Argentinian superstar Lionel Messi won a record seventh Ballon d’Or title after finishing ahead of Robert Lewandowski in this year’s vote. Since 2008, Messi and arch-rival Cristiano Ronaldo have won the award 12 times, with only Croatian midfielder Luka Modrić briefly interrupting their duopoly.
Many fans will argue until they are blue in the face about which player is superior, but there are actually many more elite players that deserve a share of the limelight. These are the top six players that have a legitimate claim to being the best in the world:
The Egyptian forward has banged in 15 goals and provided nine assists in the first 17 games of the Premier League season. He has been similarly prolific in the Champions League, with seven goals in six games. Messi and Ronaldo can only dream of putting up numbers like that right now. Salah has broken several records in 2021, and he looks exceptionally dangerous whenever he plays.
Yet this is nothing new for Liverpool fans. They have watched Salah lead them to all manner of emphatic victories since he joined the club in 2017. He has won two Golden Boots, and scored 110 goals in 162 league games, while also winning the Champions League and the Premier League. He really should be rewarded with a Ballon d’Or at some point.
The Ballon d’Or award was not handed out last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but it really should have gone to the Polish striker. He led Bayern Munich to a Bundesliga, DFB Pokal and Champions League treble, and he scored 55 goals in 47 games during the 2019/20 campaign.
He maintained his remarkable goalscoring record last season, with 48 goals in 40 games, and he has 30 goals from 25 matches in the current campaign. He is a goalscorer extraordinaire, and many people believe he was cruelly robbed of the Ballon d’Or. It will be a travesty if he never wins the award.
It is easy to make a case for Kante being robbed of the Ballon d’Or in 2021. He was man of the match in both legs of Chelsea’s Champions League semi-final victory over Real Madrid, and he was man of the match again as the Blues beat Man City in the final.
The holding midfield role is by no means as glamorous as the striker’s position, but Kante is an absolute force of nature. Chelsea look like a shadow of their usual selves when he does not play. Kante has also won the World Cup, the Europa League, and two Premier League titles during his glittering career. He won all three Premier League Player of the Year awards in 2016/17 – PFA, Football Writers’, and the official Premier League honour – but he has not seized individual glory on the international stage.
Mbappé is only 22 years old, but he is already a World Cup winner and he has four Ligue 1 titles under his belt. He burst onto the scene as a teenager for Monaco, when they pipped PSG to the title and lit up the Champions League.
Since moving to PSG in 2017 as the second most expensive player of all time, he has scored 87 goals in 97 league games. He boasts phenomenal pace, extraordinary composure in front of goal, and the ability to put any opponent to the sword. He is now playing alongside Messi and Neymar in attack for PSG, but Mbappé is often the forward that shines the brightest.
Kevin De Bruyne
The Man City playmaker is an absolute genius on the football pitch. His role means he does not score as many goals as the likes of Salah, Lewandowski and Mbappé, but there is nobody better at pulling the strings in midfield. Man City are the clear favourites for Premier League glory this season in the spread betting, and De Bruyne is their star man.
De Bruyne can play in the hole behind the striker, in a deep-lying playmaker role, out on the wing, or up front as a false nine. His intelligence ensures that he can flourish in all of those roles. He has arguably been the most consistent player in the world over the past few years, winning all manner of Premier League Player of the Year awards. He is regularly on the Ballon d’Or shortlist, but he has not yet landed the honour.
Haaland has the potential to dominate world football for the next decade. The Norwegian sensation is only 21 years old, but he has already blazed a trail of destruction across the German Bundesliga and the Austrian Bundesliga.
Haaland is blessed with outrageous pace, power, dynamism and confidence. He scored 44 goals for Dortmund during the 2019/20 season, and he continues to score on a very regular basis. He will be the world’s most in-demand player next summer, and it seems inevitable that he will become a Ballon d’Or winner in the future.
Virgil Van Dijk
A special mention must go to Van Dijk, who has been the world’s best defender since moving to Liverpool in 2018. Many felt he should have won the Ballon d’Or when the Reds won the Champions League in 2019, but it went to Messi.
He spent most of last season on the treatment table, and Liverpool’s form plummeted. His return to the team at the start of the current campaign instantly turned Jurgen Klopp’s men into title contenders once again. Italian defender Fabio Cannavaro once won the Ballon d’Or, and Van Dijk could follow in his footsteps one day.