How Australia voted in the Ballon d’Or: Lionel Messi claims world’s best men’s footballer for the seventh time, Sam Kerr third in women’s award

Argentine superstar Lionel Messi has won the prestigious Ballon d’Or award for the seventh time, beating German striker Robert Lewandowski in the poll for the men’s world footballer of the year.

Messi spent most of the season at Barcelona, before moving to French club Paris Saint-Germain in August. He beat Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski and Chelsea’s Jorginho.

Messi broke Pele’s record of most goals for one club (672 at Barcelona), and went past Gerd Muller’s record of scoring at least 30 goals in 12 consecutive seasons.

The superstar striker also had a breakthrough title at international level, leading Argentina to beat Brazil in the Copa America final.

That award — which was announced at a ceremony in Paris — was not held last year due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Lewandowski had the consolation of winning the new category of Striker of the Year, while Barcelona’s Pedri took out the Kopa award for best young player.

In the women’s Ballon d’Or, Matildas striker Sam Kerr — who plays for Chelsea in the Women’s Super League — came third in the voting, behind Barcelona’s Jennifer Hermoso and her teammate and award winner Alexia Putellas.

Soccer player celebrates after scoring a goal during a match
Sam Kerr had an excellent year for the Matildas and Chelsea, coming third in the women’s Ballon d’Or award.(AAP: Darren Pateman/File)

Australia’s Ballon d’Or voting

By Daniel Garb

For the third time since being first asked to do it in 2018, it was a huge privilege to again cast Australia’s vote for the prestigious men’s Ballon d’Or award in what was a welcome return for football’s highest individual honour after it went unawarded last year for obvious reasons.

Yet again, it was an incredibly hard decision to structure the 1-5 votes for the calendar year of 2021 — up to October 24 — based on the criteria set by France Football magazine, who established the award back in 1956.

Those criteria are:

1. Individual and team performance

2. Talent and sportsmanship of the player

3. The player’s overall career.

With the European Championships and Copa America both held during the transpiring 12 months, those international tournaments were always going to carry a large amount of weight, as they always do, along with the monitoring of performances in close detail over the year.

It was a comforting feeling selecting four of the eventual top five, although I missed the eventual winner in what was a tough call.

For Lionel Messi to win a seventh Ballon d’Or is quite possibly, a never to be repeated achievement.

To give some insight into how Australia’s vote was constructed, this is how I came to my decisions:

First choice – 6 points – Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich /Poland)

A footballer in a suit stands at a podium with a golden trophy in front of him.
Bayern Munich superstar Robert Lewandowski may not have won the Ballon d’Or, but he took home the trophy for striker of the year.(AP: Christophe Ena)

Like, I imagine, many judges did, I wrestled with the call of Lewandowski or Messi for first choice and changed my mind several times during the voting process.

At the time that the nominations were sent out, the Polish goal machine had netted a remarkable 40 times in 50 games in 2021, which included the second half of the Bundesliga season, whereby he broke Gerd Muller’s long-standing single-season goal record with 41 strikes and claimed his first-ever European Golden Boot gong.

Yes, he is assisted by playing in the dominant Bayern Munich outfit but that should not dilute his status as, arguably, the finest pure striker and finisher the world has seen in the past decade, which was on show as much as ever in 2021.

He still did his bit for his country at the Euros too, netting an impressive three goals in two games for a Poland side that was always going to battle to make it out of the group stage.

Helping sway what was a close call and opt for “Bobby” — in addition to yet another remarkable domestic campaign where he won a seventh straight league title with Bayern Munich — was his 2020 season, where he was likely to claim the Ballon d’Or in a canter if not for the COVID-19 disruptions.

Considering a player’s career is part of the criteria — despite Messi obviously having a far better one all up — I felt this was a fair call, along with the other factors outlined for both players, to edge the vote his way, along with another extraordinary year.

Second choice – 4 points – Lionel Messi (Barcelona/PSG/Argentina)

In the quest for a seventh Ballon d’Or all up, the immortal Argentine was irrepressible yet again in a year highlighted by his first major tournament win with Argentina, the Copa America, where he claimed joint golden boot: four goals and player of the tournament honours.

