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Foden overtakes Haaland in epic Ballon d’Or battle

Foden overtakes Haaland in epic Ballon d'Or battle

After a season headlined by him finally getting his hands on the World Cup, Lionel Messi took home his eighth Ballon d’Or after picking up the 2023 prize in Paris back in October. The footballing world has moved on, though, and now the heat is on as we gradually move towards knowing the identity of the 2024 winner.

As we enter the final stretch, it promises to be an intense race. Along with the usual ups and downs of the European domestic season, this is a campaign that will see the majority of the globe’s best players take part in international tournaments, including the European Championship and Copa America this summer.

So after a year that was defined by the battle between Messi’s tournament success for Argentina and Erling Haaland’s season-long superiority at Manchester City, how much of a bearing on the 2024 Ballon d’Or race will those international competitions have? Meanwhile, could we see the first win from someone who plays their club football outside of Europe, as more and more of the game’s biggest names head to up-and-coming leagues in other parts of the world?

One thing for certain is that TOPSGS will be here every step of the way to track the contenders for the biggest individual prize the game has to offer. Ready to join us for the ride? Then step right in for the latest update of our Ballon d’Or 2024 Power Rankings…

Previous update: March 20, 2024.

20Lionel Messi (Inter Miami)

In 2023-24: 17 goals, six assists. Won Leagues Cup.

Surely not number nine?! Messi became the first man playing outside Europe to win the Ballon d’Or in 2023, but he earned the prize for his performances while employed by Paris Saint-Germain. Could he now win a Golden Ball while playing exclusively on the other side of the Atlantic?

The odds are admittedly stacked against him. With the new MLS season having only just begun, Messi will not be able to win any meaningful domestic trophies during the voting period for the 2024 award.

However, if he can have Miami near the top of the Eastern Conference midway through the campaign and lead them into the latter stages of the CONCACAF Champions Cup (North America’s Champions League), before then guiding Argentina to another trophy at the 2024 Copa America, then all bets might be off.

19Cristiano Ronaldo (Al-Nassr)

In 2023-24: 38 goals, 14 assists.

Many presumed Ronaldo was done with the Ballon d’Or after he missed out on the 30-man shortlist for the first time since 2003 last year, but there was definitely a route for the five-time winner to force himself back into contention for 2024.

Whether that has now been closed off, however, remains to be seen. With Al-Nassr already well behind unbeaten leaders Al-Hilal at the top of the Saudi Pro League, their exit from the AFC Champions League at the quarter-final stage was a bitter blow to Ronaldo’s slim Ballon d’Or hopes. And so while he continues to score goals at a remarkable rate, his chances of ending the campaign with silverware are dwindling.

That said, Portugal will be one of the favourites for Euro 2024 after a favourable group-stage draw, and with Ronaldo having re-established himself in the line-up under Roberto Martinez, he will be keen to impress in what is likely to be his major tournament swansong. If he can guide his country to another continental title, expect him to rocket up these rankings.

18Rodrygo (Real Madrid)

In 2023-24: 16 goals, eight assists. Won Supercopa de Espana.

While he remains a key player for Madrid, Rodrygo’s form fell off somewhat after a strong finish to 2023, and there is no doubt that others at Santiago Bernabeu dominate the headlines far more than the Brazilian winger.

However, if he can rediscover his scoring touch in the final weeks of the campaign, especially in the Champions League, before helping to lead his country to glory at the Copa America, then he could vault himself back into Ballon d’Or contention.

17Lautaro Martinez (Inter)

In 2023-24: 27 goals, six assists. Won Supercoppa Italiana.

If any moment summed up Lautaro Martinez’s big-match struggles, it was his woeful penalty in Inter’s shootout loss to Atletico Madrid that ended their hopes of reaching a second-successive Champions League final in the last 16.

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The striker has been on a tear for the runaway leaders in Serie A this season and could yet be part of a victorious Argentina squad at the Copa America, but his failure to prove himself in the biggest occasions is likely to mean he finishes down the Ballon d’Or pecking order once again.

16Florian Wirtz (Bayer Leverkusen)

In 2023-24: 15 goals, 20 assists.

Bayer Leverkusen march on in the Bundesliga, and remain unbeaten in all competitions through 41 matches this season as Xabi Alonso’s side now look destined to end Bayern Munich’s stranglehold on the German title. They are also into the DFB-Pokal final and are one of the strongest sides left in the Europa League, and so ending the season with multiple trophies isn’t out of the question.

Should that happen, Ballon d’Or voters will be keen to reward Alonso’s most important players, and few – if any – are having better campaigns than Wirtz. The playmaker’s form since recovering from a serious knee injury has been superb, and is likely to earn him a £100-million-plus move over the next 12 months or so, as well as a starting role for hosts Germany at Euro 2024.

