Messi, Lewandowski, Ronaldo: How the Ballon d'Or's male nominees should have been ranked

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Lionel Messi has won the Ballon d'Or to be crowned the world's best male footballer of 2021.

Two years since the last ceremony, it was fantastic to see France Football celebrating some of the world's finest athletes at the awards gala in Paris with Messi's triumph rounding off the evening.

However, it's not all about the winners because the voting process also shone a light on countless footballers worthy of acknowledgement and praise, even if they weren't quite the best of the best.

2021 Ballon d'Or

As such, on the back of the latest Ballon d'Or triumph in the accolade's illustrious history, we wanted to take a closer look at how the 30 male candidates ranked on the way to the golden trophy.

And seeing as football is ultimately a game of opinions, we wanted to see how the final order of the 30 nominees contrasted with how we think each of the players compared to one another this year.

In other words, your humble GIVEMESPORT writer has rustled up how the Ballon d'Or nominees should have been ranked.

Naturally, it's a completely subjective exercise and my opinion is no more or less legitimate than your own, so we'd love to hear your own thoughts on the rankings across our social channels.

Our Ballon d'Or rankings

However, before you hop back to the Facebook comments section, be sure to check out how I think the 30 male candidates for the 2021 Ballon d'Or should have been ranked down below:

Special mention: Simon Kjaer

So, Kjaer actually finished 18th in the official Ballon d'Or rankings and the first thing to say is that we're so glad to see him earning praise from France Football.

At the end of the day, the Ballon d'Or is about more than just footballing output with one of the voting criteria outlined as 'Player class (talent and fair play)', which is absolutely crucial to Kjaer's case.

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If we were to judge this purely upon the quality of his performances on the pitch over the last 12 months, then we would - by no slight on the AC Milan defender - have ranked him in 30th place.

However, if were to focus entirely on the remarkable heroism, bravery and humanity that he showed when Christian Eriksen collapsed at Euro 2020, then we'd hand him the Ballon d'Or right now.

All this is to say that we simply couldn't place Kjaer ourselves because to try and balance the quality of someone's defending alongside dealing with a life-threatening scenario was simply impossible.

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In our eyes, Kjaer deserves his own Ballon d'Or and a special mention is the least we can give a real-life hero who acted with courage and care when his teammate needed it most. Bravo, Simon.

29. Luka Modric (-)

I think everyone's on the same wavelength here. Modric has shown flashes of his Ballon d'Or-winning form at times for Real Madrid in 2021, but a nomination was a little on the generous side.

28. Cesar Azpilicueta (+1)

While we're not against the Champions League-winning captain being given a tip of the hat with a nomination, let's face it, he's barely been in the world's top 30 players over the last 12 months.

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27. Riyad Mahrez (-7)

Call me brutal, call me savage, but I'm a little bit lost with all the hype around Mahrez this year because I'd trade him out of the Ballon d'Or nominees for Edouard Mendy every day of the week.

He's a class, class player with technical ability up to his eyeballs, but is 17 goals for Manchester City in a year where he's been in and out of the team enough to finish 20th in the rankings? Not for me.

26. Neymar (-10)

Again, am I missing something? Neymar has been really unlucky with injuries in 2021, but that doesn't take away from the fact that he's scored just 12 league goals since the start of last season.

Marry that to having only actually won the Coupe de France over the last 12 months and we're absolutely baffled that Neymar was placed above Ruben Dias, Nicolo Barella and Lautaro Martinez.

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25. Gerard Moreno (-)

Yup, we're in agreement with the Ballon d'Or voters here. Besides, it's fair to say that he's deserved a nomination on the back of a 30-goal season for Vilarreal that reaped the Europa League trophy.

24. Raheem Sterling (-9)

An absolutely superb player of whom I am a massive fan. However, at the end of the day, Sterling's position has been hugely inflated by what was admittedly a spectacular Euro 2020 campaign.

But once we pull back and look at the year as a whole, you've got to wonder whether Sterling has really been the world's 15th best player with just 12 Premier League goals since the start of last season.

