After last year´s coronavirus outbreak, France Football decided to cancel the 2020 Ballon d´Or edition. In 2021, however, the best players like Robert Lewandowski, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappé, and Lionel Messi get to fight for the most coveted award again. The last winner of the Ballon d´Or was Lionel Messi in 2019, winning for the 6th time and breaking the record for most wins by a single player.
We´re midway 2021, and fans debate which player deserves to win the Ballon d´Or, especially now that international tournaments like the UEFA European Championship and CONMEBOL Copa America are over. This year many players showcased their skills, won multiple trophies, and made the task to rank them difficult. Therefore, I considered five different factors when ranking each player.
In terms of statistics, the most important are goals and assists. Of course, nevertheless, it is necessary to look at more statistics when evaluating defensive-minded players or goalkeepers. Therefore, clean sheets, tackles, interceptions, clearances, and pass success % are part of the statistics.
Following statistics comes the number of trophies conquered in 2021. Then the success of the player in its national team. Followed by international club tournaments, like the UEFA Champions League. To check the players´ ratings during the season, I resorted to Whoscored.
These players barely missed the top 20, but they´re in play to reach the top 20 as the year advances.
Statistics: 17 clean sheets / 1 assist (Yes, a goalkeeper with an assist)
In 2021, Ederson Moraes managed to win the Premier League and the Carabao Cup with Manchester City. He made it to the Champions League Final and then the Final of Copa America with Brazil. His role was vital to the team, with an average rating of 6,61, and it seems that success follows wherever he goes. So far, the best goalkeeper of 2021.
Statistics: 1 goal / 8 assists / 19 clean sheets / 85,3% pass success / 1,5 tackles per game / 0,7 interceptions per game / 1,2 clearances per game
In 2021, Luke Shaw finally fitted in Manchester United, as Alex Telles threatened his starting spot. United managed to get 2nd place in the Premier League and made it to the Europe League final.
In the United and world’s best full-backs, the England national team contributes with three assists and helping England reach the final of the Euro. All that while averaging a rating of 7,06.
Statistics: 17 goals / 2 assists
In 2021 Mohammed Salah had a solid run, contributing with 17 goals and finishing as 4th in the Premier League. However, his case suffers by not winning a single trophy this year.
Furthermore, Salah did not participate in the Africa Cup of Nations, which took place earlier this year. Then Liverpool couldn´t make it further than the quarter-finals of the Uefa Champions League.
It was a disappointing year for him in terms of accomplishments, but the numbers speak for themselves, as Mohamed Salah averaged a rating of 7,07.
Statistics: 14 goals / 2 assists
In 2021, Luis Suarez had one, if not the most crucial role in Atlético Madrid´s La Liga win. The former Barcelona player left the team for rivals Atlético and managed to win the Spanish league in his first year there.
Despite this, Suarez couldn´t go further than the round of 16 of the Champions League or help Uruguay go further than the quarter-finals of Copa America.
His average rating was solid, averaging 7,04 through the season.
Statistics: 11 goals / 7 assists
In 2021, the 21-year-old took the world by storm. Phil Foden became an incontestable starter for Manchester City, and as such, the trophies followed them, winning the Premier League and the Carabao Cup.
Foden got close to winning the Champions League as well but lost to Chelsea in the Final. Plus, he got close to winning the Euro, reaching the final with England but lost to Italy. Phil´s average rating was 7,25, and now it´s more than plausible a future place in the top 20 or even the top 10.
20. João Cancelo
Statistics: 3 goals / 5 assists / 16 clean sheets / 86,9% pass success / 2,3 tackles per game / 1,3 interceptions / 0,9 clearances
In 2021, João Cancelo made himself heard, was involved in multiple aspects, and innovated the full-back position.
Winning the Premier League and the Carabao Cup helps Cancelo´s case and his performance (averaging 7,29 during the season) places him in the top 20 and one of the world’s best full-backs. Unfortunately, Cancelo could not participate in the Euro due to covid-19, and his absence was notorious.
