Ballon d'Or 2021: Pundits and nominees predict who will win prestigious award with Messi and Lewandowski leading race
THE race for the 2021 Ballon d'Or is hotting up with usual suspects Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo joined by the likes of Robert Lewandowski in contention for the award.
The winner of this year's prestigious gong will be named on November 29.
And with time running out, football's top pundits, players and managers have had their say on who should be crowned the best of 2021.
We take a look at some of the biggest names, below…
CARLO ANCELOTTI: Karim Benzema
AT the age of 33, Benzema is getting better and better for Real Madrid.
The French striker has enjoyed arguably the best year of his career.
And while perhaps biased, his current Los Blancos boss reckons he's a contender for the Ballon d'Or – what would be the first of Benzema's career.
Ancelotti said: “For what he’s doing and for what he has done, he has to be in the list of possible winners.
"Saying that, Karim’s got time to win it – I somehow doubt this is his final season.
"He’s like a fine wine; the older he gets the better he is."
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DIDIER DESCHAMPS: Karim Benzema
BENZEMA'S France boss also reckons the striker should win it.
But Deschamps doesn't believe the contest should even be close after Benzema scored four times for his country at Euro 2020 despite their last 16 KO on penalties at the hands of neighbours Switzerland.
When asked if Benzema should win the Ballon d'Or, Deschamps simply answered: "Yes, clearly."
RIVALDO: Mohamed Salah
THE Liverpool star, 29, is one of the front-runners and is now considered one of the best players on the planet on form after his electric start to the season.
Salah has been ridiculous in 2021-22 for the Reds so far and Barcelona legend Rivaldo reckons he deserves the Ballon d'Or for his ability to score in the 'two most difficult competitions on the planet'.
Rivaldo told Betfair: "Liverpool's Egyptian forward is producing a fantastic start to the season with impressive stats and sensational goals.
"He's one of the best players in the world right now because his astonishing numbers of goals and assists come in the Premier League and Champions League, two of the most difficult competitions on the planet."
GARY LINEKER: Lionel Messi
THE Argentine, 34, may have struggled since joining Paris Saint-Germain after two decades at Barcelona, but Messi enjoyed a strong start to the year.
Barca's 2021-22 struggles show just how much they miss their star winger – with Messi also winning the Copa America for the first time in his career.
On the six-time Ballon d'Or winner, Lineker – runner-up for the 1986 award – said: "It will be difficult to overcome Messi.
"He had a great first part of the season and then he won the Copa America with Argentina."
RIO FERDINAND: Robert Lewandowski
FERDINAND reckons Lewandowski has a clear path to win this year's Ballon d'Or because he racked up 'Ronaldo and Messi numbers' in a year the two rivals failed to do so themselves.
On this year's potential winner, Ferdinand told BT Sport: "There isn't a stand out, it’s hard to say.
“This would never have been [the case] before. It would have just been two names on there – Messi and Ronaldo.
“Cristiano’s not on there because his teams didn’t win the league and he didn’t get as many goals maybe.
“I think this year Lewandowski, yeah. 56 goal involvements in 38 games is ridiculous. Those are Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi numbers.”
Ferdinand went on to rule out Jorginho – one of the front-runners following his Champions League-Euro 2020 double – saying he's not even his club's top candidate.
The ex-Man Utd star added: "The Jorginho thing baffles me.
“He’s not the best player at Chelsea and he’s not the first name on the team-sheet with Italy either.
“He’s a very good player and I’m not trying to be disrespectful, but I don’t see how he gets on the list with those players – with the levels that these guys have been playing at.
“If you look at Chelsea, in their run to winning the Champions League, I think (N’Golo) Kante was Man of the Match in five of their last six games.
“It baffles me. Jorginho has won two of the big trophies – but when you’re putting him up against those other four players there, it doesn’t make sense to me.”
FINIDI GEORGE: Cristiano Ronaldo
RONALDO bagged a move back to Manchester United in the summer after finishing Euro 2020 as leading scorer with five goals.
The Portuguese star, 36, has bailed United out time after time this season with a host of late winners or equalisers in the Prem and Champions League to save Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's skin.
And ex-Ajax star George reckons Ronaldo is in the running for what would be his SIXTH Ballon d'Or.
George said: “Although Portugal crashed out early at Euro 2020 everything is possible, [Ronaldo] could still end up winning it.
"And if he doesn’t win it, that’s no problem. Apart from him, players like Messi and Lewandowski are doing very well…
"When it comes to that time, we will know who the strongest contender is to win."
PATRICE EVRA – Jorginho or N'Golo Kante
EX-MAN UTD star Evra was firm in his claim the award should NOT go to Messi this year.
Saying he was 'sick' of the Argentine cleaning up at the ceremony, Evra plumped for Chelsea's star midfield duo: Jorginho and Kante.
On his pick for the award, Evra roared: "In my opinion this Ballon d'Or is for Kante or Jorginho.
"I'm sick of giving it to Messi."
JORGINHO – N'Golo Kante or Kevin de Bruyne
JORGINHO may be one of the front-runners for the award, but when asked the Chelsea man deflected the attention to pal Kante and City rival De Bruyne.
The Italian claimed: "I would vote in the Ballon d’Or for Kante… or De Bruyne."
On the Belgian midfield maestro, Jorginho added: "Talking to other defenders from big teams, he requires much more attention than players that win every year the prize."
LUIS SUAREZ – Robert Lewandowski
THE Atletico Madrid striker is certain Lewandowski should be crowned 2021 Ballon d'Or winner.
The Polish star was the favourite to win last year's event before it was cancelled due to the pandemic.
Lewandowski did win Fifa's The Best award, but is still waiting to break his Ballon d'Or duck.
And Suarez is desperate to see the Bayern Munich star crowned king, snapping: "Give Lewandowski the Ballon d'Or, damn it!"
GERARD PIQUE – Lionel Messi
MESSI may no longer be a Barcelona player, but star defender Pique still has his back.
The Spaniard insists the PSG winger deserves his seventh award, saying it's not about trophies won – the case for Jorginho to be crowned and arguably why Luka Modric triumphed in 2018 – but about individual performances.
Pique said: "I think Leo will win Ballon d’Or for sure.
“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 must be the winner.
“If it's valuing trophies plus performance plus figures, the winner is also Leo.
"Leo should have won more than six times.”
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