Three of the top four contenders for this year’s Ballon d’Or remain in the Champions League at the quarter-final stage.
Karim Benzema, Robert Lewandowski and Mohamed Salah will all be looking to reach the semi-finals with Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Liverpool respectively, although Kylian Mbappe and Paris Saint-Germain are already out.
The quartet lead the way with the bookmakers, but the odds will likely change before France Football hand out the award, this year determined by the 2021-22 campaign in its entirety as opposed to the calendar year.
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That will be the case going forward as well, although the Ballon d’Or has tended to take into account the full season prior anyway, with major international tournaments also swaying the outcome.
But exactly how important is the Champions League? We delve a little deeper into two lists to see whether success in Europe is required to collect the Ballon d’Or.

Ballon d’Or winners + Champions League outcome

Firstly, the list of Ballon d’Or winners since 2000, and how they fared in the Champions League that year the final took place, including the team they played for at the time:
  • 2000: Luis Figo (Barcelona/Real Madrid) – Champions League semi-finals (with Barcelona)
  • 2001: Michael Owen (Liverpool) – Not in Champions League
  • 2002: Ronaldo (Inter/Real Madrid) – Not in Champions League (with Inter)
  • 2003: Pavel Nedved (Juventus) – Champions League runners-up
  • 2004: Andriy Shevchenko (AC Milan) – Champions League quarter-finals
  • 2005: Ronaldinho (Barcelona) – Champions League last 16
  • 2006: Fabio Cannavaro (Real Madrid) – Champions League last 16
  • 2007: Kaka (Milan) – Champions League winners
  • 2008: Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United) – Champions League winners
  • 2009: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) – Champions League winners
  • 2010: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) – Champions League semi-finals
  • 2011: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) – Champions League winners
  • 2012: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) – Champions League semi-finals
  • 2013: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) – Champions League semi-finals
  • 2014: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) – Champions League winners
  • 2015: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) – Champions League winners
  • 2016: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) – Champions League winners
  • 2017: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) – Champions League winners
  • 2018: Luka Modric (Real Madrid) – Champions League winners
  • 2019: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) – Champions League semi-finals
  • 2020: N/A
  • 2021: Lionel Messi (Barcelona/PSG) – Champions League last 16 (with Barcelona)
We can see that winning the Champions League has been a decisive factor on nine of the past 14 occasions, including a five-year stretch from 2014 to 2018.
Real Madrid’s dominance in that spell enabled Cristiano Ronaldo to win the award three times, and Luka Modric once, with the latter also standing out in Croatia’s run to the World Cup final in 2018.

Lionel Messi reacts after winning the Ballon d'Or France Football 2019

Image credit: Getty Images

The World Cup is naturally another factor, and was key to Ronaldo winning in 2002 and Fabio Cannavaro in 2006, while Messi’s Ballon d’Or wins in non-Champions League winning campaigns came after either a strong year in terms of goals (he scored a staggering 91 goals in 2012), or for 2021, Argentina’s Copa America triumph.

Ballon d’Or top 10 + Champions League winners

What is virtually a guarantee is that the Champions League winners will feature at least one player in the top 10:
  • 2000: Real Madrid – 1 (Raul 9th)
  • 2001: Bayern Munich – 1 (Kahn 3rd)
  • 2002: Real Madrid – 3 (Carlos 2nd, Zidane 4th, Raul 7th)
  • 2003: AC Milan – 2 (Maldini 3rd, Shevchenko 4th)
  • 2004: Porto – 2 (Deco 2nd, Carvalho 9th)
  • 2005: Liverpool – 1 (Gerrard 3rd)
  • 2006: Barcelona – 2 (Ronaldinho 4th, Eto’o 6th)
  • 2007: AC Milan – 2 (Kaka 1st, Pirlo 5th)
  • 2008: Man Utd – 1 (Ronaldo 1st)
  • 2009: Barcelona – 4 (Messi 1st, Xavi 3rd, Iniesta 4th, Eto’o 5th)
  • 2010: Inter – 1 (Sneijder 4th)
  • 2011: Barcelona – 3 (Messi 1st, Xavi 3rd, Iniesta 4th)
  • 2012: Chelsea – 1 (Drogba 8th)
  • 2013: Bayern Munich – 2 (Ribery 3rd, Robben 8th)
  • 2014: Real Madrid – 2 (Ronaldo 1st, Di Maria 10th)
  • 2015: Barcelona – 4 (Messi 1st, Neymar 3rd, Suarez 5th, Iniesta 9th)
  • 2016: Real Madrid – 3 (Ronaldo 1st, Bale 6th, Pepe 9th)
  • 2017: Real Madrid – 3 (Ronaldo 1st, Modric 5th, Ramos 6th)
  • 2018: Real Madrid – 3 (Modric 1st, Ronaldo 2nd, Varane 7th)
  • 2019: Liverpool – 4 (Van Dijk 2nd, Mane 4th, Salah 5th, Alisson 7th)
  • 2020: Bayern Munich – N/A
  • 2021: Chelsea – 2 (Jorginho 3rd, Kante 5th)
This has arguably become a bigger factor in recent years, with Liverpool’s tally of four players in 2019 only matched by Barcelona in 2009 and 2015 since 2000.

irgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker of Liverpool celebrate with the trophy during the UEFA Champions League Final between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at Estadio Wanda Metropolitano on June 01, 2019

Image credit: Getty Images

For three straight years from 2016 to 2018, Real Madrid had three in the top 10, which also highlights a trend of centre-backs emerging as contenders – Pepe, Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, before Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk then pushed Messi close in 2019.

What does this tell us for 2022?

The jury is out, with the Champions League outcome as yet unknown, but it will certainly have a say on the Ballon d’Or voting.
If, say, Manchester City win the Champions League, Kevin De Bruyne could emerge as Ballon d’Or favourite, with Bernardo Silva, Ruben Dias, Ederson, Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez among the teammates who could break the top 10.
Likewise, if Liverpool win, Salah could become the favourite, and a similar outcome to 2019 could play out with Van Dijk, Alisson and Sadio Mane also breaking the top 10, and potentially Trent Alexander-Arnold too.
It is all hypothetical for now, but were Real Madrid to win then bets would be closed and Benzema a near-guarantee, likewise Bayern and Lewandowski, in what would be a reward for his past three years after one near-miss and a controversial decision to cancel the 2020 Ballon d’Or.
Let’s wait and see.
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