Lionel Messi is the favourite to win the eighth Ballon d’Or of his remarkable career when this year’s ceremony to crown the planet’s best footballer takes place in Paris on Monday, while Spain’s World Cup-winning star Aitana Bonmati is tipped to take the women’s prize.
The prestigious award has been dominated over the last 15 years by Messi and his old adversary Cristiano Ronaldo, who have won it 12 times between them.
Only two other players have won the Ballon d’Or since Ronaldo claimed his first in 2008 — Luka Modric won it in 2018 and Karim Benzema was crowned last year following a brilliant season with Real Madrid.
Messi is set to benefit from a recent change which means the award is now based on a player’s record over the last season, rather than over the course of the calendar year.
Last season saw Messi lead Argentina to glory at the World Cup in Qatar, where he scored seven times and was named the tournament’s best player.
It was the crowning moment of his astonishing career, and is likely to mean Messi sees off the considerable competition elsewhere among the 30 nominees.
Most notably, there are seven members of the Manchester City team that won the English Premier League, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League under Pep Guardiola.
The obvious candidate among them is Erling Haaland, who scored 52 goals in 53 games and has already won the UEFA Player of the Year award for last season.
“I always said that the Ballon d’Or should be in two sections, one for Messi, and after that look for the other one,” Guardiola said recently.
“Haaland should win. We won the treble and he scored, I don’t know, 50 million goals.
“But of course if you tell me the worst season of Messi, it would be the best season for the rest of the players.
“Both deserve it, so what can I say? Selfishly I would say I want it to be Erling because he helped us to achieve what we achieved. I would love it.”