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ESPYS 2022: Benzema leads Mane, Mbappe and De Bruyne

The 2022 ESPYS have shortlisted four footballers for the Best International Athlete award in men’s soccer. 

Voters have until July 20 to cast their votes. Let’s take a look at all four candidates.

#1 Karim Benzema, Real Madrid 

After being forced to live in the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo for a decade, Karim Benzema has soaked up the limelight as Real Madrid’s leader in the wake of the Portuguese star’s departure.

Since Ronaldo left Spain to join Juventus in 2018, the France international has excelled, becoming the club’s top scorer in each competition over the past three years. 

But the 2021/22 campaign was particularly successful from the 34-year-old’s point of view. 

He did not only help Carlo Ancelotti’s side win the Champions League and La Liga but did it on his own terms. 

Benzema finished as La Liga’s top goalscorer and best playmaker with 27 goals and 12 assists to his name, respectively. 

He was even more impressive in the Champions League, producing a record-breaking campaign by many standards. 

No wonder Benzema is the leading candidate to win the Ballon d’Or this year.

#2 Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City

It turned out to be another year in the office for Manchester City’s midfield talisman Kevin De Bruyne following a troublesome start.

Fresh from overcoming an ankle injury sustained at Euro 2020, the 30-year-old hit a purple patch to orchestrate Man City’s fourth Premier League title in five seasons.

He has always been Pep Guardiola’s man for the big occasion. But his playmaking brilliance made the difference when it mattered the most in 2021/22. 

In 30 top-flight appearances last season, the Belgian racked up 15 goals and eight assists, embracing the responsibility to carry the Cityzens to another huge domestic success. 

It was not a coincidence that De Bruyne’s stellar individual campaign earned him the Premier League Player of the Season and City’s Etihad Player of the Season.

#3 Sadio Mane, Liverpool

Sadio Mane is bracing himself for a brand new career in the Bundesliga after completing his blockbuster switch from Liverpool to Bayern Munich last week.

However, before waving goodbye to Anfield, the Senegal international made sure to sign off in style, playing a prominent role in the Reds’ failed quadruple pursuit. 

An inspirational season saw the ex-Southampton forward clock up 23 goals and five assists from 51 outings as Liverpool won both domestic cup titles. 

It was a pity that Jurgen Klopp’s side suffered a Champions League heartbreak against Madrid. It would allow Mane to give the Merseyside faithful the best parting gift. 

But he at least made his country proud, guiding Senegal to their first-ever Africa Cup of Nations trophy at the expense of Mohamed Salah. 

It was a career-defining achievement for Mane, who won everything there was to win with Liverpool over the past six years. 

#4 Kylian Mbappe, Paris Saint-Germain

Kylian Mbappe was on his way to becoming the headline transfer story of the summer before ditching Madrid in favour of committing to a new deal at Paris Saint-Germain. 

Though his highly-anticipated move to the Santiago Bernabeu may have to wait for a while, Ligue 1 will enjoy the privilege of having him on the pitch for at least another season. 

Based on everything the laser-sharp forward has done in his homeland, his decision to turn down Los Merengues’ bid is a massive win for French football. 

Let’s forget how his teammates tarnished his utmost efforts to get them past Madrid in the Champions League round of 16 for a moment. 

Mbappe was the leading character as Mauricio Pochettino’s side recovered the Ligue 1 title from Lille in an emphatic fashion. 

With 28 goals and 19 assists under his belt, the 23-year-old won the Ligue 1 Golden Boot award and was named the Ligue 1 Player of the Year in the process. 

The sole fact he established himself as Paris’ standout performer next to the likes of Lionel Messi and Neymar speaks for itself. 

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