B/R Football Ranks: The Ballon d'Or Nominees from 30-1

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterOctober 21, 2019

Virgil van Dijk of Liverpool FC lifts the trophy after winning the UEFA Champions League final. during the UEFA Champions League final match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Liverpool FC at Estadio Metropolitano on June 01, 2019 in Madrid, Spain(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
VI-Images/Getty Images

The 30 Ballon d'Or nominees were released on Monday, sparking conversation as to who should win the most coveted individual prize in football.

The award recognises the best male player over the course of the calendar year—so, the back half of the 2018-19 season, any summer international tournaments and the first portion of the 2019-20 campaign.

It's a tricky period to capture and doesn't really make much sense. It makes it quite hard to evaluate players' cases for the award, as you can only judge specific segments of different seasons.

But, as always, we've given it a go.

B/R Football ranks all 30 Ballon d'Or nominees on their claim to the trophy, inevitably wading into hot debates involving Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Virgil van Dijk in the process.

30. Hugo Lloris, Goalkeeper, Tottenham Hotspur

How he's bagged a nomination we're not quite sure.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 01: Hugo Lloris of Tottenham Hotspur during the UEFA Champions League group B match between Tottenham Hotspur and Bayern Muenchen at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on October 1, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by James Williams
James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images
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29. Heung-Min Son, Forward, Tottenham Hotspur

Son's 2018-19 season was brilliant, but he got most of his great work done in the first half of it. Since February, he's returned to normal at club level, although he has continued to produce for South Korea.


28. Joao Felix, Forward, Atletico Madrid

Felix burst onto the scene with Benfica this year and earned a whopping €126 million move to Atleti this summer. His production has slowed while he gets to grips with his new reputation and a stronger league.


27. Kevin De Bruyne, Midfielder, Manchester City

De Bruyne played more games in the back half of last season than most probably realise (17 starts), and he's begun 2019-20 in blazing form. He has 19 assists on the year!


26. Kalidou Koulibaly, Defender, Napoli

Koulibaly is one of best centre-backs in the world and shines on an individual basis fairly regularly. You get the feeling he's hit the glass ceiling in Naples.


25. Riyad Mahrez, Forward, Manchester City

Mahrez's trophy haul with City in 2019 is very impressive, though it's fair to suggest he didn't play the most pivotal role in it. His Africa Cup of Nations victory with Algeria likely sealed his nomination, though.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 10: Marquinhos #4 of Brazil heads the ball in the 2019 International Champions Cup match against Peru on September 10, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/International Champions Cup/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/International Champions Cup/Getty Images


24. Marquinhos, Defender/Midfielder, Paris Saint-Germain

2019 saw Marquinhos remoulded into a commanding holding midfielder for PSG, but he still dropped into the defensive line for Brazil with ease for the Copa America victory.


23. Georginio Wijnaldum, Midfielder, Liverpool

There are times when certain moments propel players to new heights and estimations, and Wijnaldum's crucial role in Liverpool's famous Barcelona comeback is certainly one of them.


22. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Forward, Arsenal

Arsenal looked pretty dysfunctional last season, changing formations and personnel a lot, but whatever they did, they could rely on one constant: Aubameyang scoring goals. He has 24 this year with five assists to boot.


21. Karim Benzema, Forward, Real Madrid

Real Madrid fell apart at the seams last season, and if it weren't for Karim Benzema, they might have missed out on UEFA Champions League qualification altogether. 

20. Antoine Griezmann, Forward, Barcelona

Transfer moves aside, it's not been Griezmann's most productive year. He carried Atletico Madrid to some Liga results early in the year but came up empty against Juventus in the Champions League and has had a mixed start to life at Barcelona.

EIBAR, SPAIN - OCTOBER 19: Antoine Griezmann of FC Barcelona looks on during the warm up prior to the Liga match between SD Eibar SAD and FC Barcelona at Ipurua Municipal Stadium on October 19, 2019 in Eibar, Spain. (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Gett
Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images


19. Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Goalkeeper, Barcelona

As any fan will point out to you, Barcelona have their flaws and issues, but many of them were papered over on the pitch by their superb goalkeeper.


18. Kylian Mbappe, Forward, Paris Saint-Germain

For any PSG player, their big chance to stake their claim for the Ballon d'Or comes in the Champions League. The shock round-of-16 knockout at the hands of Manchester United was so damaging to Mbappe's stock.


17. Donny van de Beek, Midfielder, Ajax

As the praise poured forth for Ajax's magical Champions League run last season, Van de Beek's brilliance got a little lost because of the focus on other players. It's pleasing to see him scoop a well-deserved nomination.


16. Robert Lewandowski, Forward, Bayern Munich

Once again, Lewandowski spent his year bullying the rest of Germany; he's on a ridiculous 34 goals this year, with 16 coming this season. He suffers a little bit in the Ballon d'Or stakes because of a lack of European impact.


