With just a few weeks remaining in the 2022/23 campaign, awards season is almost upon us. And there is no bigger award in football than the Ballon d’Or.
The prize, which has been running since 1956, celebrates the best footballer from the previous year. It is widely viewed as the most prestigious individual honour in the sport.
Although it won’t be announced until October, we will have a good idea of our frontrunners once the club season finishes on June 10. Here are our six main candidates for the gong.
For years, many questioned whether Lionel Messi was capable of reproducing his other-worldly club-level performances on the international stage.
Even after finally breaking his duck with Argentina at the 2021 Copa America, some maintained that he had to lift the World Cup before he could dine at the table alongside Pele and Diego Maradona.
That moment finally came, and there is now no doubt over Messi’s status as one of the greatest to ever kick a football. The 35-year-old himself was a standout, scoring seven, assisting three, and winning the Golden Ball.
Had the tournament been in the summer, he almost certainly would have won the Ballon d’Or. However, recency bias can play a part in these things. And, having failed to net a Champions League knockout goal, his chances have been harmed.
But while his campaign largely rests on his displays for Argentina, he has still been wonderful for Paris Saint-Germain. In 35 appearances for Les Parisiens, he has bagged 20 and assisted a further 18, helping his side to an eight-point lead in Ligue 1.
Erling Braut Haaland
The term ‘goal machine’ has been used frequently when describing a prolific striker, but it has never been more appropriate than in reference to Erling Braut Haaland. He is already set to scoop all sorts of individual prizes, but can he add the biggest one to his mantelpiece?
In the Premier League, he has scored 32 goals in 28 appearances, already equalling Mohamed Salah’s 38-game record. This also puts him way out in front in the race for the European Golden Shoe, nine ahead of second-placed Harry Kane.
And in the Champions League, he has also starred. He has 11 from seven outings, including six in the knockout stage.
If he can get four more from a maximum of four games, he will equal the record for most knockout goals in a single season, presently owned by Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.
Manchester City are chasing a treble, and Haaland is the man taking the headlines. He could end the year with three trophies and a bundle of records and awards to his name. Right now, he seems to be Messi’s main competitor.
But if there is one thing that could hold him back, it’s the World Cup, which he was absent from.
Kevin De Bruyne
Haaland’s numbers may be obscene, but he’d find it difficult without Kevin De Bruyne supplying him. The Belgian has once again been a superstar for the Cityzens and has cemented himself as one of the best midfielders in Premier League history.
With eight league matches remaining, the Belgian is on 15 assists. Five more will see him level the record for the most in a Premier League season, currently held by Thierry Henry and … Kevin De Bruyne. This tally also makes him the leading creator in Europe’s top five leagues, one ahead of Messi.
If Man City win the Champions League, the midfielder will almost guarantee himself a podium place. Whether he’ll do enough to outshine teammate Haaland is another matter.
Unfortunately, De Bruyne’s World Cup was also relatively weak, as he failed to register a goal contribution or make it out of the group stages. This could harm his chances.
Karim Benzema was another player who missed the World Cup, withdrawing through injury shortly before the tournament.
While this is a blot on his 2022/23 season, he could compensate with another stellar Champions League campaign.
Last year, he got his hands on the Ballon d’Or, largely down to his displays in Europe. His ten knockout goals helped Real Madrid to a 14th Champions League title.
If he can repeat this feat this season, he will give himself a great shot at retaining the award. So far, he has notched in every knockout game, striking against Liverpool and Chelsea.
Having won it in 2018, Luka Modric is looking to become only the tenth player to hold multiple Ballons d’Or. If he claims the prize this term, he will be the oldest winner since Stanley Matthews in the award’s inaugural year.
Every time the 37-year-old steps out onto the pitch, fans and pundits cannot help but be wowed by his performance. He controls games in a way that very few in history are capable of.
The Croatian enjoyed a strong showing at the World Cup, getting a bronze medal around his neck while also receiving the Bronze Ball. If he can pair this with a sixth Champions League trophy, he will be well in the running for the Ballon d’Or.
Kylian Mbappe has long been touted as the successor to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and it feels like only a matter of time before he gets his hands on a Ballon d’Or.
But, despite being widely viewed as the best player in the world, his campaign for the award is looking weak.
It’s a complicated issue for Mbappe. He has been sensational, scoring 32 at club level and winning the World Cup Golden Boot.
His outings in Qatar have been the highlight of his season. However, if the World Cup proves to be the determining factor, Messi would likely take precedence.
Had Mbappe produced more in the Champions League knockout stage, he may have grabbed the Ballon d’Or. But failing to score and exiting in the round of 16 has likely put an end to his hopes.
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