Real Madrid president Florentino Perez is convinced Karim Benzema will be awarded the Ballon d'Or later this month.

Benzema played a talismanic role as Madrid won LaLiga and the Champions League last season, scoring 44 goals in 46 appearances in all competitions.

The striker has already hit the net three times in four league games this season, and is set to return from a three-week injury absence against Osasuna on Sunday.

The next winner of football's most prestigious individual honour will be announced on October 17, and Perez is in no doubt as to who will receive it.

"Benzema has already received the UEFA best player of the year award and in the coming days, he will be awarded the Ballon d'Or," Perez said, in comments carried by Mundo Deportivo.

"No one doubts it."

Benzema's recent absence has failed to prevent Madrid from making a perfect start to their title defence, winning their first six games of the season in LaLiga.

Los Blancos are the only team in Europe's top five leagues to have maintained a 100 per cent winning record this campaign, and Perez has been delighted by their form.

"We have a squad to keep dreaming of all the challenges and challenges that will come. Real Madrid does not allow complacency or relaxation," he added.

"After winning the European Super Cup, we have won all the games we have played, being the only club in the five major leagues that has achieved it. This is the path."

Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema has been named the 2021-22 UEFA Men's Player of the Year, beating team-mate Thibaut Courtois and Manchester City playmaker Kevin De Bruyne to the gong.

The France international solidified his status as the frontrunner for this year's Ballon d'Or with victory over the pair, with the award bestowed following the Champions League group-stage draw in Istanbul on Thursday.

Benzema, top scorer in both the Champions League and LaLiga last term as he guided Madrid to a double, netted 44 goals in 46 games across all competitions.

Coach Carlo Ancelotti also was feted at the ceremony, beating Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola and Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp to be awarded the UEFA Men's Coach of the Year Award.

Kylian Mbappe claimed it is a "big lie" to say players do not care about winning the Ballon d'Or as he named Karim Benzema and Sadio Mane as his main rivals for this year's award.

Mbappe was named on a 30-man shortlist to be named the best player in the world on Friday, having scored 39 goals in all competitions as Paris Saint-Germain won the Ligue 1 title last season.

No player across the top five European leagues matched Mbappe's total of 60 goal contributions across the 2021-22 campaign, although his France team-mate Benzema is the clear favourite after helping Real Madrid to the Champions League and LaLiga trophies. 

In an interview with France Football, Mbappe, who has previously backed Benzema to win the award, acknowledged he was desperate to be named the world's best.

"I've always wanted to do it early, without limiting my dreams. I want to win it and I don't mind admitting it," he said.

"I am convinced that lifting the first one is the most complicated. Once you have officially entered that select group, it will be easier to revalidate it.

"It is a big lie that a footballer is not interested in the Ballon d'Or. It is hypocritical to say that. 

"We all think about that. We talk about a team, and a collective, because in some way it serves to camouflage our ambition, but it is honest to admit that we care. 

"For two years I have been a more real candidate for the award. Before, I was content to be in the top 10. Now, on the other hand, I am among the four or five most regular.

"We don't talk about the Ballon d'Or in January, but we make comments when the lists appear. Later, as the ceremony draws near, it's obviously a topic of conversation in the group. We make our bets, we debate our opinions."

Asked for his own top three, the striker said: "I think Benzema, Mane and me."

 

Mbappe's first Ballon d'Or nomination came in 2017, when then-Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo beat Lionel Messi and Neymar to the award.

And the 23-year-old said being among the hopefuls early on in his career gave him confidence that he would make it at an elite level.

"Frankly, it was an honour," he recalled. "I was barely of legal age and I was already associated with those great names. It may seem trivial, but it was something important. A real step forward in my career. 

"Somehow it was a message that served to say that I was among the best. I accredited myself as an elite footballer in the eyes of the world, and it was significant to belong to that list at only 18 years old."

Meanwhile, the headline omission from 2022's list of nominees is seven-time winner and current holder Lionel Messi, who last failed to be nominated in 2005 – when Ronaldinho edged out Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard in the voting.

As Mbappe recalled his PSG team-mate's victory last year, he said the Argentina star's nervousness on the eve of the gala demonstrated that his desire to be the best remains strong.

"The morning of the last gala he was nervous because a few hours later he was going to collect a seventh Ballon d'Or. Maybe he was thinking about what he was going to say, how he was going to lift the trophy," Mbappe said.