15. Sergio Aguero, Forward, Manchester City

Aguero has been a goalscoring machine in 2019, currently standing on a tally of 27 plus eight assists. It's arguable he's never looked as good, combining that classic poacher's instinct with improved fitness and durability.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 01: Sergio Aguero of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League group C match between Manchester City and Dinamo Zagreb at Etihad Stadium on October 1, 2019 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt -
Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images


14. Matthijs de Ligt, Defender, Juventus

No player under the age of 21 had a better 2019 than De Ligt, who captained Ajax to the precipice of a Champions League final and earned a big move to Juventus off the back of it.


13. Eden Hazard, Forward, Real Madrid

A slow start to life at Real Madrid—partially because of injury—keeps Hazard out of the top 10, but his brilliant performances for Chelsea last season land him in the top half of the ranking.


12. Trent Alexander-Arnold, Defender, Liverpool

You could nominate Alexander-Arnold for that corner against Barcelona alone. Even with full-backs now basically attackers in modern football, he's redefining what to expect from a player in his position.


11. Roberto Firmino, Forward, Liverpool

The Brazilian is maybe the least eye-catching of the Reds' fabled front three, but only by a smidge, as respect for Firmino and the influence he has on games continues to grow.

10. Dusan Tadic, Forward, Ajax

Dusan Tadic of Ajax during the Dutch Eredivisie match between RKC Waalwijk and Ajax Amsterdam at Mandemakers Stadium on October 19, 2019 in Waalwijk, The Netherlands(Photo by ANP Sport via Getty Images)
ANP Sport/Getty Images

The most surprising aspect of Ajax's magical Champions League run last season was the fact that it was spearheaded by Dusan Tadic, a man who the previous summer had called time on a so-so Premier League career with Southampton.

Fast-forward seven months and there he was, at the home of Real Madrid, breaking out (again) at age 29, spinning around a helpless Casemiro in the buildup to a sensational team goal.

He found a manager in Erik ten Hag who understood him and extracted the best from him. With 28 goals and 23 assists this year and with two months till the calendar flips, he could set records.


9. Frenkie de Jong, Midfielder, Barcelona

EIBAR, SPAIN - OCTOBER 19: (L-R) Fabian Orellana of Eibar, Frenkie de Jong of FC Barcelona  during the La Liga SmartBank  match between Eibar v FC Barcelona at the Estadio Municipal de Ipurua on October 19, 2019 in Eibar Spain (Photo by Ricardo Larreina/S
Soccrates Images/Getty Images

The world fell in love with Frenkie de Jong this year. 

He was the mesmeric feet and smiling face at the heart of Ajax's dominant midfield, and in moving to Barcelona, he reignited the path Johan Cruyff created between the two clubs.

Watching the Dutchman step around a flailing Luka Modric at the Bernabeu in February was like witnessing a changing of the guard. Modric doesn't feature on this year's shortlist, whereas De Jong is a top-10 candidate.

Given he was applauded off the pitch by opposition fans last weekend as Barcelona beat Eibar, it's fair to say life in his new surroundings is going well.


8. Cristiano Ronaldo, Forward, Juventus

TOPSHOT - Portugal's forward Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring a goal from the penalty spot during the Euro 2020 football qualification match between Ukraine and Portugal at the NSK Olimpiyskyi stadium in Kiev on October 14, 2019. (Photo by Genya

2019 is the year Cristiano Ronaldo hit the 700-goal mark in his career.

Seven hundred goals. Just think about that for a second.

For Portugal, in particular, he's been a dominant force this year, scoring a hat-trick in the UEFA Nations League semi-final against Switzerland and netting seven in his last four UEFA Euro 2020 qualifiers.

For Juventus he was a touch quieter, though, both in front of goal and on the trophy front, only hauling in Serie A and the Supercoppa Italiana as the Old Lady failed to make a splash in the Champions League.

Falling at the quarter-final stage, plus being rested for league duty in and around those knockout fixtures, hurts his stock in the Ballon d'Or stakes. It has been his least impactful club year in some time.


7. Mohamed Salah, Forward, Liverpool

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14: Mohamed Salah of Liverpool celebrates after scoring his side's third goal to make the score 3-1 during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Newcastle United at Anfield on September 14, 2019 in Liverpool, Uni
Daniel Chesterton/Offside/Getty Images

Salah has been machine-like in 2019 for Liverpool.

The 2018-19 season was packed with goals and assists, some coming at crucial moments (like the Champions League final), and 2019-20 has followed a similar trend, with the winger already just shy of 10 goal contributions.

There have been some disappointments; missing out on the Premier League hurts, while Egypt's round-of-16 exit in the Africa Cup of Nations to South Africa was something of a shock. Turns out being triple-marked makes things difficult at times!

Still, we're into season five of Salah producing regularly at the top level. There can't be many doubters left.


6. Raheem Sterling, Forward, Manchester City

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 19: Raheem Sterling of Manchester City looks on during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Manchester City at Selhurst Park on October 19, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Im
Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

Sterling matured as both a player and person in 2019, becoming someone to look up to as a role model.

