The 2022 Ballon d’Or was awarded on Tuesday, Oct. 17. The award is given out by the newspaper France Football, and it is internationally recognized as the prize that officially declares the best player in the world for a given calendar year. National team coaches and captains from each of FIFA’s 209 recognized countries, as well as one journalist per country, are allowed to vote for who they believe to be the three best players in the world, in order. Three points are given for first place, 2 for second, and 1 for third. After all the points are totaled, the player with the most votes wins the trophy and the accolade of being recognized as the best player the game has to offer.
The winner this year is Karim Benzema. He is the oldest winner since 1954 at 34 years of age, which is some feat. Normally by this age, players are slowing down, not peaking. The Frenchman plays his club football for Real Madrid, which means he has now followed up his win in yesterday’s El Clásico with soccer’s ultimate individual award. The announcement comes after the best 12 months of Benzema’s career, in which he won La Liga and the Champions League with Real Madrid, as well as the UEFA Nations League with France. During the 2021-22 club season (of which the second half is considered), he scored 44 goals and provided 15 assists to teammates across 46 games in all competitions at club level. In the Champions League, which is considered the pinnacle of club soccer, he managed to tie the third best goal scoring season in the history of the competition with 15 strikes in 13 matches; 10 of those came in the seven knockout stage matches Real Madrid played on their way to the title. Even as injuries have hampered the early portion of his season this time around, he has still managed 4 goals and an assist across 6 league games thus far. Benzema is more than deserving of the Ballon d’Or.
Those that came below him in the list are a bit more suspect, however. Positions 2 through 5 were, in order, Sadio Mane, Kevin de Bruyne, Robert Lewandowski, and Mohamed Salah. I have no issue with any of these players making the top five, as all four have been fantastic all year. The order they find themselves in, however, should raise a few eyebrows. Sadio Mane, for example, replaced Lewandowski at Bayern Munich after the Pole left for Barcelona this summer. Since then, Bayern have fallen off a cliff offensively and now find themselves in second place in the Bundesliga, which they normally dominate, four points behind Union Berlin. Meanwhile, Lewa’s new team sit second in La Liga, just three points off the top of the table, just a season after they looked to be close to missing out on a top four place for months. This season, Lewandowski has scored 15 goals in 14 games in all competitions, while Mane has 8 goals in the same number of games. Last season, Lewandowski scored 35 goals in 34 games in the league; Mane only managed 16, again in the same number of games. Mane did win the Africa Cup of Nations for his home nation of Senegal, but that was in 2021, and so should not be considered toward his placing here. All of this seems to indicate that Lewandowski should definitely be ahead of Mane.
The same could be said for Kevin de Bruyne. He scored 15 goals in the Premier League last season, only one fewer than Mane. This is despite the fact he played four fewer games and is a central midfielder. He also chipped in with 8 assists to Mane’s 2, and won the league, beating Mane’s Liverpool side to the title. This season, de Bruyne already has 9 assists to lead the Premier League in that category, as well as a goal to make his goal contribution record one per match. Mane’s is half that. So it would seem he should also be above the Senegalese forward.
Regardless, my own criticisms of the overall rankings should not detract from the fact that Karim Benzema might be the first unquestioned winner of the Ballon d’Or since Lionel Messi in 2012, which speaks to his quality as a footballer. His ability is incredible, and we ought to appreciate it before he retires.