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.
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 the nominees for the 2022 prize set to be announced on Friday, check out the final standings from GOAL‘s season-long tracking of the prime contenders…
NOTE: Players’ clubs reflect 2021-22 season only
Ballon d’Or 2022 Power Rankings
- 20. Rafael Leao (AC Milan)
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)
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.
He was, however, rewarded with a new contract over the summer and should earn a handful of votes come October.
18. Rodri (Manchester City)
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)
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 back on the agenda in 2022-23, the South Korean’s career might be about to go to a whole new level under Antonio Conte.
16. Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)
In 2021-22: Four goals, two assists, 32 clean sheets. Won FA Cup & Carabao Cup.
Van Dijk returned to the Liverpool line up after missing almost the entire previous campaign and was back to his imperious best almost instantly.
Still the finest centre-back currently playing the game, the World Cup in November will finally see him grace a major international tournament stage.
- 15. Thiago Alcantara (Liverpool)
In 2021-22: Two goals, five assists. Won FA Cup & Carabao Cup.
Though bad injury luck saw him miss the Carabao Cup final and struggle in the Champions League final, Thiago was a joy to watch when he was fully fit through 2021-22.
His performance against Manchester United at Anfield was arguably the finest by a midfielder in the Premier League last term.
14. Luis Diaz (Porto/Liverpool)
In 2021-22: 23 goals, 10 assists. Won FA Cup & Carabao Cup.
An absolute revelation after joining Liverpool in the January transfer window, Diaz came up big for the Reds on a number of occasions during their quadruple quest.
Factor in his performances for Porto in the first half of the season, and he has a shot at a top 10 finish in the Ballon d’Or standings.
13. Christopher Nkunku (RB Leipzig)
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 had an individual season that could 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)
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, and it’s no wonder Barcelona are pushing so hard to sign him.
11. Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
In 2021-22: Two goals, 22 assists, 24 clean sheets. Won FA Cup & Carabao Cup.
Questions may remain over his defensive capabilities, but going forward, there is no more dangerous full-back than Alexander-Arnold.
The Liverpool star’s passing range puts some central midfielders to shame, and he could well break countless Premier League assist records by the time his career is over.
10. Phil Foden (Manchester City)
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.
A winger with the potential to become one of the best midfielders of his generation, the sky is truly the limit for Foden now.
9. Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid)
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 12 months.
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.
- Getty Images
8. Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)
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)
In 2021-22: Seven goals, 14 assists. Won Champions League, La Liga & Supercopa de Espana.
Modric put in a number of virtuoso performances over the course of the campaign, 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 a foregone conclusion.
6. Vinicius Junior (Real Madrid)
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 in 2023 either?
5. Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)
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)
In 2021-22: 57 goals, 12 assists. Won Bundesliga & DFL-Supercup.
Another 50+ goal season for Lewandowski in what proved to be his last in a Bayern Munich shirt.
Barcelona fans are praying he can now replicate that form in Spain and finally get his hands on the Ballon d’Or he should have been awarded in 2020.
3. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
In 2021-22: 33 goals, 19 assists. Won FA Cup & Carabao Cup.
Salah was the best player on the planet during the first half of the 2021-22 season, and a place on the podium should be his if the judges’ memories are long enough.
Though he suffered disappointment both at club and international level through the second half of the campaign, he continued to produce, winning the Premier League Golden Boot among other honours.
2. Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
In 2021-22: 33 goals, five assists. Won Africa Cup of Nations, FA Cup & Carabao Cup.
An African player has not won the Ballon d’Or since George Weah in 1995, and though that wait is likely to go on, Mane could have done little more to state his case.
A trophy winner for both club and country, he was Liverpool’s go-to man through the second half of the season as they chased down an unprecedented quadruple.
1. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
In 2021-22: 48 goals, 15 assists. Won Champions League, La Liga, UEFA Nations League & Supercopa de Espana.
In terms of consistency through the season, the 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 was not a player who even came 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!