Will 2024 be Bellingham's year?

2024 Ballon d’Or contenders assessed: What Kane, Bellingham, Mbappe & Messi need to do to win

The Ballon d’Or is the most prestigious individual accolade in football – but it’s almost impossible to disentangle from the collective context of what the biggest stars win with their teams.

There are some very strong contenders for the Ballon d’Or this year, but everything that’s happened in the first half of the 2023-24 will likely be forgotten when it comes to the final voting. As ever, whoever gets the prize will be required to deliver the goods at the business end of the season in the latter stages of the Champions League.

It’s also a bumper year for international football, with the Asian Cup and Africa Cup of Nations underway and Euro 2024 and Copa America to come this summer.

With all that in mind, we’ve identified some of the biggest names in the running for the Ballon d’Or this year – and assessed out what they’ll need to do to win it.

Harry Kane

It looked as though Kane’s long wait for a trophy would surely be coming to an end when he moved to Bayern Munich, who have won each of the last 11 Bundesliga titles.

The England captain has held up his end of the bargain, on track to break Robert Lewandowski’s record for goals in a season, but it’s looking increasingly possible that the Bavarian giants will fail to win any silverware in 2023-24. They lost the German Super Cup on his debut, exited the DFB Pokal in his absence, and now find themselves seven points behind Xabi Alonso’s relentless, unbeaten Bayer Leverkusen.

Still, Bayern remain among the favourites for the Champions League and he’ll surely have a massive role to play if they can bring Ol’ Big Ears home. And he’s also the focal point for an England side that are second favourites, only behind France, for Euro 2020. This is a huge year for Kane’s legacy.

What he needs to win: Win the Champions League or Euro 2024. Win both and he’s got it in the bag.

READ: The 2023-24 European Golden Shoe contenders: Can anyone stop Harry Kane?

Jude Bellingham

The 20-year-old has made an astonishing start to life at Real Madrid. Almost instantly he looks like their best and most important player and a leader from the heart of midfield. Should Carlo Ancelotti’s Los Blancos win more silverware, huge swathes of the Spanish press will lobby hard for La Liga’s new MVP to win the Ballon d’Or.

Given the season Bellingham is having for his club, he’d also be among the top contenders from the England squad if they’re successful in Germany come July.

What he needs to win: Win the Champions League or Euro 2024. Win both and he’s got it in the bag.

Kylian Mbappe

Ever since he first emerged as a generational talent at Monaco over half a decade ago, it always felt like a matter of when – not if – Mbappe will win the Ballon d’Or. He’s now undoubtedly the main man for both PSG and France and his club and country’s prospects in Europe this year weigh very much on his shoulders.

Domestic achievements in France almost feel irrelevant when it comes to the Ballon d’Or. To get his hands on the trophy he’ll need to deliver on the biggest stages of all – something he’s already shown himself to be more than capable of.

What he needs to win: Win the Champions League or Euro 2024. Win both and he’s got it in the bag.

Mohamed Salah

Given his achievements at Liverpool, Salah would have been a worthy candidate to become the first African recipient of the Ballon d’Or since George Weah in 1995. But he was a tad unfortunate that his prime year coincided with monster achievements from the likes of Lionel Messi, Luka Modric and Karim Benzema.

The field looks a bit more open now that Messi and Ronaldo have left Europe, but you get the sense Salah’s chances are in the rearview mirror – particularly given Liverpool’s absence in the Champions League this year.

Now he’s almost certain to miss the remainder of Egypt’s Africa Cup Of Nations campaign. But he’s enjoying another exceptional campaign with Liverpool and he might be an outside shout if none of the usual suspects claim 2024’s biggest prizes.

What he needs to win: Somehow recover to help Egypt win AFCON. And on top of that, win the Premier League and probably the Golden Boot as well.

Erling Haaland

Haaland did as much as any player has ever done at club level to warrant winning the Ballon d’Or. The star man in a treble-winning campaign. Top scorer in both the Champions League and Premier League with a bonkers total tally of 52 goals in all competitions.

Sod’s law that it happened to coincide with Messi’s legendary World Cup.

That ought to serve him well – like Ryan Giggs winning PFA Player of the Year in 2009, or Martin Scorcese winning the Best Director Oscar for ‘The Departed’ – and you imagine a similar return in 2023-24 would see Haaland have a strong case against anyone else, no matter what happens in this year’s international tournaments.

What he needs to win: Retain the Champions League.

Lionel Messi

You’d have thought that Messi’s record-extending eighth Ballon d’Or was his last after his move to Inter Miami – and you’d almost certainly be right.

But Messi’s seventh Ballon d’Or in 2021 was largely based on him leading Argentina to the Copa America, and they’re looking to retain it this year. It’s also worth considering that his most recent FIFA ‘The Best’ award, for a period that didn’t include the Qatar World Cup, proves that legacy and existing prestige can go a long way when it comes to these individual awards.

Achievements in MLS would be an added bonus but almost certainly won’t matter when it comes to Ballon d’Or votes.

What he needs to win: Win the Copa America and hope the European vote is split.

READ: 7 insane records that Lionel Messi can break in 2024 for Inter Miami & Argentina

Cristiano Ronaldo

It’s been seven years since Ronaldo’s last Ballon d’Or. We hope by now that he’s made peace on retiring on fewer than Messi.

The 38-year-old continues banging in the goals out in Saudi Arabia, as he’s been so keen to remind us, but he could score a hundred goals for Al Nassr this season and he still wouldn’t be part of the conversation.

Ronaldo would have half a chance of a sixth Ballon d’Or if he can lead Portugal to a second Euros this summer. Roberto Martinez’s side had a perfect record with 10 wins from 10 in qualifying, scoring 36 goals and conceding just two. It’s not completely unthinkable that Portugal challenge the likes of England and France this summer.

What he needs to win: Win Euro 2024 and hope that the favourites fail to win the Champions League, Copa America and Euros.

READ NEXT: Every player Lionel Messi has voted for in the Ballon d’Or & FIFA ‘The Best’: Ronaldo, Modric…

TRY A QUIZ: Can you name Barcelona’s top 30 goalscorers of all time?