Whoever wins the Champions League would be putting their best foot forward in the race for the Ballon d’Or given to the most outstanding player in Europe.
Who will be crowned the best player in Europe this season? As domestic seasons come to a close and the Champions League crowns a winner this month, the speculation over which player will take the Ballon d’Or prize increases.
The shortlist, as of now, includes six players: PSG strikers Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, budding Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland and veterans Lionel Messi of Barcelona and Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus.
These last two have held a lock on the prize, winning it a combined eight times over the last 11 years. The award was not given out in 2020, a year where Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski was a lock to win it, because of the pandemic.
The Ballon d’Or is an annual award presented by French sports magazine France Football since 1956.
Lewandowski was the heavy favorite for the award after Bayern won the Champions League last season. The continental trophy does go a long way in helping individual players make a case for winning the award. Lewandowski could be out of the running this year after Bayern was eliminated in the quarterfinals.
As a result, this week’s second-leg semifinal legs could help various players make the case as to why they should win the Ballon d’Or. Both Messi and Ronaldo held a monopoly on the Champions League over the last decade, which helped them to be shoe-ins for the Ballon d’Or. It doesn’t look like they will win it this year.
Who is the favorite for the Ballon d’Or?
This year’s front-runner is Kylian Mbappe. The French striker has had an outstanding season and scored some very big goals in the Champions League. While PSG could fail to lift the trophy, Mbappe will also feature for France at this summer’s European Championship. That gives him another shot to make the case for the prize. He’s scored 37 goals across all competitions this season, eight of them in the Champions League.
Mbappe recently suffered a right calf injury, meaning he could miss Tuesday’s match against Manchester City. The English club holds a slim 2-1 lead. The other semifinal between Real Madrid and Chelsea ended 1-1. The second leg will be contested on Wednesday.
Mbappe’s Brazilian teammate Neymar is also auditioning for the award, which is open to players from around the world as long as they play for a European club. Neymar has been a star for years, but his success has often been overshadowed by his theatrics on the field.
Meanwhile, De Bruyne is hindered by being a midfielder in a sport where goals get the most attention. Should Manchester City win the UCL and Belgium the upcoming Euros, he will have made a big case for the individual prize.
The outsider in this race is Norway’s Haaland. Although Dortmund is no longer in the Champions League, Haaland has made a case for himself with his scoring. This season, he’s tallied 37 goals across all competitions. 10 of those goals have come in the Champions League, where he remains the top scorer.
Nonetheless, Haaland’s inability to win the Champions League could be what matters most this year. The race is on. What transpires this week could go a long way in determining who wins the award.