There are hundreds of incredible talents in world football, but there can be only one winner of the ultimate individual prize: the Ballon d’Or.
Luka Modric took home the award in 2018 after starring for both Real Madrid and Croatia, and the eventual winner of this year’s trophy will need a similar effort.
Here are 15 players who could take home the award, and what they need to do for the remainder of 2019 to make it their own.
Why He Might Win: He’s Lionel Messi.
What He Needs to Do to Win: Keep doing what he is doing. Winning the Copa America with Argentina this summer
What Could Stop Him Winning: Outside of La Liga, Barcelona have not been world-beaters. The 4-0 mauling at the hands of Liverpool, in which Messi was powerless to save his team, will damage his reputation, and failure to win the Copa del Rey won’t help either.
Why He Might Win: Do I even need to explain this one? Like Messi, Ronaldo is a superhuman talent, and his five Ballon d’Or awards prove he is good enough to win this trophy. Storming to a Serie A title with Juventus will always help.
What He Needs to Do to Win: If he can continue to score goals, Ronaldo will be up there when the final standings are announced. He needs to carry on dominating in Italy, and success in the UEFA Nations League with Portugal this summer would also be a huge help.
What Could Stop Him Winning: Basically, if he doesn’t do any of the above. A poor showing with Portugal would not go down well amongst fans, whilst he will also need a better run in next season’s Champions League group stage. He managed one goal and one red card at that stage in 2018, and that’s not going to cut it.
Why He Might Win: Sterling is one of the top performers on one of Europe’s best sides. He fired Manchester City to the Premier League title, and he is expected to continue that form for the remainder of 2019.
What He Needs to Do to Win: If Sterling can guide England to Nations League glory, he would prove that he can win things without his City teammates. Outside of that, maintaining his rate of goals and assists in both the Premier League and the Champions League would make him a tough candidate to overlook for the shortlist at least.
What Could Stop Him Winning: City may have won the treble this season, but they failed in the Champions League, and the lack of that particular trophy will work against Sterling in the final voting. He is also perhaps less valued outside of England than he is in it.
Why He Might Win: He came fourth in 2018, and he has been a better player this season than he was last time around. Mbappe is utterly dominant in Ligue 1 with Paris Saint-Germain, and his rate of goalscoring is up there with the best in the world.
What He Needs to Do to Win: Continue that electric domestic form, and prove that PSG could be a genuine threat in the Champions League. Whoever the team is drawn against, Mbappe needs goals and top performances. Plus, a blockbuster transfer to someone like Real Madrid would certainly enhance his already huge reputation.
What Could Stop Him Winning: Les Parisiens came unstuck against Manchester United in the last 16 in Europe, and an early exit from the Champions League is not what voters are looking for. Being in Ligue 1 and not being involved in any major international tournament this year is not helpful.
Virgil van Dijk
Why He Might Win: Van Dijk has been a driving force behind Liverpool’s emergence as one of Europe’s top sides this season. Dominance in both the Premier League and the Champions League is always a recipe for individual success.
What He Needs to Do to Win: Bringing home the Champions League would be an enormous push in the right direction, and doing the same with the Netherlands in the Nations League would be another example of the centre back’s dominance.
What Could Stop Him Winning: Ultimately, Van Dijk could end 2019 without a single trophy. The Premier League has already been lost, whilst he could end up on the losing side in both upcoming European tournaments. That’s not the record of a Ballon d’Or winner. On top of that, only two other defenders have ever won the Ballon d’Or amongst a sea of attackers. Those two were Franz Beckenbauer (1972 and 1976) and Fabio Cannavaro (2006).
Why He Might Win: Eden Hazard is really good, it’s as simple as that. He has added plenty of goals to his game in recent months which, when added to his unfathomably good dribbling skills, makes him one of the most frightening attackers in world football.
What He Needs to Do to Win: It has often been said that Hazard needed to move to Spain to be in the conversation for the Ballon d’Or, and it looks like he will get the chance to prove that theory this summer. Before he goes, lifting the Europa League with Chelsea is a must, but dragging Real Madrid (assuming he signs) back on top in La Liga would earn him major plaudits.
What Could Stop Him Winning: If things don’t go to plan for Hazard in the next few months, he certainly won’t win. Thibaut Courtois struggled to perform after making the move to Real, and the same could happen to Hazard. In addition, his lack of involvement at the business end of the Premier League and Champions League are two black marks against his name that will only be overlooked with some sensational displays in the latter half of the year.
Why He Might Win: As one of Europe’s most prolific goalscorers, Kane has all the required talent to bring home the Ballon d’Or. He scores a crazy amount of goals in one of Europe’s top leagues.
What He Needs to Do to Win: If Kane wins the Champions League with Tottenham Hotspur, his case for winning the Ballon d’Or becomes far stronger. The same goes for the Nations League with England, so there are plenty of chances for Kane to establish his dominance.
What Could Stop Him Winning: Ending 2019 with no trophies would make it almost impossible for Kane to win. Scoring goals is all well and good, but not being able to lead either your club or country to silverware will always leave voters wanting more.