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23. Giorgio Chiellini (-10)

One of the more egregious calls in my book because there seems to have been a heavy-handed romanticism surrounding Chiellini's undeniably epic performances on the way to Euro 2020 glory.

I'm not here to debate that, he was glorious, but can we possibly name a player who's overseen just five Serie A clean sheets in 2021 as the 13th best footballer of the year? It's a little much, for me.

22. Bruno Fernandes (-1)

You've got to respect Fernandes for amassing a superb record of 18 goals and 12 assists in the Premier League last season, but he ultimately finished a torrid year for United without a trophy.

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21. Mason Mount (-2)

By contrast, Mount certainly has the silverware in the form of Champions League glory, while also reaching the Euro 2020 final, but his individual displays haven't been electric enough to threaten the top 15.

20. Phil Foden (+5)

Although Mount has more to shout about in his trophy cabinet this year, Foden's performances have been far superior with a series of stellar Champions League displays announcing him to the world.

And while, yes, the City starlet might have fallen away with England at Euro 2020, we can't overlook him winning the League Cup and Premier League just because the Citizens do it so often.

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19. Luis Suarez (-2)

About right, to be fair. Suarez was named La Liga's MVP on the back of a season where his 21 goals inspired Atletico Madrid to the Spanish crown, even if Champions League performances hold him back.

18. Leonardo Bonucci (-4)

Another case of me simply being on a different wavelength to the voters, sure, but I've got to counterbalance Bonucci's excellent Euro 2020 with an otherwise pedestrian year with Juventus.

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17. Nicolo Barella (+9)

I can't help feeling as though Barella has been far too casually thrown to the wayside because of his lack of name status despite winning Serie A with Inter Milan and conquering Euro 2020 with Italy.

Six goals and 13 assists in 2021 might not read like a jaw-dropping roll of honour, but there's no denying how underrated Barella's crucial role to a pair of silverware-winning teams has been.

16. Pedri (+8)

Have we gotten a little overexcited purely on the basis that Pedri has just been a joy to watch this year? Maybe, maybe, but you'll forgive us for having one instance of nerding out in our ranking...

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15. Harry Kane (+8)

Kane is in a very similar boat to Fernandes because like his United rival, the Tottenham Hotspur striker enjoyed an outrageous 2020/21 season with 37 goal contributions in the Premier League.

Scoring four vital goals to captain England to the Euro 2020 final explains his superior position to Fernandes, but we don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves given his empty trophy cabinet.

14. Romelu Lukaku (-2)

Yup, we're pretty much with you on this one, Ballon d'Or voters, because Lukaku's inspiring displays to lead Inter Milan to Serie A glory can't be denied, even if they're not quite worthy of the top 10.

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13. Kevin De Bruyne (-5)

A generous PFA Player of the Year award win is the headline for De Bruyne's slightly overrated year, though there's no denying that he was unplayable at times en route to the Champions League final.

Maybe it's just me, but the Manchester City star's slow start to the 2021/22 campaign, problems with injury and Belgium's underwhelming exit from Euro 2020 pour cold water on his year quite a lot.

12. Kylian Mbappe (-3)

Slightly overhyped due to his name status, in my opinion, but 45 goals and 22 assists in 2021 is still phenomenal, even if I don't read too much into UEFA Nations League and Coupe de France wins.

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11. Ruben Dias (+15)

Do the Ballon d'Or voters have a short memory this year? Let's rewind a second and bear in mind that Dias was the best defender in the world during the 2020/21 season and it wasn't even close.

The Premier League Player of the Season who dropped Herculean performances on the way to a Champions League final has been nothing but disrespected with a lowly 26th place in the rankings.

10. Mohamed Salah (-3)

Uh huh, recency bias has been at play here because although Salah has been truly world-beating this season with 17 goals in just 18 games, we've got to consider the year as a whole.

And while the Liverpool star's 2020/21 campaign was by no means average by any stretch, we're not sure a trophyless 12 months can justify his new status as the year's seventh best player.

