Some of the game’s greatest had the chance to bolster their Ballon d’Or chances on the biggest stage. How did they get on?
Having been scrapped last year due to the disruption caused by the pandemic, the Ballon d’Or returns in 2021.
Euro 2020 and the Copa America both reached their conclusions over the weekend and we now have a clear picture about which players stand the best chance of winning the 2021 Ballon d’Or award.
Italy defeated England on penalties to win this summer’s European Championships at Wembley.
While Argentina beat rivals Brazil to lift the Copa America trophy for the first time since 1993.
Success at international level will boost certain players’ chances of winning this year’s Ballon d’Or award, but it doesn’t guarantee that an Italian or Argentina will *definitely* secure the prestigious individual accolade at the end of the year.
Contribution at domestic and European level will, of course, also be taken into consideration.
We take a look at the leading candidates to feature at either tournament to determine how their chances look heading into the new season.
#1. Lionel Messi
The winner of the previous award in 2019 – the sixth of his astonishing career – Lionel Messi amazingly plundered 28 goals and had nine assists for Barcelona from January 1 onwards.
It wasn’t enough to win Barca the LaLiga title, but it did put him right in the mix and he followed that up with a starring role in Argentina’s Copa triumph, the first senior international trophy of his career. Given his lack of success with La Albiceleste was arguably the final barrier to clear in his career, a Ballon d’Or will surely follow later this year as he led Lionel Scaloni’s men with four goals (joint-most) and five assists (the most).
He might be in his mid-30s now, but Messi is still head and shoulders above every other player on the planet.
Nobody would have imagined back in January that Jorginho would be the third favourite for the Ballon d’Or award by July.
However, the midfielder is now a genuine contender after winning the Champions League with Chelsea and the European Championships with Italy.
“I’m not the one deciding if he deserves the Ballon d’Or, but I hope he’ll be shortlisted,” Jorginho’s Italy teammates Lorenzo Insigne told reporters. “He deserves it, he is a great player.
“I call him ‘The Professor’ and we are all happy to play with him.”
#3. Robert Lewandowski
Robert Lewandowski has already scored 34 goals and provided a further four assists in 2021 so far.
The European Golden Shoe winner, Lewandowski probably should have won the 2020 Ballon d’Or – but may miss out on 2021’s award because of the man we’re about to talk about…
#4. N’Golo Kante
N’Golo Kante was the favourite for the Ballon d’Or award after helping Chelsea win the Champions League in May. The indefatigable French midfielder was sensational for the Blues during the knockout stages of that tournament.
However, Kante was unable to prevent his national team crashing out of Euro 2020 before the quarter-finals.
#5. Kevin De Bruyne
Despite winning the PFA Player of the Year award following another season of outstanding performances with Man City, it’s hard to see Kevin De Bruyne forcing his way into the 2021 Ballon d’Or conversation.
Had City won the Champions League or Belgium triumphed at Euro 2020, it might be a different story.
#6. Gianluigi Donnarumma
Generally, the player considered to be the best at a major international competition has a pretty good chance of winning further accolades, so in that case Donnarumma may have a reasonable opportunity after UEFA crowned him Euro 2020’s Player of the Tournament.
Statistically there were numerous goalkeepers who were more important than him to their respective teams. Nevertheless, Donnarumma wasn’t guilty of any glaring errors, and made crucial saves across two penalty shoot-outs, including a couple in the final.
#7. Kylian Mbappe
With 29 goals and seven assists in 2021, Mbappe has been exceptional again this year.
But missing that decisive penalty for France against Switzerland in the Euro 2020 last 16 means his chances of winning the Ballon d’Or later this year are almost certainly over.
#9. Cristiano Ronaldo
Winning the Euro 2020 Golden Boot award should help Cristiano Ronaldo receive a few extra Ballon d’Or votes.
The 36-year-old became the leading goalscorer of all time earlier this year before equalling Ali Daei’s long-standing record for most international goals in history in June.
However, failing to win the Serie A title with Juventus or the European Championships with Portugal will end up counting against him in the race for the Ballon d’Or.
Even Neymar would admit he only had an outside chance of winning this year’s Ballon d’Or ahead of the Copa America, his 17 goals and eight assists in 2020-21 a modest return for the world’s most expensive footballer.
While his performances with Brazil would see him included in most people’s team of the tournament, he wasn’t dependable in front of goal, his one non-penalty strike certainly an under-performance unmatched by anyone in the tournament. He’ll have to wait a bit longer for the prize he supposedly craves above all others.
#10. Romelu Lukaku
Romelu Lukaku played a key role in Inter Milan’s Serie A title triumph last season before netting four goals for Belgium at Euro 2020.
Will that be enough to earn him the 2021 Ballon d’Or? Probably not. Although if he inspires Belgium to Nations League glory in October, that could earn the striker a few extra votes.