Lionel Messi was crowned the best male footballer of 2021 at the Ballon d’Or ceremony on Monday night.
However, while it was certainly fascinating to see Messi consolidate his status in the GOAT debate, it was arguably even more interesting to check out how the Ballon d’Or ranked the other nominees.
Messi wins the Ballon d’Or
To build up hype for the big reveal between Messi and Lewandowski, the French publication teased their way through the 30 contenders by slowly revealing where they finished in the standings.
From Cesar Azpilicueta and Luka Modric bringing up the rear to Jorginho and Karim Benzema competing for glory, there were plenty of narrative threads to unpack and unpick from the results.
And with the Ballon d’Or not naming a best XI of the year unlike FIFA’s flagship awards, we wanted to take a closer look at how the rankings would translate into the year’s finest possible line-up.
Chelsea 1-1 Man Utd Match Reaction (Football Terrace)
Best players in each position
In other words, we could roughly infer what the Ballon d’Or voters duly considered to be the world’s best XI right now by spotting the highest-placed players in key positions on the pitch.
Well, spoiler alert, it’s not the easy given that individual awards so often owe themselves to attacking players, meaning that we opted for a back three and front three in order to best suit this.
And let’s just say that we had to throw the tactical rulebook out the window a little bit because it was nigh on impossible to not make the line-up insanely tactically without missing off tonnes of players.
Best XI by Ballon d’Or votes
So, without further ado, here is our best shot at naming the world’s best XI in 2021, according to the Ballon d’Or votes:
GK: Gianluigi Donnarumma (10th)
The only goalkeeper to earn a nomination, Donnarumma can hold his head high after a tenth-place finish and Yashin Trophy triumph on the back of being named as Euro 2020’s finest player.
CB: Leonardo Bonucci (14th)
Speaking of Euro 2020, Bonucci didn’t just score in the final, but he performed like a gladiator across the entire tournament and duly bagged himself a top-half finish in the Ballon d’Or standings.
CB: Giorgio Chiellini (13th)
However, it was Bonucci’s centre-back partner that was named the world’s best defender in 2021 with Chiellini’s Euro 2020 masterclasses clearly outweighing his lack of game time with Juventus.
CB: Simon Kjaer (18th)
We tip our hats to the hero of 2021 because Kjaer’s remarkable show of courage and humanity when Christian Eriksen collapsed during Denmark vs Finland was moving beyond words.
RM: Mohamed Salah (7th)
A late rush of goals and assists in the 2021/22 season came just in time to elevate Salah into the Ballon d’Or debate and the Liverpool ace is already being touted as the early favourite for 2022.
CM: N’Golo Kante (5th)
An early frontrunner on the back of Herculean performances as Chelsea romped to Champions League glory, Kante is back to his best as the finest defensive midfielder in the beautiful game.
CM: Jorginho (3rd)
Jorginho might not have won gold, but he’s not lacking in the silverware department because lifting the Euro 2020 and Champions League titles made him a top contender for the Ballon d’Or.
LM: Cristiano Ronaldo (6th)
We’re sure Ronaldo won’t mind playing in midfield because sixth place feels really tough on a player who won the Euro 2020 Golden Boot and broke the international goalscoring record in 2021.
RF: Lionel Messi (1st)
The Ballon d’Or winner himself. Messi has now moved two titles clear of his eternal rival on the back of a stunning final season with Barcelona as well as inspiring Argentina to Copa America glory.
FW: Robert Lewandowski (2nd)
Lewandowski would have been walking away with the top prize in almost any other year because it took arguably the greatest player in history to overwhelm his stellar tally of 64 goals in 2021.
LF: Karim Benzema (4th)
It really feels as though people are only just waking up to how incredible Benzema has been in 2021 with his stunning record of 43 goals and 14 assists making up for Real Madrid‘s lack of trophies.
All-out attack and then some
Interestingly, if we had been super duper strict on Ronaldo and Salah not playing in more defensive roles of their old positions, none other than Mason Mount would have gotten a berth in midfield.
However, like it or not, we’re sticking to the Ballon d’Or votes as closely as possible by swinging for the fences with a line-up that we’re well aware would fall apart defensively pretty quickly.
But don’t pretend as though you wouldn’t love to see a team with Messi, Lewandowski, Benzema, Salah and Ronaldo sharing the pitch at the same time…