The race for the 2023 Ballon d'Or race is coming to a close, with some of the world's best footballers vying to succeed 2022 winner Karim Benzema in lifting the Golden Ball in Paris on October 30.
It promised to be a unique Ballon d'Or battle, with the World Cup taking place in the middle of the 2022-23 campaign, meaning it could be a distant memory by the time votes are cast in August. There is no doubt, however, that playing a starring role in Qatar has boosted some players' chances of competing for the Golden Ball, even with domestic and European titles now having been decided.
It's the master against the apprentice. Nobody has won this coveted individual honour on more occasions than Lionel Messi. And the great Argentinean has this season achieved his greatest feat, captaining his country to the World Cup.
Erling Haaland is approaching fast in Messi's rearview mirror. The striker has enjoyed an extraordinary season in England with Manchester City winning the Treble. He's on track to be a future Ballon d'Or winner but will this be the year?
Haaland has broken countless records over the course of the season, and there was a time in late April that it seemed inevitable he would move to the top of the Ballon d'Or 2023 rankings come the end of the campaign.
However, a run of just one goal in his final eight games means he will likely come up short in 2023, even though it was his goals that played a massive role in City winning the treble (FA Cup, UEFA Champions League and the Premier League).
2022 was the first year since 2006 that didn't see Lionel Messi in the top three votes for the Ballon d'Or. It will surely be different this time around after Messi helped his national team to a first World Cup since 1986.
Messi has been the frontrunner for the award ever since. It didn't end well but Messi enjoyed a vastly improved second season at PSG.
The 35-year-old averaged a goal every other game in Ligue 1. A far cry from his Barcelona days but an improvement on 2021-22. And most importantly, winning the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar.
3) Vinicius Junior
"Benzema, well deserved top player!!" Neymar wrote on Twitter. "But Vini jr in 8th it's a joke. He's top 3 minimum."
But the truth is that it is very, very hard to win the Ballon d'Or as a young man. Even when you are brilliant. But especially when you are pocketed by Kyle Walker over two Champions League semi-final legs.
4) Kevin De Bruyne
Third last year but had a poor World Cup. At 31, he might quite reasonably think that he has been unlucky to be at his peak in the Messi years. Kevin De Bruyne's chances are much stronger now as he alongside Haaland has also won the treble.