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- Features & Opinions
For all the controversy and criticism it generates, the Ballon d'Or remains the most important individual award in world football, and the race to claim the 2022 prize is all-but over.
France Football announced in March that the rules for Ballon d'Or voting have changed, with the key one being that the award will be based on performances over a single season, rather than a calendar year.
That means performances at the 2022 World Cup, which is set to kick-off in November, will not be considered this year, and instead will be judged when voting for the 2023 Ballon d'Or gets under way.
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The importance placed on trophies (aka 'Jorginho's Law') has also been scaled back, meaning the prize should reflect the best footballers from each season, rather than those who lift the most silverware.
With all that in mind, and with defending champion Lionel Messi in the hunt for an eighth Golden Ball, who will claim the crown when it is handed out in October?
(Previously updated May 23.)
#20 Rafael Leao (AC Milan)
Last time: 20th
In 2021-22: 14 goals, 14 assists. Won Serie A.
Dubbed 'the new Thierry Henry' in Italy, Leao was voted Serie A's MVP of the season after firing AC Milan to their first Scudetto in 11 years.
The Portugal forward should, therefore, get a handful of Ballon d'Or votes from regular watchers of the Italian top flight.
#19 Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City)
Last time: 19th
In 2021-22: 29 goals, 12 assists. Won Premier League.
Though he finished the season as Man City's top scorer in all competitions, Mahrez's form steadily slipped during the final months of the season, and some of his missed chances could have proven costly.
With just one year left on his contract at the Etihad Stadium, it will be interesting to see if any bids arrive this summer for the Algeria international.
#18 Rodri (Manchester City)
Last time: 18th
In 2021-22: Seven goals, three assists. Won Premier League.
The unsung hero of Man City's successful title defence, Rodri's strike in the dramatic final-day win over Aston Villa further illustrated what a fine all-round midfielder he has become.
Defensively sound, metronomic in his passing and capable of scoring both long-range stunners and headers from set-pieces, the Spain international will likely be a mainstay of Pep Guardiola's side for years to come.
#17 Son Heung-min (Tottenham)
Last time: 17th
In 2021-22: 30 goals, 10 assists.
Though he was forced to share the Golden Boot with Mohamed Salah, Son's achievement in finishing as the Premier League's joint-top scorer without netting a penalty should not be underestimated.
With Champions League football now secure for next season, the South Korea star's career might be about to go to a whole new level under Antonio Conte.
#16 Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)
Last time: 16th
In 2021-22: Four goals, two assists, 32 clean sheets. Won FA Cup & Carabao Cup.
Van Dijk returned to the Liverpool line up for the Champions League final, and though he barely put a foot wrong in Paris, could not help the Reds claim their seventh European Cup.
#15 Thiago Alcantara (Liverpool)
Last time: 13th
In 2021-22: Two goals, five assists. Won FA Cup & Carabao Cup.
It remains unclear just how fit Thiago truly was for the Champions League final, but the Liverpool midfielder did not put in anything close to the kind of performance he is capable of in Paris as the Reds were beaten by Real Madrid.
#14 Luis Diaz (Liverpool)
Last time: 12th
In 2021-22: 23 goals, 10 assists. Won FA Cup & Carabao Cup.
Many would have backed Diaz to win his individual battle with Dani Carvajal in the Champions League final, but the Real Madrid full-back stepped up to keep the Colombian quiet, which in turn led to him being substituted midway through the second half.
#13 Christopher Nkunku (RB Leipzig)
Last time: 15th
In 2021-22: 35 goals, 22 assists. Won DFB-Pokal.
The Bundesliga Player of the Season and a goalscorer in RB Leipzig's DFB-Pokal final triumph, Nkunku has had an individual season that can stand up to almost any other player's on the planet.
It remains to be seen, though, whether he will get the credit he deserves from Ballon d'Or voters given his lack of name recognition.
#12 Bernardo Silva (Manchester City)
Last time: 11th
In 2021-22: 13 goals, 13 assists. Won Premier League.
Bernardo's role in the Premier League's final-day drama will forever be remembered, as he was the player replaced by Man City's hero Ilkay Gundogan in the second half.
That should not detract, however, from the Portugal international's superb individual season.
#11 Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
Last time: 10th
In 2021-22: Two goals, 22 assists, 24 clean sheets. Won FA Cup & Carabao Cup.
