After receiving the Ballon d’Or in Paris on Monday, Lionel Messi is once again the best player on the planet.
The World Cup winner’s prize after a memorable year brings a familiar vibe to the summit of men’s sport. For many years, it was assumed that either the Argentine forward or his main opponent Cristiano Ronaldo would win the highest individual award.
Since 2008, the combination has won 13 of the 15 men’s Ballon d’Or honors, with just Luka Modric (2018) and Karim Benzema (2022) breaking their supremacy.
Messi, on the other hand, has moved to the MLS, while Ronaldo and Benzema are in Saudi Arabia, and Modric is no longer the force he once was at Real Madrid. All four are in their late thirties. A change of guard is on the way.
The selection for this year’s prize included many famous names, but it also hinted to a future in which the Premier League and English players may take center stage.
5. Vinicius Jr (Real Madrid)
Following Madrid’s thrashing of Liverpool in the Champions League last 16 in March, head coach Carlo Ancelotti dubbed Vinicius the “most decisive player anywhere in the world – the one who determines matches most consistently.”
The Brazilian, who terrorized Manchester City’s defense with pace and trickery in the 2021-22 semi-finals before scoring the game-winning goal against Liverpool in the final, is already a proven finisher and goal-maker who appears to be getting better all the time.
Vinicius was the recipient of racial insults on many occasions last season, with one incident in Valencia sparking indignation in both Spain and Brazil.
Seven people were later sentenced for racist conduct, Valencia had a partial stadium shutdown, and Vinicius was hired by Fifa to be part of a new anti-racism task force.
4. Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint Germain)
Since joining Paris St-Germain from Monaco in 2017, the prolific Frenchman has scored 224 goals and provided 87 assists in 272 appearances, helping the Qatari-owned club win 13 domestic trophies.
Mbappe, who played a key role in France’s World Cup victory in 2018, has also scored 43 goals in 73 appearances for Les Bleus, putting him fourth on the club’s all-time scoring list, 11 goals behind record holder Olivier Giroud.
Despite scoring the first final hat-trick since England’s Geoff Hurst in 1966, he was denied back-to-back World Cup triumphs by a Messi-inspired Argentina.
Mbappe is still the subject of transfer rumors. He will no certainly continue to score goals wherever he plays at club level, as he has 10 in nine Ligue 1 games this season.
3. Harry Kane (Bayern Munich)
England captain Kane left Tottenham after a record-breaking career to join German champions Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga.
The 30-year-old scored 280 goals in 435 appearances for Spurs, including 218 in the Premier League, placing him second on the division’s all-time scoring list after Alan Shearer. However, he lacks trophies on his resume, something he intends to rectify in Germany.
He has already set a new club record by becoming the first player in Bundesliga history to score 12 goals in his first nine appearances. He has five assists as well.
He also remains prolific for an England team that consistently competes on the greatest stages, with a national record score of 61 goals in 87 appearances.
2. Erling Haaland (Manchester City)
The prolific Norwegian is undoubtedly the most obvious heir apparent to Ronaldo, Messi, and co., having won Premier League player and Young Player of the Year titles in the same season.
Haaland shattered records in his first season in England’s top flight, with his 36 goals shattering the previous best mark of 34 set by Alan Shearer and Andy Cole for nearly three decades.
The 23-year-old finished the season with 52 goals in 53 appearances, becoming only the second player in English Premier League history – and the first in 95 years – to score more than 50 goals in all competitions.
He has 11 goals in 10 Premier League outings this season, including a hat-trick against Fulham – his sixth in England’s top tier – and a double against Manchester United on Sunday.
1. Jude Bellingham (Real Madrid)
Bellingham became the third-most expensive teenager in history – and the second-most expensive English player of all time when he joined Real Madrid from Borussia Dortmund for an initial 103 million euros (£88.5 million).
He was unable to lead the Bundesliga club to its first league title in 11 years, but he thrived in his final season in Germany, becoming the club’s youngest captain at the age of 19 in October last year.
In 2022-23, Bellingham, who left Birmingham City for Dortmund for £25 million in 2020, had 14 goals and seven assists in 42 appearances.
The midfielder has made an impressive start to his career in the Spanish capital, having turned down a host of Europe’s finest teams in favor of the 14-time European winners.
He has now scored 10 La Liga goals in 2023-24, making him the league’s leading scorer, including Saturday’s decisive double against Barcelona in El Clasico.