Why He Might Win: Neymar is another talent who has been dominant for his club, scoring goal after goal to ensure PSG’s reign of glory in France continues.
What He Needs to Do to Win: Copa America success with Brazil this summer would cement his place as one of South America’s finest. He is also likely to hit 100 caps for the Seleção this year and leapfrog Ronaldo into second place on the country’s all-time top scorers list. However,
What Could Stop Him Winning: For all their dominance in France, PSG were less than impressive in Europe this year, and that certainly needs to change in the latter half of 2019. He also needs to overcome niggling injury issues that kept him out of his side’s run-in in 2018/19.
Why He Might Win: Salah finished as the Premier League’s top scorer this season (his second successive Golden Boot), which makes him stand as out as one of Europe’s finest. His Liverpool side have been outstanding in the first half of 2019.
What He Needs to Do to Win: The Egyptian has the chance to lift Europe’s most prestigious tournament and adding the Champions League to his trophy cabinet (as well as continuing his form next season) will make him a top option. There is also the Africa Cup of Nations this summer to help bolster his case.
What Could Stop Him Winning: Failing to win any trophy would hurt his argument considerably. There is also the fact that he actually had a better year in 2018.
Matthijs de Ligt
Why He Might Win: Leading Ajax through one of the most inspirational runs in recent Champions League history, De Ligt proved exactly why he is so highly rated. He also swept up the domestic trophies with Ajax.
What He Needs to Do to Win: Truthfully, with so many other candidates strutting their stuff in top leagues, De Ligt probably needs to leave Ajax this summer. A switch to Barcelona would be the perfect chance for him, and a series of top performances would help his stock rise. There is also the Nations League in Portugal this summer, where De Ligt can leave more mouths agape.
What Could Stop Him Winning: For all the excitement surrounding Ajax, they did not manage to reach the Champions League final. If he does not leave Ajax, he would be fighting an uphill battle to prove he is the world’s best, and that would likely be an impossible task. Like his international teammate Van Dijk, his odds are longer as a defender.
Why He Might Win: Mane has often been Liverpool’s most important player in attack, scoring plenty of vital goals to help his side compete for both the Premier League and Champions League.
What He Needs to Do to Win: A top performance in the upcoming cup final against Spurs would prove Mane’s status as one of the world’s finest forwards. Maintaining a similar level for the remainder of the year won’t be easy, but Mane has the talent to do so. Senegal success at AFCON will only help him.
What Could Stop Him Winning: Just like the rest of his Liverpool teammates, Mane could be left wondering what could have been if the Reds cannot bring home the Champions League trophy. A dip in form at any stage of 2019 could be catastrophic to his chances of individual glory.
Why He Might Win: With Borussia Dortmund, Sancho has proven just why many view him as a future superstar. He might even already be there, having terrorised Bundesliga defences for fun in recent months.
What He Needs to Do to Win: To have any chance of winning, Sancho needs to take his talents to the global stage. A triumphant Nations League campaign with England would work wonders, and a high-profile transfer to, say, Manchester United would increase the attention on him.
What Could Stop Him Winning: It can be argued that Sancho is still missing something on his quest for superstardom, which is normal for a 19-year-old. Maintaining his current level with Dortmund would be great, but it may not be enough. Trophies and world-beating performances are needed, but he has many years ahead to get those.
Why He Might Win: If I told you that the Ballon d’Or winner had outscored Cristiano Ronaldo and dominated in his domestic league, you would not be surprised at all. That is exactly what Fabio Quagliarella managed in Serie A.
What He Needs to Do to Win: With Sampdoria not competing in the Champions League, Quagliarella’s odds of winning the trophy are certainly slim. But, if the 36-year-old can continue defying the odds and outscoring some of the world’s finest, who knows what could happen.
What Could Stop Him Winning: Quagliarella is hardly a household name and, given he will not compete in Europe, it would take an astronomical effort to change that. If all he can bring is goals, that won’t do it for many voters. He may well claim the Puskas Award, however.
Why He Might Win: Son has been flirting with superstardom for years, and looks to be nearing that next step. He was in sensational form for Spurs, and captured the hearts of many with his stunning showings against Manchester City in the Champions League.
What He Needs to Do to Win: Silverware, silverware, silverware. Son has the chance to win the Champions League, which inevitably leads to an increased reputation. If he follows that up with some more impressive showings, he will force his way into the standings.
What Could Stop Him Winning: Spurs weren’t part of the Premier League title race, and a similar team performance next season would hamper his chances of winning, regardless of whether he lifts the Champions League.
Why He Might Win: As one of Europe’s elite strikers, it’s not hard to see how Lewandowski could take home the ultimate individual prize. He fired Bayern Munich to the Bundesliga title, and will be looking for that form to carry over into next season.
What He Needs to Do to Win: Goals will be the key for Lewandowski. Leading the Bundesliga’s scoring charts again would be hugely impressive, and an electric start to next season, both in Germany and in Europe, could earn his place on the shortlist.
What Could Stop Him Winning: Crashing out of the Champions League in the round of 16 is not Ballon d’Or material, and if Bayern endure another lacklustre start to the season, just as they did this year, then his wait for the award may go on.