19. Marcus Rashford
Statistics: 8 goals / 7 assists
In 2021, Marcus Rashford continues to flourish and find success, whether it´s in Manchester United or representing England. He´s establishing himself as a top star in the league and could be much higher on this list if United managed to win a trophy. But it´s still no shame to end up in 2nd place of the Premier League or make the Final of the Europe League.
In England, Marcus did not play many minutes but made his presence felt, coming from the bench and helping England reach the final of the Euro.
Marcus´ average rating this season was 7,07, and now that United will pair him with Jadon Sancho, it seems United´s hopes of winning more silverware might come true.
18. Federico Chiesa
Statistics: 14 goals / 5 assists
In 2021, Federico Chiesa turned up to become the second-best player in Juventus. Juventus´ season was a bit disappointing, finishing in 4th place of the Serie A after winning nine consecutive times in a row.
Their performance in the Champions League was pitiful as well, as underdogs FC Porto eliminated Juve in the round of 16. However, Chiesa helped Juventus win the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa. While representing Italy, he played a crucial part in winning the Euro Final, which solidified his top 20. His average rating was a solid 7,09.
17. Lautaro Martinez
Statistics: 15 goals / 3 assists
In 2021, Lautaro Martinez and Lukaku ended Juventus supremacy in Italy as Inter finally won it. Despite Lukaku being the most crucial player, there is no Serie A for Inter without Lautaro Martinez, who averaged a rating of 7,13 this season.
In Argentina, he played a crucial role in helping Messi win the Copa America, contributing to three goals. Like Lukaku, Messi needed a wingman to help his team reach glory, and Lautaro did not disappoint. Lautaro could be higher on this list, but Inter could not advance the Champions League group stage, which is less than ideal for a player making his case.
16. Raheem Sterling
Statistics: 11 goals / 5 assists
In 2021, Raheem Sterling bounced back after a poor start in Manchester City´s campaign, taking over the Premier League, winning the Carabao Cup, and reaching the Champions League Final.
While playing for England, Sterling scored three times and provided one assist to help the national team reach the Euro final, losing against Italy.
We´ve witnessed more substantial years from Raheem Sterling, but it´s normal for his stats to decrease in City, as the team surrounded itself with many stars in Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden, and Rodri. Despite this, he still averaged 7,14 this season.
15. Bruno Fernandes
Statistics: 16 goals / 9 assists
In 2021, Bruno Fernandes continued doing Bruno things, exploding and leading his team to the 2nd place of the Premier League and the Europe League final while scoring and contributing to his teammates. Thanks to his rise, United fans´ hopes of returning to the top of England continue to flourish as they create new chants for their Portuguese Magnifico.
On the other hand, Portugal couldn´t go further than the round of 16, and Bruno didn´t play that well, which hurts his chances of making the top 10.
His firm numbers, backed up by the 7,38 average this season, help him stay ahead of many talented players, but his lack of silverware is his undoing.
14. Karim Benzema
Statistics: 22 goals / 5 assists
In 2021, Karim Benzema made fans believe in Real Madrid again, taking the team to the semi-finals of the Champions League and 2nd place in La Liga.
However, there was no silverware for Benzema, as he got knocked out in the round of 16 in the Euro, despite Benzema scoring four times.
13. Gerard Moreno
Statistics: 23 goals / 11 assists
In 2021, Gerard Moreno made a considerable leap and probably is a surprise to many readers. However, the numbers speak through themselves. Gerard Moreno was directly involved in 34 goals, which is ridiculous when comparing him to superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo, who was directly involved in 31.
How is Moreno behind Ronaldo? His team Villarreal ended up in 7th place of La Liga, which is disappointing, and his crew barely qualified for European competition.
Fortunately, Moreno helped Villarreal win the Europa League, contributing seven goals and five assists, ensuring a Champions League appearance next season.
Plus, Moreno helped Spain make it to the Euro semi-finals, making his case a strong one when you consider his average rating of 7,37 as well.
12. Rúben Dias
Statistics: 1 goal / 19 clean sheets / 1 tackle / 1,1 interceptions / 2,8 clearances
In 2021, Rúben Dias made his presence known globally as one of the best center-backs in the World, having one of the most remarkable presences in the Premier League since Virgil Van Djik, averaging 6,93, and was named the Premier League Player of The Season.