Alexander-Arnold posed a threat for Liverpool in the Champions League final, but only on a couple of occasions produced decent final balls in a display that will largely be remembered for his failure to track Vinicius Junior's run for Real Madrid's winner.
#10 Phil Foden (Manchester City)
Last time: 9th
In 2021-22: 14 goals, 15 assists. Won Premier League.
With four Premier League titles before his 22nd birthday, Foden is well on his way to becoming one of the most decorated English footballers of all time after helping Man City to another piece of domestic silverware.
#9 Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid)
Last time: 14th
In 2021-22: 23 clean sheets. Won Champions League, La Liga & Supercopa de Espana.
Courtois' Man-of-the-Match winning display in the Champions League final only moved to cement his status as the best goalkeeper in the world over the past season.
His saves from Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane were stunning, and after making key interventions throughout Madrid's run to the trophy, there are few players who deserved to lift the European Cup more than the Belgium No.1.
#8 Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)
Last time: 6th
In 2021-22: 21 goals, 18 assists. Won Premier League.
The Premier League Player of the Season, De Bruyne came up clutch time and time again for Man City down the stretch, scoring and creating crucial goals in the final months of the campaign.
#7 Luka Modric (Real Madrid)
Last time: 8th
In 2021-22: Seven goals, 14 assists. Won Champions League, La Liga & Supercopa de Espana.
Modric put in yet another virtuoso performance in the Champions League final, with the Croatian star showing no signs of slowing down at the age of 36.
The 2018 Ballon d'Or winner is unlikely to triumph again in 2022, but a place among the top 10 is surely now a foregone conclusion.
#6 Vinicius Junior (Real Madrid)
Last time: 7th
In 2021-22: 22 goals, 19 assists. Won Champions League, La Liga & Supercopa de Espana.
The Champions League final match-winner, Vinicius capped his breakout campaign with the biggest goal of the European club season to secure Real Madrid's 14th European Cup.
With Brazil one of the favourites for the upcoming World Cup, who is to say that the forward won't be right in the Ballon d'Or mix this time in 2023?
#5 Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)
Last time: 5th
In 2021-22: 49 goals, 31 assists. Won Ligue 1 & UEFA Nations League.
Can Mbappe win the Ballon d'Or by staying in Ligue 1?
The answer is yes, but he will need PSG to raise their game in the Champions League, and perhaps win another World Cup in Qatar, if he is to take the crown in 2023.
#4 Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
Last time: 4th
In 2021-22: 57 goals, 12 assists. Won Bundesliga & DFL-Supercup.
Lewandowski has his feet up after a long season, though his agent is working overtime to get him out of Bayern Munich.
Talks with Barcelona have already begun, but a potential move to Camp Nou is unlikely to be straightforward.
#3 Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
Last time: 3rd
In 2021-22: 33 goals, 19 assists. Won FA Cup & Carabao Cup.
On another night, Salah might have been celebrating a Champions League-final hat-trick, but in Thibaut Courtois he came up against an immovable object in Paris.
Still, the Egypt star's superb form in the first half of the season, when he was undoubtedly the best player on the planet, should not be forgotten by the Ballon d'Or judges, even if he struggled to maintain that level throughout the whole campaign.
#2 Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Last time: 2nd
In 2021-22: 33 goals, five assists. Won Africa Cup of Nations, FA Cup & Carabao Cup.
In what now looks likely to be his final game in a Liverpool shirt, Mane came within Thibaut Courtois' fingertips of opening the scoring in the Champions League final, with a strike that would have crowned his superb 2022.
His trophy haul, as well as the help of recency bias, should help the Senegal international finish on the Ballon d'Or podium, but the wait for a first African winner since George Weah in 1995 is set to continue.
#1 Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
Last time: 1st
In 2021-22: 48 goals, 15 assists. Won Champions League, La Liga, UEFA Nations League & Supercopa de Espana.
Was there ever any doubt? In terms of consistency through the season, number of top-level performances, standing up in the biggest moments possible and final trophy haul, Benzema ticks every box needed to win a Ballon d'Or.
There is not a player who even comes close to the Real Madrid striker in terms of impact on the 2021-22 European season, and he will rightfully lift the Golden Ball at October's ceremony.
Anyone who does not vote for him better have a good reason why!