15Bernardo Silva (Manchester City)

In 2023-24: 10 goals, eight assists. Won Club World Cup & UEFA Super Cup.

Bernardo tends to save his best performances for the biggest matches, and he should have plenty of those to showcase himself to the world in as Man City enter the run-in. Pep Guardiola’s side are involved in a hotly-contested Premier League title race as well as pushing for back-to-back Champions League titles, with Bernardo having scored upon the competition’s return for the knockout stages against FC Copenhagen.

Portugal, meanwhile, were superb in qualifying for Euro 2024, with Bernardo pulling the strings from midfield. If he can produce more of the same in Germany, he could find himself well in the Ballon d’Or race.

14Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)

In 2023-24: Four goals, 14 assists.

De Bruyne even challenging for the Ballon d’Or after he missed the entire first half of the season due to injury might seem fanciful, but if anyone can force themselves into the reckoning, then it’s the Man City midfielder.

The 32-year-old has looked in great form since returning in January, and figures to be a key player for a team who are in good shape to repeat their treble-winning campaign of 2022-23 if he can stay fit. He will also be the main figurehead for a Belgium team who, while unfancied to go all the way, have got a decent draw at the European Championships.

13Declan Rice (Arsenal)

In 2023-24: Six goals, seven assists.

Some eyebrows were raised when Arsenal forked out £105 million ($137m) to sign Rice from West Ham over the summer, but any doubts over the deal have quickly been erased thanks to the midfielder’s superb campaign thus far.

Not only has the England international been key in shielding Mikel Arteta’s defence, he has also scored some stunning goals, while in recent weeks he has added a new string to his bow by becoming a set-piece expert for a team that has become the Premier League’s dead-ball specialists.

If Rice can help lead the Gunners to silverware this season before playing an important role for a successful England side at the Euros, then – like it or not – Ballon d’Or candidacy is a realistic proposition.

12Julian Alvarez (Manchester City)

In 2023-24: 16 goals, 12 assists. Won Club World Cup & UEFA Super Cup.

The most-decorated player of the 2022-23 season after adding the World Cup to the treble he won with Man City, Alvarez has taken his game to a new level this campaign after becoming a regular starter for Pep Guardiola’s side.

The Argentina striker is set to improve his goal and assist numbers from the last campaign, and another successful season for City, as well as a deep Copa America run with Argentina, could yet see him finish higher than the seventh-place he managed in 2023 Ballon d’Or voting.

Getty Images

11Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)

In 2023-24: Five goals, two assists, 14 clean sheets. Won Carabao Cup.

While some may have written Van Dijk off as still being one of world football’s elite defenders, the Liverpool captain’s performances so far this season suggest he still should be regarded as one of the very best around.

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As always, he has exuded calm at the heart of Jurgen Klopp’s defence as they aim to collect as many trophies as possible before the German departs this summer. Van Dijk has also started popping up with the odd goal since the turn of the year, with none more crucial than his late winner in the Carabao Cup final.

He will also skipper the Netherlands at Euro 2024 later this year, and though they are not among the tournament favourites, with Van Dijk back at the top of his game, they surely can’t be written off from going deep in the tournament.

10Bukayo Saka (Arsenal)

In 2023-24: 17 goals, 14 assists.

Anyone who believed Arsenal might fall away after last season’s title-race disappointment has been proven wrong, with Saka leading the way for Mikel Arteta’s side as they look to break their long Premier League trophy drought.

The England winger started 2024 in electric fashion, and went on a run of scoring seven goals in five league matches through January and February as the Gunners showed their best form of the campaign so far. They remain in Champions League contention, too, though Saka was kept relatively quiet in their last-16 win over Porto.

If Saka can guide Arsenal to a domestic or European title, then all he might need to be in with a real chance of winning the Ballon d’Or is a strong Euros with the Three Lions.

9Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid)

In 2023-24: 20 goals, nine assists.

It went under the radar somewhat, but there was an argument to say that from the beginning of the 2022 World Cup through to the end of 2023, there wasn’t a more consistent high-level performer anywhere in Europe than Griezmann.

His form during the first half of the season had Atletico dreaming of domestic and European glory, but the Rojiblancos have since slipped out of La Liga’s title race and are now in danger of missing out on a top-four finish. They remain in the Champions League, however, and Griezmann will have a key role to play for Diego Simeone’s side as they look to plot their way through the ‘easier’ half of the draw.

If Griezmann can go deep in that competition and then lead France to glory at Euro 2024 thereafter, he may well be in with his best chance yet of winning a Ballon d’Or.

8Vinicius Jr (Real Madrid)

In 2023-24: 18 goals, eight assists. Won Supercopa de Espana.

Injury meant that Vinicius did not got off to the fast start many might have expected when Karim Benzema left Real Madrid, but having finally shaken off his fitness issues, there are signs of the winger getting back to his best level.

