In 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2019 Messi won the prestigious award, and he is the bookies favourite with different betting sites to take home the trophy once more this year to make it seven in total. At 34 years of age, the Argentine has enjoyed a typically fantastic year for both club and country and continues to show why many people consider him to be the greatest of all time.
Why is he the favourite to win it?
Some people may be quick to point at Messi’s slow start to life at Paris Saint Germain after his shock summer move from Barcelona as a reason why he shouldn’t win the award, but even considering that, 2021 has been an extremely successful year for the Rosario born magician. For both club and country, as of 22 November, he has totalled 41 goals and 14 assists this calendar year, averaging a goal every 114 minutes and a goal involvement every 85 minutes. He finished his season in La Liga as the top goalscorer and won the Copa Del Rey while at Barca, and then this summer, he finally won an international tournament with Argentina, something that had previously evaded him his entire career. Messi’s joy was clear to see after his side beat Brazil in the Copa America final, saying: “the happiness is immense...Many times I dreamed of this”. He was the player of the tournament and scored four times in the competition to end Argentina’s 28-year spell without a trophy.
His move to PSG in the summer completely shocked the footballing world, and while it has taken some time for fans to adjust to seeing Messi wearing the blue and red of the Paris side as opposed to the Blaugrana of Barca, it’s taken Messi some time to adjust too. He managed his first Ligue 1 goal on November 20 against Nantes in his sixth league game for the French side, which is longer than many expected. His Champions League record has been better, netting three times in the three games he’s played, but it has still been a fairly inauspicious start to life in Paris given his otherworldly talents. However, he still remains Ballon d’Or favourite thanks to his performances earlier on in the year and could be hitting form at the perfect time.
Who are his main rivals for the crown?
Since 2008, there has only been one winner of the Ballon d’Or not called Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, when Luka Modric was rewarded for his brilliant World Cup and Champions League performances. Last year’s crown was almost certainly going to be the second time neither of the two maestros won it in recent memory, as Robert Lewandowski was almost certain to take home the trophy. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2020 award was cancelled, taking that opportunity away from the Polish striker. The 33-year-old played a vital role in the Bayern Munich side that romped home in the Bundesliga, breaking Gerd Muller’s long-standing record of goals in a single German top-flight campaign, scoring 41 in total.
Lewandowski stands as Messi’s closest rival to the crown currently, which comes as no surprise as he has scored 48 goals in 35 combined Champions League and domestic games, at a rate of a goal every 62 minutes, a far higher rate than anyone else in Europe. Manchester City and Belgium star Kevin De Bruyne thinks Lewandowski should be the man to take home the crown, saying: “If I had to choose myself personally, I’m going to look at a two-year period, because we didn’t have anyone [last year]... I’d choose Lewandowski for what he has done in the last two years goalscoring-wise, and also he’s won a lot with Bayern. He would be my pick”. In any other year, Lewandowski would be a runaway favourite, but Messi’s sublime record twinned with the fact he finally broke Argentina’s trophy drought makes him hard to overlook.
Chelsea and Italy midfielder Jorginho is another man that has a strong argument to take home the trophy. He is the only man on the planet who can say he lifted the Champions League and European Championships trophy in the same summer and he played a vital role in both title wins to boot. It’s far harder to gauge a defensive midfielder’s value to a team and output in comparison to a forward player like Messi or Lewandowski, but it’s been clear the Italian has been essential to his club and country’s success. Barcelona and Spain defender Gerard Pique said it’s tough to tell whether the Ballon d’Or winner should be decided on trophies or individual output, saying “The parameters for this trophy are so distorted that people no longer know what we are valuing. If we are valuing trophies, Jorginho should be the winner but if you value the best player in the world, Leo [Messi] must be the winner. If it’s valuing trophies plus performance plus figures… The winner is also Leo. Leo should have won more than seven times.”
Would this be Messi’s least deserved Ballon d’Or?
It is very hard to argue against Messi being the greatest player on the planet, so it’s easy to see why he is the favourite to win the award for 2021. However, his goal-scoring output doesn’t match Lewandowski’s, and his trophies don’t match Jorginho’s, so what is different about this year?
Messi’s failure to win international honours with Argentina had plagued him for so long, and the Copa America victory was so special for so many people. Not only did he lead them to the title, he was the tournament’s top scorer and best player too. The narrative is so strong for Messi to win his seventh Ballon d’Or, it’s hard to see past him winning it. He may not have the goals and assists of previous years, nor does he have a Champions League medal to further his case, but he broke a 28-year trophyless spell for his country, and finally won a tournament that has evaded him for so long, playing like the best player in the world while doing it.
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