For several years Ballon d’Or has been dominated by Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. The two titans of the game made the individual award their own by winning it year after year. However, the dominance of the two footballing giants appeared to have come to an end this season. Both have not played at their usual level and most importantly, their respective teams have failed to shine in the European competition. It more or less deprived their chance of getting a chance to win that award. As a result, this presents an opportunity for other players to get their hands on the coveted award.
This season, there are multiple candidates vying for the individual glory. At the start of the season, Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland were expected to be the favourites, along with Robert Lewandowski. However, one after another they started falling down the pecking order. Then Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah emerged as the favourite following his exploits with the Merseyside club. However, since the turn of the year, his teammate Sadio Mane has become a strong contender, while his rival has been Real Madrid’s talismanic forward Karim Benzema. Let us take a look at the two leading contenders and their chance of claiming the award for the first time in their careers:
The Frenchman has long been in the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo at Santiago Bernabeu. With Ronaldo and Messi’s rivalry intensified, the media spotlight was largely on these two players compared to their teammates. As a result, many of their team members’ noteworthy performances went unnoticed. Benzema was one such victim. Having joined Real Madrid from French club Lyon in 2009, Benzema has often played second fiddle to Ronaldo. Despite starting as a centre-forward, the Frenchman would drop deep or wide to allow the Portuguese star to run on goal. Benzema created a good bond with Ronaldo, but it relied mainly on the Frenchman assisting and the Portuguese forward scoring.
The 34-year-old striker has been finally getting the deserved media attention in recent years. He scored 30 goals in all competitions last campaign, 27 in 2019-20, and 30 in 2018-19. However, it is this season when Benzema has reached astronomical heights. So far he has scored 43 goals in 43 matches in all competitions. 15 of those goals have come in the Champions League. 10 of those strikes arrived in the knockout stages, equalling Ronaldo’s record during the 2016-17 season. Having already won the La Liga title with Real Madrid, the Ballon d’Or will become Benzema’s if his club wins the Champions League final against Liverpool.
At the start of the season, Sadio Mane was not even in the reckoning for the Ballon d’Or award. It was his Liverpool teammate Mohamed Salah who was grabbing the limelight with impressive performances every week. There was a period when Mane even struggled to find his feet, leading to experts criticising his form. Fast forward to the end of the season, the tables have turned and it is the Senegal international who is one of the leading contenders for the coveted award.
Numbers might be in favour of Salah this season and rightly so. The Egyptian has scored 30 goals so far in all competitions and eight have come in the Champions League. On the other hand, Mane has 20 goals and only four have arrived in Europe’s premier competition. However, Mane’s success is not only judged by his club form. He helped Senegal edge past Egypt in a penalty shootout to win the African Cup of Nations in February. Then, he scored the winning penalty in another shootout to send Senegal to the 2022 World Cup at the expense of Mohamed Salah’s Egypt. If Liverpool win the Champions League, or even better, a quadruple, Mane will be the heavy favourite for the Ballon d’Or award.