Six early candidates for this year’s Ballon d’Or: Messi, Kante, Jorginho…

Quick Reads

The 2021 Ballon d’Or is still a number of months away, but the winner may well have already secured their place at the top of the podium.

The prestigious individual accolade will be handed out in December and there’s plenty of football yet to be played until then. But traditionally the award has been based on the preceding season, Champions League, and major international tournaments.

So with the 2020-21 campaign all wrapped up, as well as the Copa America and Euro 2020, now is a good opportunity to take stock of the frontrunners.

Robert Lewandowski

Like Martin Scorsese finally winning an Oscar for The Departed, Lewandowski can feel he’s overdue one after being robbed of a rightful one when France Football cancelled the 2020 award, following a season in which he’d scored 55 goals in 47 appearances as Bayern Munich won the treble.

Still, The Departed was pretty damn good, as was Lewandowski’s 2020-21 campaign; he won the European Golden Shoe and broke Gerd Muller’s 49-year record in the Bundesliga, scoring 41 goals in just 29 appearances in the competition.

The striker’s reputation also remains unblemished by Bayern’s Champions League exit, injured for both legs against PSG. Poland disappointed at Euro 2020, but he did score three goals in three games and nearly inspired qualification from the group stage by scoring twice in a short-lived comeback against Sweden.

Lionel Messi

Still the current holder from 2019, Messi is the bookmakers’ favourite to retain the award. He’s already got a record six, while inspiring Argentina to their first trophy since 1993 in the Copa America – most goals, most assists, player of the tournament – may see him extend that.

Barcelona remain in decline and endured another underwhelming campaign, but they did at least win the Copa del Rey, and Messi scored twice in the final. He can hardly be blamed for their failings in La Liga, either, having notched 30 goals and 11 assists in 35 appearances in 2020-21.

READ: Messi ‘removes thorn’ with Copa glory, but he’s never won or lost alone

N’Golo Kante

Man of the match in both legs of the semi-final against Real Madrid, and in the final against Manchester City, Chelsea’s Champions League triumph was in a large part thanks to Kante.

Many expected him to follow that up by winning Euro 2020 with firm favourites France, but it didn’t quite work out that way with a shock round of 16 elimination to Switzerland. Still, that certainly shouldn’t rule him out of the running.


One of only 11 players in history to win the European Championship and European Cup in the same year, Jorginho was a firm favourite of both Thomas Tuchel and Roberto Mancini.

He played an influential role in the midfield engine room in an unforgettable year for his club and country, much more so than his Chelsea and Italy team-mate Emerson.

Jorginho ended up having the tournament many expected of his Blues midfield partner Kante; he ended up lifting the trophy, and no one covered more distance at Euro 2020.

He also scored a trademark spot-kick in the semi-final shootout victory over Spain, and while Jordan Pickford denied him the same satisfaction in the final, his blushes were ultimately spared.

READ: Jorginho has never let history weigh him down – now he’s making it for Italy

Romelu Lukaku

The former Manchester United and Chelsea striker won his first piece of silverware since he was a teenager at Anderlecht with a starring role in Inter Milan’s first Scudetto in 11 years.

Lukaku registered 24 goals and 11 assists in 36 Serie A appearances to bring an end to Juventus’ nine-year domination. He also looked sharp as ever for Belgium at Euro 2020, scoring four goals in five appearances to take his total international tally up to a mind-blowing 64 goals.

Cristiano Ronaldo

It wasn’t Juventus’ year – poor performances against Porto ensured their early Champions League exit, while they failed to win the league title for the first time in a decade. Likewise, Portugal’s defence of their European Championship title didn’t go to plan, with a disappointing round of 16 elimination to Lukaku’s Belgium.

Still, Ronaldo’s name is never far away from individual accolades, which he seems to chase just as hard as silverware for his teams.

We’re sure that superagent Jorge Mendes would be keen to point out his client won the Golden Boot at Euro 2020 with five goals and an assist. He now ties Iran legend Ali Daei as the all-time top scorer in the history of international football.

The 36-year-old also won the Capocannoniere award for Serie A’s top scorer for the first time, having struck 29 goals for the Old Lady as they snuck Champions League qualification with a fourth-place finish.

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