Watch the Ballon d'Or LIVE on SBS and SBS On Demand from 6:30am (AEDT) tomorrow or relive the ceremony and red carpet on replay via SBS On Demand.
Robert Lewandowski was perhaps the man most aggrieved by the award’s coronavirus-enforced cancellation in 2020, and for some, he remains in pole position to claim the prestigious prize.
For others, six-time winner Lionel Messi stands in his way; seeking one last addition to take his record tally two clear of long-time rival, Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Portuguese great, too, boasts arguably his last chance to land the individual honour, though he will find stiff competition from several other stars studding the 30-man shortlist in Paris.
Such uncertainty surrounding the eventual recipient sets up a must-see event at the Chatelet Theatre, and both SBS and SBS On Demand will air every second of it LIVE from 6:30am (AEDT) on Tuesday, November 30.
Lewandowski was at his record-breaking best for Bayern Munich in 2020 and carried that form with him over the last 12 months to deadly effect.
The 33-year-old has found the back of the net 50 times in 38 club appearances this year, having also scored 11 goals in 12 games for Poland, including three at the Euros.
Such a return averages out to a goal every 64 minutes – better than any other player – and is precisely why Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann labelled him “the world’s best striker”.
“I can’t think of anyone else deserving the award like he does after he, over the past years, continuously delivered goals,” he added.
Messi makes his case for a seventh Ballon d’Or having won the most recent edition in 2019.
In 2021, the little magician helped a struggling Barcelona side lift the Copa del Rey trophy before being named player of the tournament at the Copa America – a competition won by Argentina for the first time since 1993.
Though the 34-year-old has struggled to replicate that form since his August move to Paris Saint-Germain, his tally remains impressive, with 56 goal involvements (41 goals, 15 assists) in 54 games for both club and country.
It’s his breakthrough with La Albiceleste that could give him the edge over his peers and ex-Barca teammate Gerard Pique concurred, telling Spanish broadcaster Ibai Llanos: “If it’s valuing trophies plus performance plus figures… the winner is also Leo.”
While Jorginho cannot match the likes of Lewandowski and Messi from a statistical point of view, what he brings to the table is arguably just as valuable.
Possessing poise on the ball, technique, the vision to pick a pass and cover all areas of the pitch; the 29-year-old has mastered the ‘regista’ role and is one of the best midfielders in the world.
His performances helped both Chelsea and Italy achieve European glory in 2021 – an impressive feat for the man nicknamed ‘The Professor’.
For Azzurri manager Roberto Mancini, nobody else is more deserving of the accolade than Jorginho, telling reporters: “it would seem strange to me otherwise”.
One of the most underrated players of his generation, Benzema is finally reaping the rewards his performances have so justly deserved.
The Real Madrid striker has gone from strength to strength since Ronaldo’s departure and the past 12 months might just be the best stretch of his incredible career for club and country.
An unexpected recall to the France national team has yielded nine goals, two assists and the UEFA Nations League title last month, while his feats for Real include 44 goal involvements (32 goals, 12 assists) in 43 games.
The 33-year-old is flourishing as the focal point in Carlo Ancelotti’s new-look Los Blancos and compatriot Zinedine Zidane believes the Ballon d’Or is the perfect reward for a player “above the rest”.
With five awards already to his name, a sixth seems unlikely in Paris, but that’s not to say Ronaldo’s 2021 hasn’t been up to his extraordinary standards.
Having split the past 12 months with both Juventus and United, Ronaldo has found the back of the net 29 times to go with six assists in 43 games.
Capocannoniere and Coppa Italia aside, it’s his accomplishments on the international stage that make his case more considerable; having won the Euro 2020 golden boot and overtaken Ali Daei as the greatest international male goalscorer in history.
Ronaldo produced 13 goals and one assist in 14 games for Portugal this year, taking his total tally to 49 goal involvements in 57 games – not bad for a player less than three months out from his 37th birthday.
- Mohamed Salah (Liverpool, Egypt - 42 goal involvements in 49 games across all competitions)
- Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain, France - 67 goal involvements in 60 games across all competitions)
- Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City, Belgium - 29 goal involvements in 47 games from midfield as City completed the domestic double)
- Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund, Norway - 54 goal involvements in 45 games across all competitions)
- N’Golo Kante (Chelsea, France - the infallible engine behind the Blues' UEFA Champions League victory)
Full 30-man Shortlist
- Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)
- Nicolo Barella (Inter Milan)
- Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
- Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus)
- Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)
- Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus)
- Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)
- Ruben Dias (Manchester City)
- Gianluigi Donnarumma (Paris Saint-Germain)
- Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United)
- Phil Foden (Manchester City)
- Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)
- Jorginho (Chelsea)
- Harry Kane (Tottenham)
- N’Golo Kante (Chelsea)
- Simon Kjaer (AC Milan)
- Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
- Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea)
- Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City)
- Lautaro Martinez (Inter Milan)
- Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)
- Lionel Messi (Paris Saint-Germain)
- Luka Modric (Real Madrid)
- Gerard Moreno (Villarreal)
- Mason Mount (Chelsea)
- Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain)
- Pedri (Barcelona)
- Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
- Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
- Luis Suarez (Atletico Madrid)