italian club football and he illustrated that with 30 goals and 11 assists in all competitions for Inter. Those 41 goal contributions helped lead the club to their first Serie A title in over a decade. Lukaku has now led Belgium into the quarterfinals of the 2020 Euros, scoring three goals in four matches along the way. The 28-year-old has finally grown into the physical gifts he was granted with his link-up play and physical presence in the 18-yard box providing loads of problems for any opponent. If Lukaku can guide the Belgian team to victory in the Euros, he very well could take home both the Golden Boot (top goalscorer) and Player of the Tournament, which could cement his place at the number one spot on this list.

4. Lionel Messi: Winger/Forward/#10 – FC Barcelona and Argentina

The man who needs no introduction and has won the Ballon d’Or a record six times, finds himself again in contention for the award that has become his to win or lose. Lionel Messi may be getting old – he turned 34 just a week ago – but the Argentine’s vision and left foot still amaze. The Catalan magician has been putting on quite the show for the past 15 years and he did it again with 38 goals and 12 assists in all competitions for Barcelona. He really turned it on in the new year, however, with 28 of those goals and nine of the assists coming since January, according to beIN Sports. While these may be somewhat “average” stats over the course of his career, it still puts him in the upper echelon of footballers today. Messi is also playing in Copa America – essentially, South America’s version of the Euros – where he has three goals and two assists whilst guiding Argentina into the quarterfinals. A trophy at the international level would not only cement Messi’s place as the clear-cut favorite for the 2021 Ballon d’Or, but also answer his critics’ one gripe: that he does not win with Argentina.

3. Kylian Mbappé: Forward – Paris Saint-Germain and France

This is being written following France’s collapse against Switzerland in the Round of 16, where we saw another 3-1 lead in sports evaporate. France had plenty of chances to put the game away, but Mbappé was responsible for the most egregious error of them all. The young Frenchman’s penalty was saved by the Swiss goalkeeper and the once-favorited French national team was eliminated from the 2020 Euros. Mbappé did have a remarkable season, however, scoring 42 goals and adding 11 assists throughout all competitions with PSG. He scored in the 81st minute of the Coupe de France to secure his club’s 14th title at the competition. While his chances at his first Ballon d’Or have slimmed a bit, the 22-year-old could lift the golden ball if no other player on this list wins a continental tournament.

2. Robert Lewandowski; Striker; Bayern Munich and Poland

The man who missed out on his first Ballon d’Or last year is in a great position to win it this year. Lewandowski is 32 years old, and despite his phenomenal run of form for both club and country, he will soon lose the battle with father time. That being said, you might not know it if you looked at his stats. The Bayern striker scored 46 goals and tacked on eight assists in all competitions for his club. He was even able to put three in the net at the Euros even as the Poles failed to advance out of the group stage. Statistically, Lewandowski had the best season of anyone on this list. Couple that with a Bundesliga title and Club World Cup trophy, and you may be looking at the 2021 Ballon d’Or winner.

1. N’Golo Kante; Central Midfielder; Chelsea and France

The universally beloved footballer may finally get the individual hardware that fans, pundits, and players alike know he deserves. N’Golo Kante is the epitome of a box-to-box midfielder, and while he may not create a lot of chances in the final third, his knack for hunting down passes and closing gaps makes him the best at his position. The 5’6″ Frenchman rockets around the pitch to such a degree that it sometimes looks like there are clones of him out there. His stats may not blow you away, as he managed just three assists for Chelsea in all competitions and scored one goal in the UEFA Nations League for France, but he does everything that does not show up in a scorebook. With Chelsea winning the Champions League and Kante being the central figure for the squad, he is certainly the current favorite for the 2021 Ballon d’Or.

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