Rúben conquered the Premier League and Carabao Cup with Man City and reached the Champions League Final.
He could be higher on this list, but Portugal´s performance in the Euro was disappointing, as Ruben´s impact was unnoticeable.
11. Erling Haaland
Statistics: 25 goals / 9 assists
In 2021, Erling Haaland embraced the Champions League atmosphere again, reaching the quarter-finals with Dortmund and ending up as the tournament’s leading scorer.
His numbers are spectacular, like Gerard Moreno, but his average was 7,64. His team finished 3rd place in the Bundesliga, as the 3rd best scorer and winning the DFB-Pokal. What stops Haaland from making the top 10 is his national team performance, as Norway couldn´t get past Austria to qualify for the Euro, harming his chances.
10. N’Golo Kanté
Statistics: 1 assist / 2,1 tackles per game / 2 interceptions per game / 87% pass success
In 2021, N´Golo Kanté added more trophies to his cabinet case as he finally conquered the Champions League with Chelsea. Despite some people having him in the top 5, it´s tough to make a case for him ahead of the following nine players.
His stats were solid, averaging 6,92 this season, and named the UEFA Champions League Final Man of the Match.
Whereas, Kanté´s performance in the Euro wasn´t as good, leading up to France getting knocked out in the round of 16.
Statistics: 4 goals / 1 assists / 2 tackles per game / 1,9 interceptions per game / 89,6% pass success
In 2021, Jorginho, another vital piece to Chelsea and to any team he plays. Chelsea´s midfield is one of the best globally, and Jorginho is one of the main reasons. His average rating of 6,98 might not be the most flashier, but his football speaks louder than some of his stats show.
After winning the Champions League with Chelsea, Jorginho won the Euro with Italy, beating England in the Final. Jorginho had great performances every game, playing with great movement and helping his teammates with adjustments. His stats during the Euro: 93,4% pass success / 1,9 tackles per game / 3,6 interceptions per game.
When you play a significant role in winning the Champions League and the Euro, you must be doing something right.
8. Romelu Lukaku
Statistics: 22 goals / 7 assists
In 2020, Romelu Lukaku claimed to be one of the top 5 players in the World. In the meantime, he managed to win Serie A, which was remarkable after such a long drought.
Nevertheless, he couldn´t advance from the Champions League group stage, lost against Juventus in the Coppa Italia, and Belgium could only reach the quarter-finals of the Euro.
Although his resumé could look better, Lukaku put up unique numbers, like his 7,45 average and the four goals he scored during the Euro. Lukaku is not yet in the top 5, but the year isn´t over, and there is still time to prove himself.
7. Harry Kane
Statistics: 22 goals / 5 assists
Ever since José Mourinho joined Tottenham, Harry Kane exploded in every sense. In 62 games, Kane directly contributed to 63 goals under Mourinho. Unfortunately, that did not help him, or Tottenham wins any silverware in 2021, despite averaging 7,60 during the season.
On a positive note, Kane led his team to the Carabao Cup Final but ended up losing. Speaking of finals, Harry Kane, the captain of England, led his national team to the Euro Final, which was the first time England advanced further than the quarter-finals since 1996.
The things that stop Kane from being higher on the list are the Europe League (knocked out in the round of 16) and the Premier League´s (7th) challenging performances.
6. Cristiano Ronaldo
Statistics: 27 goals / 4 assists
In 2021, Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro proved he´s still one of the best in the world. However, Juventus didn’t help him this year, letting other teams like Inter and Milan surpass them, losing Serie A.
Like previously mentioned, Juventus and Ronaldo had a poor performance in the Champions League, as underdogs FC Porto eliminated them in the round of 16. To make things worse, his national team Portugal, failed to defend the Euro as the current champions, losing in the round of 16.
Yet, Ronaldo is still Ronaldo, and he would win the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa while averaging 7,58. Not to mention that despite getting knocked out in the Euro, he still managed to be the tournament’s leading scorer (five goals in just four games).
