In the wake of all the controversy that followed the 2021 Ballon d'Or results, France Football decided to make significant changes to the decision-making process for the selection of the winner. Last year, Lionel Messi won his seventh Golden Ball in a decision that has been seriously questioned in world soccer. Many people believed that the Argentine star didn't have such a great year to deserve the award and felt they were unfair with Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski, who has also shown his frustration with the results.
That's why the French magazine has announced a number of changes for the Ballon d'Or. First, it will consider the European season instead of the calendar year. Therefore, the 2022 Qatar World Cup won't be considered for this year's ceremony and will count for the 2023 prize instead. Second, only representatives of the top-100 nations of the FIFA ranking will vote for the men's award. Third, there will be a change in the jury headlined by Didier Drogba. And last but not least, the criteria will change: the individual performance will matter more than the team's, and the player's career will not be considered.
With all those modifications in mind, and considering that the next winner will be decided based on his performance throughout the current season, let's take a look at the possible candidates.
Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)
PSG may have fallen terribly short of expectations this season but Kylian Mbappe should be the exception to the critics. The Frenchman has come to the rescue more than once this term and Paris Saint-Germain couldn't have asked more from him in their Champions League series against Real Madrid. Mbappe, who leads the team in goals (25) and assists (17) this season, had a fantastic season individually. And if that's the new criteria, then he should be a heavy candidate for the Ballon d'Or.
Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
Even at 34, Karim Benzema might prove that age is just a number. His impressive contribution to Real Madrid's comeback win over PSG has once again shown that Benzema is often underrated. With 30 goals and 12 assists so far, he is living one of the best moments in his career regardless of his age. Besides, he also carried his great club level to the international stage with France, helping them to win the UEFA Nations League.
Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
A man who got into these conversations since he joined Liverpool, Mohamed Salah continues to make a splash whenever he steps into the pitch for the Reds. The Egyptian winger has 28 goals and 10 assists this season and is on pace to win the Premier League golden boot again. Salah has given reasons to deserve the award, only time will tell if he gets it.
Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
Robert Lewandowski has already received two The Best awards but the Ballon d'Or is still elusive for him. His lack of Golden Balls has been subject of controversy, especially after a commanding level in 2020. With 43 goals in 36 appearances across all competitions this term, maybe it's time for the game to be fair with Lewandowski and recognize another fantastic season by giving him the prestigious accolade.
Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)
The Belgian playmaker usually doesn't get the credit he deserves but has constantly been in the Ballon d'Or conversations over the last few years. Kevin De Bruyne is the one who pulls the strings at Manchester City and, even though the stats may not always reflect that, he always plays a pivotal role in their successes. So, depending on how he finishes the season, De Bruyne could be a legit contender.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)
Even though he may run from behind in this race, you can't just leave Cristiano Ronaldo out of the conversation. The Portuguese megastar may have had his ups and downs in his second stint at Manchester United but he found the way to make an impact anyway, especially in some Champions League nights before the elimination.
Lionel Messi (Paris Saint-Germain)
Similar to what happens with Ronaldo, Lionel Messi may not have many chances to win the prize after a rather disappointing campaign. His switch to PSG hasn't worked out as expected and he has constantly been in the eye of the storm because of it. However, it looks like his name will always be part of this debate, so we may have to keep an eye on him as he also is the last winner.