With the Ballon d’Or award soon to be announced for 2021, former Manchester United and England defender Paul Parker considers the top four contenders.

Lionel Messi

I’m a massive fan of the player. He’s streetwise, he embodies what everyone thinks about a footballer. The way his instincts, his improvisation, he's played in parks, on the streets. The awareness of what’s coming next, from worries in and around him, to the effect when he plays. He brings it all to the football pitch.
Ligue 1
Critics of Messi 'know nothing about football', says Karim Benzema
23/01/2022 AT 12:56
He has changed, though. He was an important player for Barcelona last season. Anything positive that happened was through him. Without him, the club has struggled, and we’ve seen how much he’s struggled from that moment. His goal ratio has dropped immensely, we’re not seeing the same player. The love isn’t there, even the hardened PSG fan must have expected that he was going to come and hit the ground running even though the love of his life has gone.
Now, with PSG, there’s a different personnel, a different style of football. A club that is still trying to get a DNA and philosophy. Now they chase everything, including the Champions League, and there’s no structure there. For him to be mentioned is fantastic, but is he the ideal person to win this? I would say it will take someone who has had a more consistent year in what they’ve been doing for them to do it. There have been others who have been more consistent over the last year.

Robert Lewandowski

He hasn’t stopped scoring goals. When you’re talking about goals, that’s what makes the difference. If you want to judge a player in a game, and he scores a goal, you know everything you have said goes out the window. Goals make the difference. If you’re scoring for Bayern Munich, sometimes two or three in the same game, it’s a huge influence. He contributes with these clutches of goals. He doesn’t only score one.

Robert Lewandowski celebrates scoring for Bayern Munich.

Image credit: Getty Images

If you’re talking about what goals means to the Bayern Munich team, then he is the main person at this moment in time. He’s 30-plus, so we have to look at him and say this might be his last chance to go and win it, because after the lockdown and the Euros, when you look at what might happen, things will settle a little bit with the World Cup next year. There may be a few more coming through.

Karim Benzema

Karim Benzema is one of those players who is appreciated more now than he has been in place for a long time. Real Madrid are going through a similar period to Barca, even if they are in a better position. They’re in translation. They’re waiting for a big change, the management is swapping over, and Cristiano Ronaldo has left.

Karim Benzema

Image credit: Getty Images

Benzema has taken everything on and is their focal point when it comes to winning games.
He is an elite player and Ronaldo being there took the attention away from him. He was the workhorse who ran in the channels. His assists aren’t just tapping the ball to the scorer - he assisted with the work of making sure he is in the right place. The unselfish runs count just as much.
Real Madrid still have their presence, and they are getting that off the back of him. They’ve had to change how they play - it’s not a team of superstars, it’s young players who wouldn’t have been playing the in past
In the current economic climate, Real and the big teams can’t bring in new players like they used to. The old guard are keeping hold of these positions and maybe that will change as the world recovers. Like Lewandowski, this might be Benzema’s last shot at the award.

Mohamed Salah

When I look at the goals he’s scored, and the numbers he delivers them,and the kind of goals he scores, in his own way he’s like Messi. He’s willing to assist as we saw for his pass for Sadio Mane at the weekend. He’s willing to share, he’s not selfish.

Mohamed Salah, «Liverpool»

Image credit: Getty Images

He’s a wonderful player to watch, and when you watch him on TV and live, you just see how quick he is on his feet. Personally, I look at players and wonder, how can I stop them? I look at his quick feet, even in tight areas, I think maybe you just can’t, with his short backlift. He is an incredible player to watch and Liverpool’s focal point.
Virgil van Dijk and Salah are the two most important players for Liverpool Football Club. When Van Dijk was injured other players could take over. With Salah gone, teams defensively would relax and would let other clubs push on and take the game to Liverpool . Diogo Jota, Roberto Firmino and Mane don’t offer the threat. He could go on to win it as these other older players fade.
Football
Best award voting revealed: Messi and Ronaldo omit each other yet again
18/01/2022 AT 09:17
Football
Lewandowski wins on farcical night at The Best, did Vlahovic say goodbye? – The Warm-Up
18/01/2022 AT 05:13