5. Neymar Jr.
Statistics: 12 goals / 10 assists
In 2021, Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior missed some time due to injuries, but that did not stop him from putting up impressive numbers, averaging 7,67 throughout the season. One surprising result of Neymar came in Ligue 1, as PSG lost for the first time after three consecutive wins. Alternatively, he won the Coupe de France and the Trophee des Champions.
The pinnacle of Neymar this year was his performance during Copa America, scoring two goals and providing three assists. Brazil won every single game to reach the final and eventually losing against Argentina. In the Champions League, Neymar helped PSG get to the semi-finals, ultimately losing to Manchester City. The difference-maker between De Bruyne and Neymar is this series, and that´s why Neymar is not number 4 on the list.
4. Kevin De Bruyne
Statistics: 10 goals / 10 assists
In 2021, Kevin De Bruyne continued to be as explosive as ever, averaging 7,61, topping the Premier League, winning the Carabao Cup, and reaching the Champions League Final.
De Bruyne had to deal with some injuries in the Euro, needing to play the quarter-finals while injured, and even contributed with one goal and two assists. He couldn´t help the team make it further, and Belgium got knocked out.
Neymar is behind De Bruyne because Neymar had the help of Kyllian Mbappé (who ranks in the top 3 of the list), while De Bruyne´s best teammate (Rúben Dias) misses the top 10, and Kevin was still able to get the job done against PSG.
3. Kylian Mbappé
Statistics: 29 goals / 7 assists
In 2021, Kylian Mbappé Lottin reinforced himself as the star to take over as the new face of the sport. Last year, he made it to the Champions League Final, and this year he made it to the semi-finals. He´s already won many trophies, including the World Cup with France, in which he had an important role.
He´s improving every year, and he´s just 22 years old, which is the most impressive thing about him. His average rating this year is 7,53. Despite losing Ligue 1, Kylian still won the Coupe de France and the Trophee des Champions. Undoubtedly, what hurts his chances of winning the Balon d´Or is the poor performance in the Euro, contributing with just one assist as he watched France get eliminated by the underdogs Switzerland.
2. Robert Lewandowski
Statistics: 34 goals / 4 assists
In 2021, Robert Lewandowski did his thing, averaging an absurd 7,89, contributing directly with a whopping 38 goals. Leading Bayern to its 9th consecutive Bundesliga and breaking the record of most goals single season in Bundesliga with 41 (previously owned by Gerd Müller´s 40). He won the Bundesliga and conquered another trophy to his collection with the FIFA Club World Cup.
In 2020, Robert led the team to win every competition, which includes winning the Champions League. However, this year, Bayern got knocked out in the quarter-finals, and Robert couldn´t do anything but watch while dealing with an injury. To make things worse, Bayern got knocked out in the last 32 of the DFB-Pokal to Kiel, a lower team from the second division of Germany.
Furthermore, Robert´s performance with his national team was worse, and he ended up in the last place on the group stage, despite scoring three goals. Indeed, it is understandable why Robert´s hopes of winning the Balon d´Or are thinner and thinner, and it looks like this year won´t be it.
1. Lionel Messi
Statistics: 33 goals / 14 assists
It has been challenging. Lionel Andrés Messi dealt with drama all year with Barcelona´s previous board of directors, his contract expiring, Barcelona´s financial problems. However, Messi persevered, focusing on his game and always giving 100%. Contributing directly with 47 goals for his team and national team while averaging an 8,52 rating this season.
In the round of 16 of the Champions League, Messi got knocked out by PSG and lost the La Liga. However, Leo managed to win the Copa del Rey to add another trophy to his collection. These numbers already made a strong case for Lionel Messi. Still, Messi did something unprecedented in his career, winning his first international competition with his national team.
After 16 years, Messi led Argentina to win the Copa America for the first time in 28 years. In addition, he was the leading scorer (four goals) and the leader in assists (five assists) of the competition. Right now, Lionel Messi leads the list and looks like the favorite to win his 7th Balon d´Or, something unparalleled.