He netted a hat-trick to help beat Barcelona in the final of the Spanish Super Cup, while he has scored eight goals in his last nine La Liga games to move Madrid to within touching distance of another league title.

When you factor in that he’ll also likely be Brazil’s main man at the Copa America following Neymar’s season-ending knee injury, Vinicius is set up for a memorable 2024, even if winning the Champions League now looks tougher following Madrid’s draw of Manchester City in the quarter-finals.

7Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)

In 2023-24: 28 goals, 16 assists. Won Carabao Cup.

Salah finished just outside the top 10 in the 2023 Ballon d’Or voting despite Liverpool’s struggles last season, and so the ‘Egyptian King’ has a real chance of forcing himself into contention as the Reds continue to go in pursuit of both the Premier League title and Europa League to go with the Carabao Cup they have already won.

A lack of Champions League football may affect Salah’s final candidacy, though potentially winning the Premier League with the Reds could cancel that out. His injury agony at the Africa Cup of Nations, however, meant he missed the chance to enjoy the same international success that some of his rivals might have this summer.

6Harry Kane (Bayern Munich)

In 2023-24: 42 goals, 12 assists.

Kane’s move to Bayern was meant to put him in a spot where he could finally end the wait for a first trophy of his career, but the Bavarians are now in real danger of finishing the season without any silverware after slipping to 16 points behind runaway leaders Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga, while they need to beat both Arsenal and one of Real Madrid or Manchester City to even reach the Champions League final.

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Kane continues to score at a record-breaking rate and is averaging more than a goal a game in the league for the defending champions, but if he doesn’t end the club season with a winners’ medal of any kind, would leading England to glory at Euro 2024 even be enough for him to claim a first Ballon d’Or?

5Rodri (Manchester City)

In 2023-24: 10 goals, 13 assists. Won Club World Cup & UEFA Super Cup.

It has been over a year since Rodri last tasted defeat in a Man City shirt, and little has illustrated his importance to the team more than the fact that they have lost all three Premier League games that he has missed in 2023-24 so far.

Unquestionably the best defensive midfielder in the world right now, the fact that the Spain international has also developed a habit of popping up with crucial goals means he is catching the eyes of even more fans – and Ballon d’Or voters.

4Erling Haaland (Manchester City)

In 2023-24: 33 goals, six assists. Won Club World Cup & UEFA Super Cup.

Haaland could barely have done more to win the 2023 Ballon d’Or and yet still came up just short, so can he go one better and claim his first Golden Ball this time around? Now fully fit after a month out through injury, he is still getting back to peak form for City, but if they again pick up multiple trophies with their No.9 netting the crucial goals, that could be enough to get Haaland over the Ballon d’Or line.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle in his way, however, is that he will again miss the big summer tournament after Norway failed to qualify for Euro 2024. There’s a chance that if other contenders shine in Germany, then Haaland’s potential heroics might be forgotten come voting time.

3Phil Foden (Manchester City)

In 2023-24: 22 goals, 10 assists. Won Club World Cup & UEFA Super Cup.

With Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland having both missed chunks of the season through injury, Foden has stepped up in spectacular fashion, and is enjoying the best campaign of his already illustrious career to date.

Not only is he likely to be in contention for multiple trophies with Man City, Foden’s form has also given him a great chance of starting for much-fancied England at Euro 2024.

2Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)

In 2023-24: 45 goals, 16 assists. Won Trophee des Champions.

The saga is almost over, and so we now know that this will be Mbappe’s final Ballon d’Or campaign as a PSG player, with his protracted move to Real Madrid expected to be confirmed in the coming weeks and months.

Mbappe’s goals already have the reigning Ligue 1 champions in pole position to defend their crown, while they will have been given renewed confidence in terms of breaking their Champions League hoodoo after they were drawn into the ‘easier’ half of the bracket.

Mbappe’s most realistic path to winning the Ballon d’Or is by enjoying another 50+ goal season for PSG before firing France to European Championship glory in Germany during the summer, and right now that doesn’t feel out of the question.

1Jude Bellingham (Real Madrid)

In 2023-24: 22 goals, 13 assists. Won Supercopa de Espana.

The best footballer in the world during the first half of the 2023-24 season, Bellingham took to his new surroundings at Real Madrid like no signing since Cristiano Ronaldo. Not only did he scored frequently, but he also netted hugely important goals, such as his double to win El Clasico back in November.

The hype around him has been tempered in recent weeks, in part due to him missing games through injury and suspension, though Madrid’s upcoming Champions League quarter-final versus Manchester City should offer him the perfect stage to reignite his Golden Ball bid. Lose, though, and others might begin to pass him in the race.

Regardless, with Bellingham in his current form, England will also be confident of finally getting over their major tournament hump at the European Championship. Where that title ends up could yet decide this year’s Ballon d’Or winner.

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