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In August, France Football released its 30-man shortlist for the 2022 Ballon d’Or award. Of the nominees, one player will be crowned the best individual male player over the course of the 2021/22 season during a ceremony in Paris on October 17.
While Karim Benzema is widely-tipped to be taking home this year’s prize, the most notable absence was that of seven-time winner Lionel Messi, who didn’t make the cut after a relatively disappointing debut season with Paris Saint-Germain during which he scored 11 goals and notched 15 assists in all competitions. Mortal numbers by his lofty standards.
It doesn’t seem right for the 36-year-old to miss out on a nomination for the award he has dominated alongside Cristiano Ronaldo for the past decade. His magisterial (thanks Ray Hudson) form so far this season suggests that should Argentina put together a deep run in the World Cup this winter – as many expect them to – Messi will once again be among the favourites in 2023.
While not as shocking as leaving out the man considered to be the GOAT by any self-respecting member of Generation Z, there are a few other players who can feel aggrieved not to make the shortlist.
Toni Kroos – Real Madrid
Five players from Real Madrid’s La Liga and Champions League double-winning squad were included in the nominations this year in the form of Thibaut Courtois, Casemiro, Vinicius Junior, Karim Benzema and the eternal Luka Modric.
Like his more lauded Croatian midfield partner, Toni Kroos has shown no signs of his quality fading with age and is perhaps a victim of so many of his teammates getting nods – the same can also be said for their centre-back pairing of David Alaba and Eder Militao.
While Kroos’ number of La Liga appearances dropped to 28 last season, largely due to the signing of Eduardo Camavinga, he was an ever-present in the Champions League and appeared in all but the very first group game as Los Blancos won their 14th title.
His style of play doesn’t exactly lend itself to individual awards and we will probably continue to see less of him as Carlo Ancelotti’s new midfield axis of Aurelin Tchouameni, Federico Valverde and Camavinga slowly emerges, but the German midfielder’s perpetual control, influence and authority (particularly in big games) means he warrants a place among the best 30 players.
Ciro Immobile – Lazio
While his performances for Italy have often left a lot to be desired, Ciro Immobile has carried Lazio’s attacking output squarely on his shoulders since joining the Roman club in 2016.
2021/22 was no different for Immobile as the Neapolitan bagsman scored 27 times in only 31 Serie A games, earning himself his fourth Capocannoniere award as top scorer in the division, along with four goals in seven in the Europa League.
Considering the likes of Darwin Nunez, Sebastien Haller and Dusan Vlahovic made the 30-man shortlist largely due to their goal-scoring exploits – all with less than Immobile’s final tally – the Lazio captain can certainly feel hard done by.
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic – Lazio
So too can his club teammate, Serbian midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. Yes, I’m aware Lazio only finished in fifth.
The central midfielder combines his imposing physique with serious technical ability and has been one of the best players in Serie A for some time now. In fact, with 11 goals and 11 assists to his name last season he made the case that he is perhaps the single best box-to-box player the league has to offer.
The Ballon d’Or appears to be weighted towards performances in the Champions League so his exclusion is unsurprising. Remove that bias, however, and Milinkovic-Savic would surely have found himself placed firmly among Europe’s elite.
Manuel Neuer – Bayern Munich
It’s only right of me to admit that I’m slightly (extremely) biased towards Manuel Neuer as he inspired the only remotely good Tweet I have done or ever will do.
That being said, he led Bayern to a tenth successive title from between the sticks and was in imperious form throughout the campaign. Neuer conceded a league-low 24 goals, secured a joint league-best 10 clean sheets (that might seem low, this is the Bundesliga, remember) and saved 73 per cent of the shots his opponents dared test him with.
Even more impressively, he replaced Oliver Kahn as the goalkeeper with the most clean sheets in the German record books and became the player with the most league wins.
It proved to be a historic season for Neuer individually but Bayern were dumped out of the Champions League quarter-finals by Villarreal, who we’ll get to later, an upset that blotted his copybook enough to keep him out of the final 30.
Still, he’ll always have that third place finish in 2014.
Marcelo Brozovic – Inter
Back to Italy now, which is all James Richardson and James Horncastle’s fault, where it’s about time everyone started giving Marcelo Brozovic the credit he deserves.
Not only has the 29-year-old been Inter’s most consistent player for the last few seasons, he’s also been their most important. Without him breaking up play and dictating things from the base of the midfield, the Nerazzurri simply don’t tick.
As a result, the Croatian was deservedly named Serie A Midfielder of the Season in 2021/22 even as Inter themselves fell agonisingly short to their rivals in the title race. His influence will never show in the stats but that doesn’t mean Brozovic doesn’t belong.
And if defensive midfielders aren’t your thing, just imagine I had written this entire section about Lautaro Martinez instead. You’re welcome.
Dani Parejo – Villarreal
It was tempting to finish off this list with one of the best young players in the world, Jamal Musiala, on the basis of… well, have you seen that kid play? Instead, and in the knowledge that Musiala will be a Ballon d’Or ever-present for the rather conservative estimate of the next 12 years, I’ll instead plump for the far more ambitious shout of Dani Parejo.
It’s fair to say Parejo has been around the block a bit and at the age of 33 has already entered the twilight of his career. Even so, his performances in the Villarreal midfield last season were a sight to behold.
The languid playmaker was comfortably Villarreal’s best player as they tore through the Champions League right the way up to the semi-finals and notched 10 assists domestically in La Liga. After missing out in 2021 despite winning the Europa League (when Parejo’s teammate Gerard Moreno did make the cut) it’s unforgivable that such a joyous player has once again been completely forgotten about.
Then again, he only has four caps for Spain. I’m not sure which is worse.