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9. Lautaro Martinez (+12)

I'm sorry, but Martinez has been completely overlooked because there's no way that someone who played a key role in Serie A and Copa America glory for Inter Milan and Argentina should finish 21st.

Lest we forget that Martinez more than held his own with Lukaku by scoring 17 goals in Italy's top-flight, while only Messi and Luis Díaz outscored him on the way to conquering South America.

8. Erling Braut Haaland (+3)

We've been a little more generous than most to last season's Champions League Golden Boot winner, but what's the harm when he's registered an outrageous 44 goals and 13 assists this year?

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7. N'Golo Kante (-2)

Despite loving Kante as much as we do, we're not quite as enamoured with the idea of him being a genuine Ballon d'Or contender due to the small sample size upon which the claim was made.

I think Kante was as superhuman on the way to Chelsea's Champions League triumph as much as the next person, but the six players above him were simply excellent on a more consistent basis.

6. Gianluigi Donnarumma (+4)

A little too disrespected from where I'm sat, especially in terms of finishing below Mbappe and De Bruyne, because Donnarumma was named as Serie A's best goalkeeper in his final season at AC Milan.

Marry that to being named as the player of the tournament at Euro 2020 and we can look over the fact that Paris Saint-Germain have been juggling his game-time with Keylor Navas in recent weeks.

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5. Jorginho (-2)

The token high-finisher as a winner of both the Champions League and Euro 2020, Jorginho is - to his credit - more than the sum of his silverware because he's been simply magnificent under Tuchel.

That being said, even I feel as though I'm surrendering a little bit to the Ballon d'Or's preoccupation with the trophies that players have won by giving him a top five finish...

4. Karim Benzema (-1)

Am I being a hypocrite for putting Benzema so high when he's only won the UEFA Nations League? Ok, maybe, but just look at his record in 2021: 43 goals and 14 assists. It's absolute madness.

As such, I'm willing to hold my hands up and say that - a little like Pedri - this is more of a guttural call than some of my other opinions because Benzema has just been so darn electric in 2021.

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3. Cristiano Ronaldo (+3)

Underrate Ronaldo's 2021 at your peril because the five-time Ballon d'Or winner bagged the Serie A and Euro 2020 Golden Boots, scored 43 goals and became international football's all-time record goalscorer.

The Manchester United star was never going to win the top prize, nor do I think that he should have done, but some of the downplaying of his 2021 achievements have been far too exaggerated.

2. Lionel Messi (-1)

Don't get it twisted: Messi has been simply phenomenal in 2021, bowing out in style with a glorious final season at Barcelona and playing like a force of nature on the way to his first international title.

For that reason, we don't have any problem at all with people who think that Messi should have taken the top prize because it's so, so close. I just happen to think that Lewandowski pips him to the post...

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1. Robert Lewandowski (+1)

Naturally, this is all a matter of personal preference and you're always going to have differences in opinion when there's subjective judging criteria, so Lewandowski getting my vote is by no means concrete.

However, if we're really going to be strict about the fact that the Ballon d'Or is an individual award, it's rather difficult to look past just how outrageous Lewandowski's statistics have been in 2021.

It's nothing short of mind-boggling that the Bayern Munich hero boasts 64 goals and 10 assists in the calendar year alone, notching a total of 73 strikes in club football since the start of last season.

Throw in the Bundesliga, FIFA Club World Cup and DFL-Supercup titles for good measure and Lewandowski's alien individual data narrowly overwhelms Messi's Copa America win in my eyes.

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Ballon d'Or 2021: Date, UK Time, Odds, Nominees, Winner And Everything You Need To Know

What do you think?

I can sense already that I've ruffled approximately ten billion feathers.

Naturally, there is no right or wrong answer to who should have won the Ballon d'Or and how the nominees should have been ordered because individual awards are ultimately an arbitrary exercise.

But you'd be hard-pressed to deny that the impossible challenge of ranking these absolute ballers isn't satisfying nonetheless, so be sure to let us know your own thoughts on the 30 superstars, too.

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