The 2021 Ballon d’Or well and truly got the awards season underway as football fans start to reflect on the past year in the beautiful game.
Lionel Messi and Alexia Putellas took home the main prizes at the glitzy gala in Paris, while the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Gianluigi Donnaruma were also garlanded for their 2021 achievements.
However, as supporters who were outraged by the Ballon d’Or results will be quick to tell you, France Football’s premier competition is by no means the one and only individual prize to go by.
Lionel Messi switched clubs this year but some things never change as he won the Ballon d’Or for a remarkable seventh time.
At a glittering ceremony in Paris’s Theatre Du Chatelet on Monday night, Chelsea were named Team of the Year for winning the Champions League but in the main award Messi, now of Paris St Germain, saw his status as the best player in the world confirmed once again.
He is the first man to win the Ballon d’Or in three different decades.
It has been argued that 2021 was ‘ordinary’ for Messi but his achievements in the last 12 months would still represent the achievements of a lifetime for others. He was the top scorer in La Liga with 30 goals for Barcelona and scored a remarkable effort in their Copa del Rey triumph over Athletic Bilbao.
Added to that, he went on to win the Copa America with Argentina, scoring five times (the most in that competition) and providing four assists. It was his first international success.
The PSG star was expected to lift the award once again but was up against some impressive talent – including free-scoring forwards Mohamed Salah and Lewandowski, while Jorginho was also tipped for the coveted prize after winning both the Champions League with Chelsea and Euro 2020 with Italy.
Some will wonder how Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich’s Polish goal machine missed out. He did his best to mask his disappointment and was magnanimous in defeat but missing out once again was clearly hurt. There was at least some consolation as he was named Striker of the Year.
He can feel hard done by after last year’s awards were scrapped due to fears around the Covid-19 pandemic, and the Polish star was expected to take home the prize had that edition gone ahead after winning the Champions League and scoring 55 goals in 47 games in the 2019-20 campaign.
The awards – which are voted for by 180 football writers from all over the world – saw Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema come just outside the top three as he finished fourth following his scintellating season for Los Blancos that saw him score 30 goals to help them win LaLiga.
Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante, who was integral as the Blues won the Champions League against Manchester City last season, came in fifth, with Cristiano Ronaldo having to settle for sixth. The Manchester United star was a notable absentee from the ceremony having slammed its chief Pascal Ferre for claiming his career ambition was to finish with more Ballon d’Or wins than Messi.
He had slammed his ‘lies’ and ‘disrespect’ for suggesting he would value winning against another footballer, insisting his goals were to win trophies for himself and his teams and set an example for others.
Ronaldo has endured a tough spell for United since returning from Juventus, but has still enjoyed a prolific year – scoring 36 for Juventus in Serie A and finishing as the league’s top scorer, before netting ten times since his move back to Old Trafford.
He saw off Liverpool’s Salah, who finished in seventh, while Manchester City midfielder Kevin de Bruyne capped a fabulous year by coming in eighth place. PSG forward Kylian Mbappe came ninth, while former Juventus keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma – who signed for the Parisens this summer, finished off the top ten.
Gianluigi Donnarumma won the Yachine Trophy for the best goalkeeper of 2021 while Pedri, the outstanding Barcelona youngster, won the Kopa Trophy for the leading Under-21 player. Alexia Putellas, the Barcelona midfielder, won the Ballon d’Or Feminine.
France Football – who run the annual presitigious awards – had been drip-feeding the overall rankings one by one to fans on social media, starting with 30th place and ending with 11th before the ceremony got underway.
Haaland and Lukaku came 11th and 12th respectively. They were both lethal last season – the Dortmund man scoring 41 times in 41 games – while the Belgian, now at Chelsea, netted more than 30 goals for Inter Milan.
They finished just ahead of Euro 2020 winning Italian duo Giorgio Chiellini, who came 13th, and national team captain Leonardo Bonucci, who was in 14th. Their solid defensive displays for Italy to secure the European Championships saw them beat attacking trio Luis Suarez (17) Neymar (16) and Man City’s Raheem Sterling (15).
There were a handful of Premier League representatives elsewhere in the rankings. Chelsea’s Mason Mount finished in 19th after winning the Champions League, above City’s Riyad Mahrez (20) and United’s Bruno Fernandes (21) – who finished level with Inter’s Lautaro Martinez.
Tottenham striker and England captain Harry Kane had a year to remember by finishing as the Premier League’s top scorer and top assister, and went one further by firing the Three Lions to the Euro 2020 final, netting four along the way.
But his endeavours were only enough for 23rd place, helping him finish just above Barca starlet Pedri (24) and Champions League finalist Phil Foden (25).
Rounding off the top 30 were Gerrard Moreno, Ruben Dias and Nicholo Barella (joint 26th) and Luka Modric and Cesar Azpilicueta (joint 29th).