After being cancelled in 2020 the Ballon d’Or is back, with the great and good of the football world again eyeing the biggest individual honour the game has to offer.
The nominees for the 2021 prize have been announced, with 29 players joining 2019 winner Lionel Messi on the shortlist.
The winner will be announced on Monday, November 29 in Paris, so who holds the most power in this year’s race?
Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
In 2021: 43 goals, 14 assists. Won UEFA Nations League.
Karim Benzema continues to go from strength to strength following Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure from Real Madrid, and 2021 was arguably the best individual year of his career.
An all-round striker who can create goals as well as he can score them, Benzema has also made a triumphant return to international football with France, with his presence ensuring they will likely head to the 2022 World Cup as favourites to defend their crown.
N’Golo Kante (Chelsea)
In 2021: Two goals, one assist. Won Champions League & UEFA Super Cup.
Man of the Match in the Champions League final, as well as both legs of the semi-final win over Real Madrid, N’Golo Kante was on a tear towards the end of the 2020-21 campaign.
Injuries have disrupted the France international over the course of the past few years, but when he is on the pitch there is still no one better than what he does on the planet.
Getty ImagesJorginho (Chelsea)
In 2021: Nine goals, three assists. Won Euro 2020, Champions League & UEFA Super Cup.
Rightly or wrongly, Jorginho heads into the Ballon d’Or ceremony as one of the favourites for the award after a year in which he did the Champions League-European Championship double.
Voted UEFA Player of the Year off the back of that achievement, it would be fair to point out that the Chelsea star did play well both club and country as they won that silverware, even if he was not the standout for either.
It is for the latter reason, though, that he will likely come up just short in this race.
Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
In 2021: 64 goals, 10 assists. Won Bundesliga, Club World Cup & DFL-Supercup.
There is no doubt that Robert Lewandowski would have won the Ballon d’Or in 2020 had it not been controversially cancelled by France Football.
There is even a school of though that believes him carrying that form through into 2021 should mean he is an automatic selection to claim this year’s prize.
The Bayern Munich star could certainly not have done any more to force himself into the reckoning, and despite his second-placed ranking here, it would not be a surprise to see him on stage collecting the most coveted individual award in the sport on November 29.Getty Images
Lionel Messi (Paris Saint-Germain)
In 2021: 41 goals, 17 assists. Won Copa America & Copa del Rey.
Ballon d’Or number seven is now within touching distance for Lionel Messi, even if his relatively slow start to life at Paris Saint-Germain has seen the chasing pack close the gap considerably over the past three months.
Messi almost single-handedly dragged Barcelona to what would have been an unlikely La Liga title if they had got over the line during the opening months of 2021, before winning Player of the Tournament and the Golden Boot at the Copa America as the Argentine finally claimed his first major international trophy.
His goal record might not match that of Lewandowski’s, but Ballon d’Or voters do have a magpie-like nature to them, and enjoy the sight of players lifting silverware.
For that reason, Messi just has the edge in one of the closest fights for years.