The media circus is back for the endless debates about the Ballon d’Or. On Friday, we get the nominations, cutting down the hopes of those who are just outside contention. Right now it seems that the favourite is French, in the form of Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema. The presence of the 2021/22 Champions League’s top scorer is not in question, but there are doubts over both Lionel Messi and Neymar.
While the superstar duo might have rediscovered their best form in the close season, the premier individual awards recognise last season’s work. With this criteria, the jury will struggle to include the two South Americans. Are last year’s under-performances enough to convince those in charge to exclude them from the running?

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Messi’s position as a seven-time champion, a record, could see him included regardless of last year. The story of Messi and the France Football award goes back to 2006. The shy smile and slight physique of the teenager finished joint-20th in the voting. Since then, the Rosario native has been a constant in the list (even on the podium).
It was a systematic, indisputable conclusion, until last year - when he won his seventh at the end of an abridged campaign. But can we object to the argument that his greatness demands his inclusion? Last year’s performances did not match anything that came before. 34 matches, 11 goals, 15 assists don’t compare to his usual contributions. Yes, there were some shuddering moments: against Manchester City, the title-winning goal against Lens, but nothing momentous.
There were 20 other better players, but sporting logic often ends when Ballon d’Or voting begins. The award is making a renewed push for credibility, forcing voters to be more rigorous.

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The Brazilian is also a Ballon d’Or fixture. A unique artist with the ball, an accomplished, carefree soloist when fit. That wasn’t the case last year when he managed just 28 appearances for PSG.
The 30-year-old Mogi native undoubtedly had the worst season of his career, from the day after he lost the Copa America against his friend Messi.
Neymar is yet to win anything with his national side, and the following season disappointed. When not struggling for fitness, his attitude on the pitch was questioned. Neymar complained, dived and made poor choices on the ball. So many flaws plague the former Barcelona player.
The decline for Neymar is more alarming. 11 years ago, a spirited young trouble-maker with a mohican hairstyle forced Europe to wake up in the middle of the night to watch him in Brazil, with others making do with endless compilations of his brilliance. Shy, confident and feline, the new prodigy finished in 10th place in the Ballon d’Or, aged just 19, and won the Puskas prize in the same year.
More than a decade later, Neymar remains a constant in the top 30, helped by a force of habit and the marketing draw of the player. If he is named in 2022, it will cause problems. Last year’s inclusion was already a stretch, but his presence in 2022 would draw the award’s credibility into question, if not its glamour. Let’s not forget that Neymar at his best has few equals, but let’s also not forget that this isn’t the point.
Neymar’s inclusion would invalidate much of the award. A question would also hang over the award if Messi found himself in the top five - that would be absurd, but not unthinkable, given recent years. Without being too radical, the Ballon d’Or must put sport at the front of its purpose.
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