Lionel Messi has won a record-extending seventh Ballon d’Or award.
It caps a year in which the PSG and Argentina star scored 40 goals for club and country, and captained Argentina to the Copa America title.
In 2021, he also became the first player in history to score at least 20 goals in 13 consecutive seasons in Europe's top five leagues.
Bayern Munich and Poland’s Robert Lewandowski – one of the favourites for the prize – came in second.
Jorginho (Chelsea & Italy), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid & France) and Ngolo Kante (Chelsea & France) rounded up the top five from the 30-man shortlist.
Man United’s Cristiano Ronaldo was sixth…the first time since 2010 he’s been out of the top three.
Italy and PSG’s Gianluigi Donnarumma won the Yashin Trophy as the season’s best goalkeeper.
While Chelsea were named Club of the Year after winning the Champions League title.
Messi’s win over Lewandowski has split opinions on social media.
Those in favour of him winning say that despite the Argentine having had a relatively quiet year, he did score 40 goals and win the Copa America.
Those in Lewandowski’s camp, however, point out that he won the 2020-21 European Golden Shoe and scored 41 Bundesliga goals as Bayern Munich won the German league title last season.
He also broke Gerd Muller’s 49-year record of Bundesliga goals in a single campaign, and scored nine goals for Poland last season, including three at Euro 2020.
Also remember that Lewandowski had been the overwhelming favourite (some would say the only worthy winner) for the 2020 Ballon d’Or…had the award not been cancelled due to the pandemic.
The only consolation for the Bayern Munich man, was that he was named Striker of the Year – which, incidentally, was a last-minute addition to the Ballon d’Or program.
Its almost as if the organizers knew that Lewandowski was not going to win the top prize and wanted something to help make the snub less painful. But that’s just our personal opinion.
More Ballon d’Or criticism
It wasn’t just the main Ballon d’Or prize that courted controversy. The Goalkeeper of the Year award also had its critics.
The prize went to Italy’s Euro 2020 winner Gianluigi Donnarumma…who was also the European Championship’s Player of the Tournament.
But the man he beat to the Goalie of the Year honour – Chelsea’s Edouard Mendy – had an equally impressive year.
In 2021, Mendy won the Champions League with Chelsea, was named the tournament’s keeper of the season, and kept 29 clean sheets in 50 games for The Blues.
The difference between the two is that while Mendy has also been outstanding for Chelsea in the Premier League, Donnarumma has struggled to stamp his mark with new club PSG.
So in this case, in would appear that the Italian’s Euro 2020 triumph carried more weight.
And therein lies the problem with awards like the Ballon d’Or.
The winners are voted for by a jury made up of selected football journalists. The criteria for selecting the winner is as follows:
- Individual and collective performances (winners) during the year.
- Player class (talent and fair play).
- Overall judgment of the player's career.
These are not exactly specific criteria, and leaves plenty open to the interpretation of the jury. In the absence of clear and precise metrics for selection, it essentially boils down to a popularity contest.
But criticism aside, there is no doubting the prestige of the Ballon d’Or award.
And like it or not, Messi winning a seventh prize cements his place in the history books as one of the greatest players of his generation.
By: Nicholas Darren John