His on-pitch contributions for Manchester City have been incredible, tallying a combined 30 goals and assists so far, and marking himself out as the go-to man in Pep Guardiola's attack when the game, or perhaps a title, is on the line.

He's mastered the far-post run and reaped the benefits, finishing off so many of his team's slick moves, but he has also produced incredible moments when he ducks and weaves between tackles before curling home.


5. Alisson Becker, Goalkeeper, Liverpool

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 20: Alisson of Liverpool celebrates after Adam Lallana of Liverpool scored a goal to make it 1-1 during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool FC at Old Trafford on October 20, 2019 in Manchester, Un
Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Alisson had an incredible 2018-19 for Liverpool, securing the Premier League Golden Glove with 21 clean sheets and coming up big in several key games, including the Champions League semi-final and final.

He took that momentum into the summer and channelled it into a series of lights-out performances in the Copa America, helping Brazil to the trophy for the first time since 2007.

With five total clean sheets, including one against Argentina in the semi-final, zero goals conceded in the group stage and some penalty heroics against Paraguay to top it off, he was the only consideration for the tournament's Best Goalkeeper award.

Goalkeepers don't often get a lot of love in these stakes, but Alisson's blend of consistency, playing style, big moments and trophy wins puts him in the top-five range.


4. Sadio Mane, Forward, Liverpool

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 05: Sadio Mane of Liverpool during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Leicester City at Anfield on October 5, 2019 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)
Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Mane's summer disappointment went a step further than club-mate Salah's, with his Senegal side falling in the final of the Africa Cup of the Nations to Algeria.

But like with Salah, that's not what defines his 2019. Winning the Champions League, contributing to an incredible Premier League title race and producing a bucketload of crucial moments and goals along the way does.

With 19 Premier League goals in 2019, and with 11 games to go before the calendar flips (if the postponed West Ham match is played before the year ends), he's in with a chance of posting 30 for the year—despite playing as a winger. These are absolutely ludicrous numbers.


3. Bernardo Silva, Midfielder, Manchester City

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 19: Bernardo Silva of Manchester City looks on during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Manchester City at Selhurst Park on October 19, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Ima
Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

No other player in world football won as many trophies as Bernardo Silva did in 2019.

With a whopping five under his belt, the crowning achievements being the Premier League and Nations League titles, his case for the 2019 Ballon d'Or is strong.

He was named the Nations League Best Player, signifying the influence he had on Portugal's victory on home turf, and was perhaps the driving influence in Manchester City's run of 14 straight wins to top the Premier League table.

A whirring mix of technique, creativity and work rate, he's a true blessing to his managers on the pitch.


2. Lionel Messi, Forward, Barcelona

La Liga winner, Best FIFA Men's Player, European Golden Shoe

BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 16: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona poses with his sixth European Golden Boot awards after receiving the 2018-19 Season European Golden Shoe award for Europe's top scorer for the sixth time during the Golden Shoe Award Ceremony at
Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Messi's role in the 2019 Ballon d'Or conversation is a touch paradoxical. Commonly accepted logic and historical voting patterns dictate that he should not be in contention for the award because Barcelona underperformed in 2018-19 and he failed to inspire Argentina to glory in the Copa America.

But the sheer quality of his year punctures those tropes and reminds us that individuals probably shouldn't be judged solely by their team's achievements when the award in question is an individual one.

His individual awards accrued so far speak to the brilliance with which he's performed, and while 44 combined goals and assists up to this point is some way off his best-ever total (he had 91 in 2012), it's a tally bettered by precisely no one in 2019.

He has a shout for the award; unlike third through to 30th, he's in contention.


1. Virgil van Dijk, Defender, Liverpool

Champions League winner, European Super Cup winner, UEFA Best Men's Player, PFA Player of the Year

TOPSHOT - Liverpool's Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk poses with his trophies of Best Men's player in Europe of the Year and Best Defender at the end of the UEFA Champions League football group stage draw ceremony in Monaco on August 29, 2019. (Photo by Va

The Ballon d'Or hasn't been lifted by a defender since Fabio Cannavaro in 2006. It took an incredible performance at a World Cup finals to swing that, and no others have been deemed worthy since, but perhaps 2019 is the year that changes.

Van Dijk's consistently superb performances this year have already earned him a string of accolades, both personal and team-related, and could yet lead to the shiny, golden trophy Messi and Ronaldo have become so used to chucking back and forth.

A transformative presence at the heart of a Liverpool defence that took no prisoners and set a platform for their attacking wonders to deal damage, he changed the tone of an entire club when he signed in January 2018. Eighteen months later, they reaped the rewards.

He went over a year without being dribbled past by anyone—not even Messi when he had two bites at the cherry!—and came up with a huge performance in the Champions League final to guide the Reds past Tottenham.

There's a strong case for either Van Dijk or Messi to win it, and it's a very tight call, but Van Dijk's is marginally stronger.


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