There was the La Liga Golden Boot as well for Messi, who still mesmerises like no other in the footballing world at his best, but that’s where the major honours ended, without a league title and a Champions League campaign that ended in the round of 16 as things started to unravel at Barcelona.

He would still finish fourth in the Champions League forward of the season award, one spot behind Lewandowski.

All that considered, it was a marginal call for top honours between the two but a slow start to life at PSG for the 34-year-old, after 17 first team seasons at Barca, also had an impact in swaying the six votes to Lewandowski and placing Leo in second.

Third choice – 3 points — Jorginho (Chelsea/Italy)

Three Italian footballers embrace and shout in joy as they celebrate the winning penalty in a Euro 2020 semi-final.
It was a big year for Jorginho (centre), who was a driving force behind Italy’s European Championship win.(Getty Images: Carl Recine/Pool)

Major titles matter and Jorginho played a critical role for both Italy and Chelsea in winning the two biggest trophies a player could collect in 2021 – the European Championships and the Champions League.

Of course, simply claiming them is not enough to figure prominently in Ballon d’Or voting, the individual performances must be of an exceedingly high standard as well.

That was certainly the case for the remarkably talented midfielder who demonstrated his all-encompassing engine room game as a tempo-setter, playmaker, defensive shield and elite penalty converter, en route to the two major achievements for club and country.

This was highlighted by being named UEFA men’s player of the year, in the Euros team of the tournament and the Champions League squad of the season.

Fourth choice – 2 points — N’Golo Kante (Chelsea/France)

At about the halfway mark of the year, after playing an undeniable leading role in Chelsea’s Champions League triumph, Kante was the red-hot favourite for the Ballon d’Or.

N'Golo Kante of Chelsea
Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante was the Champions League midfielder of the year, but France’s poor European Championship hurt his chances.(AP: Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Named as the Champions League midfielder of the season, all that was required was a strong European Championships for the world’s best true defensive midfielder to feature more prominently in the votes.

However, as France faltered and Kante’s start to the 2021–22 season was a tad off his mind-blowing standards, he slid down the polling sheet a touch.

Still, to be fourth on anyone’s list — and, quite possibly, higher in some — as an out-and-out defensive midfielder, albeit one who possesses a creative passing game, is a sensational mark to reach and just reward for an incredible career to date that deserved a high-placed finish after another stunning year.

Few defensive midfielders can take your breath away. Kante has done so for close to 10 years and as much as ever for Chelsea in the first part of 2021.

Fifth choice – One point — Mohammed Salah (Liverpool/Egypt)

Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring against Manchester United
Mohamed Salah is currently in stellar form, but much of the Liverpool star’s best work came outside the voting period. (Getty Images: Michael Regan)

This may raise some eyebrows after Salah elevated himself to “best player in the world” status over the past few months but a large chunk of that period came after the nominations were sent out to judges.

Prior to that, it was hard for Salah to post a calendar year performance that would lead to a higher-vote position — in my mind anyway — as Liverpool endured one of their worst form runs in their history in the first part of 2021.

Still, it would be the Egyptian king who helped the Reds through it more than anyone else and led to him being named in the PFA team of the season, with 22 goals for the campaign, second only to Harry Kane.

Then came the insane end to the 2021 calendar year and the justifiable tag as the best player on Earth, on form.

Personally, it elevated him over Karim Benzema for my final vote in what was another tough call as the French great recorded arguably his best individual season ever — with 31 goals in 45 games at the time nominations were sent — and spearheaded France to a Nations League crown.

Lev Yashin Trophy

Judges are also asked to vote in a 3,2,1 format for the Lev Yashin award for the best goalkeeper of the year, in honour of the Russian great.

Gianluigi Donnarumma was the easy pick for me after being named Euros player of the tournament in Italy’s triumph and Serie A goalkeeper of the year as well.

Eduoard Mendy was my second pick after a spectacular season for Chelsea that netted him Champions League goalkeeper of the year honours, with last year’s winner, Slovenian Jan Oblak, my third choice after another brilliant campaign where he was named best keeper in La Liga for a fifth time.

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