Mohamed Salah was bitterly disappointed to come up short in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations final.
With Egypt having battled all the way to a penalty shootout against Senegal, Salah didn’t even get the chance to take a spot-kick of his own with Mohamed Abdelmonem and Mohanad Lasheen both missing.
His own Liverpool teammate, Sadio Mane, eventually converted the winning penalty to see Senegal crowned as kings of Africa and history repeat itself for Salah on the back of similar agony in 2017.
Salah comes up short at AFCON
And although nothing could wash away the pain for the 29-year-old while the disappointment remains so raw, he can certainly find solace in the fact that he’s enjoying a truly remarkable season.
Besides, there’s good reason to think that Salah is the world’s best player on current form with an astonishing record of 23 goals and nine assists in club football across the 2021/22 campaign.
As such, there are no shortage of fans who believe that Salah is on course to win the Ballon d’Or in 2022 regardless of whether a potential key argument for his cause has been stripped away with AFCON defeat.
Salah’s stellar 2021/22
Given the superhuman quality and talent that Salah possesses, it only feels right that he wins one of the sport’s major individual prizes as the Lionel Messi–Cristiano Ronaldo duopoly slowly wanes in strength.
And according to the bookmakers, there’s good reason for Salah to feel confident as things stand because he appears to be leading the way as the early 2022 Ballon d’Or favourite with several major companies.
As such, now that the first major silverware of the calendar year has been concluded, we wanted to take a closer look at which players are deemed to be most likely to lift the famous golden ball as Salah takes an early lead.
Early favourites to win Ballon d’Or
To do so, we’ve taken the latest odds over at Paddy Power – which are correct at the time of writing – and ranked the 20 frontrunners in the early months of the year with odds of 50/1 or better. Check them out:
=18. Thomas Muller – 50/1
=18. Dusan Vlahovic – 50/1
=18. Pedri – 50/1
=15. Vinicius Junior – 40/1
=15. N’Golo Kante – 40/1
=15. Jorginho – 40/1
=10. Harry Kane – 33/1
=10. Raheem Sterling – 33/1
=10. Neymar – 33/1
=10. Bernardo Silva – 33/1
=10. Phil Foden – 33/1
9. Sadio Mane – 18/1
8. Kevin De Bruyne – 16/1
7. Erling Haaland – 14/1
6. Cristiano Ronaldo – 12/1
5. Karim Benzema – 11/1
4. Kylian Mbappe – 15/2
3. Lionel Messi – 7/1
2. Robert Lewandowski – 11/2
- Mohamed Salah – 4/1
Salah: The man to beat
That seems a little harsh on Sadio, no?
Ok, so it’s unlikely that Mane will be lifting the Ballon d’Or later this year when you consider that his opposite winger has outperformed him so handsomely, but ninth still feels a tad cruel for AFCON’s best player.
Nevertheless, it is admittedly easier to see a world where Haaland, Mbappe and Lewandowski win their maiden Ballon d’Or title or dare we even say Messi and Ronaldo adding to their current 7-5 scoreline.
But for all intents and purposes, Salah seems to be the man to beat right now and the bookies clearly aren’t phased by Egypt losing the AFCON final as the race for Ballon d’Or glory ramps up.
Conquering Africa certainly would have helped his cause, but if Salah can maintain the form that saw him end last year so dominantly into 2022, then it’s pretty hard to see anybody getting close to him.