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Ballon d’Or 2021: Who will be crowned the best players in men’s and women’s football?

<i>FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>Messi poses with his sixth Ballon d'Or trophy in 2019.
AFP via Getty Images
Messi poses with his sixth Ballon d'Or trophy in 2019.

By George Ramsay, CNN

The world’s best footballers will be recognized at the annual Ballon d’Or ceremony in Paris on Monday.

Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski and Mohamed Salah are among the favorites to be crowned the best men’s player, while Barcelona’s Alexia Putellas and Jennifer Hermoso headline the women’s nominees.

However, the scheduling of the awards in the middle of a women’s international break has drawn criticism, a decision that makes it hard for some of the nominees to attend.

For instance, Australia and Chelsea star Sam Kerr, who is in the running to be crowned the best player in the women’s game, is likely to be a notable absentee from the ceremony with the Matildas facing the US in Newcastle on Tuesday.

“Incredibly disappointing that the highest award for the best female players in the world is not even accessible for them to attend — these things need to keep being highlighted as not acceptable,” Rehanne Skinner, head coach of Tottenham Hotspur Women, said on Twitter.

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Some players have been released in order to attend the awards, including Spanish internationals Putellas, Hermoso, Irene Paredes and Sandra Paños.

The quartet left training with the national team and will return ahead of the World Cup qualifier against Scotland in Seville on Tuesday.

CNN has contacted France Football, which organizes the Ballon d’Or awards, regarding the scheduling of this year’s ceremony.

“I don’t think it’s an intentional snub … I just think that the Ballon d’Or now by definition is both a men’s and women’s award, and in the third season, they really need to get it right and they need to promote it in that way,” former New Zealand captain Rebecca Smith said on CNN World Sport.

“It’s just another one of those, ‘Come on’ — half the fun of the awards is having the players there.

“I’m not sure if Sam Kerr, should she win it, can jump on a private jet from Australia all the way to Paris to pick it up.”

The women’s Ballon d’Or was introduced in 2018 and won by Norway’s Ada Hegerberg, while American Megan Rapinoe became the second winner the following year. Last year’s awards were canceled amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Of the 20 players nominated for this year’s award, 10 play for Chelsea or Barcelona, the two sides that contested the Champions League final in May. Barcelona’s 4-0 victory in that game was the highlight of the side’s treble-winning season.

In the men’s award, Messi could claim a record-extending seventh Ballon d’Or having won the Copa América title with Argentina earlier this year.

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Lewandowski’s sensational goalscoring form for Bayern Munich has also put him in the running; the striker has netted 53 times this calendar year, more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues.

Liverpool’s Salah, the top scorer in the Premier League this season, and Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, the top scorer so far in La Liga, are also among the favorites, as is midfielder Jorginho, who won the Champions League title with Chelsea and Euro 2020 with Italy this year.

The lists of nominees are compiled by France Football, after which a panel of journalists from around the world vote for the winners.

Also up for grabs is the Kopa Trophy, awarded to the best men’s under-21 player, and the Yashin Trophy for the best goalkeeper. The ceremony starts at 2:30 p.m. ET.

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