"I told him it is not possible to be restless after having been there six other times. I would have gone with a cigarette in my mouth! 

"But that shows that he retains the soul of a child and that he is still excited to choose to be the best. He has not tired."

 

Kylian Mbappe suggests Karim Benzema would have to "stop thinking about the Ballon d'Or forever" if he did not win the top individual award this year.

Benzema is the favourite among the 30 Ballon d'Or nominees announced by France Football on Friday.

The announcement marked the end of an era, with last year's winner Lionel Messi absent from the shortlist for the first time since 2005.

Mbappe is at the forefront of the next generation of contenders, and he told France Football he would put himself on the 2022 podium alongside Benzema and Sadio Mane.

But the forward's France team-mate Benzema is clearly a deserving winner, having inspired Real Madrid to LaLiga and Champions League glory.

Indeed, Mbappe feels Benzema will never take home the Ballon d'Or if this is not his year.

"Of course. He is 34 years old, has just made the season of his life, wins another Champions League by often being decisive," the Paris Saint-Germain striker told France Football.

"Instead of Karim, if I don't win there [in that position], I stop thinking about the Ballon d'Or forever."

It has been a fine week for Benzema, who surpassed Raul as Madrid's outright second-highest goalscorer in a midweek Super Cup win over Eintracht Frankfurt, while he was shortlisted for the UEFA Men's Player of the Year award ahead of his Ballon d'Or nomination.

But prior to the match in Helsinki, Benzema said: "I'm not like that in terms of whether I'm the best or not. I always give my all for this club, the best club in the world.

"I have to give more and more every year. It's true I had a very good season, but other people can comment on if I'm the best in the world. I'm focused on helping my team in matches, that's all I can say.

"I'm not thinking about [the Ballon d'Or]; there's trophies to win every year, that's very important. I always stress the importance of success for the team that leads to individual success."

After Madrid's victory, Los Blancos coach Carlo Ancelotti said there was "no doubt" that Benzema was the world's best player.

Few things will have made football fans feel stranger than seeing Lionel Messi wearing any other club shirt than that of Barcelona.

That is what happened in 2021 though, when the legendary Argentine made the move to Paris Saint-Germain due to the financial mess at the Camp Nou.

What could be stranger than that? Perhaps a Ballon d'Or shortlist of 30 names being released and not seeing Messi's among them?

On Friday, that once ludicrous suggestion became reality as the nominees for the 2022 award were announced in batches of five, only the familiar mention of the seven-time winner never came.

Of course, it was not especially a surprise. Messi struggled to make an impact at PSG after his free transfer to the Parc des Princes, scoring just six goals in 26 Ligue 1 games as his new team eased to the title, and a further five in seven Champions League outings.

By comparison, Messi won last year's Ballon d'Or after scoring 30 goals in 35 LaLiga games in 2020-21, as well as three in the Copa del Rey and five in the Champions League for Barca.

It still feels odd to see his name omitted, and Stats Perform has taken a trip down memory lane and looked at the last time Messi was not shortlisted for the prestigious award, all the way back in 2005.

The master before the apprentice

Before Messi, there was Ronaldinho, a player so captivating in 2005 he even earned a standing ovation at the Santiago Bernabeu from the Real Madrid fans for his performance in El Clasico.

The Brazilian consistently wowed the crowds with his skill paired with dribbling prowess and the ability to change a game all on his own. 

Unlike Messi, Ronaldinho did not earn plaudits for scoring incredible numbers of goals, more that he was generally a scorer of beautiful goals in important moments. Across league and Champions League, he scored 13 goals and recorded eight assists in 42 games for Barca in 2004-05.

That season saw him star for Barca as he won his first LaLiga title, which included providing an assist as a very young Messi scored his first senior goal for the club against Albacete.

Although Champions League glory would elude him until 2006, Ronaldinho still managed to make a mark even in Barca's first knockout round exit to Chelsea in 2005 as he scored both goals in the 4-2 second leg defeat at Stamford Bridge, including a delightful toe poke that flew past Petr Cech.

For a player of his undoubted ability, it was a surprise that this was Ronaldinho's only Ballon d'Or, with Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro winning in 2006, Milan maestro Kaka doing so in 2007 and Cristiano Ronaldo lifting the first of many in 2008, starting the era of dominance between him and Messi.

Two lions unable to roar to success

Not all that far behind Ronaldinho in the voting back in 2005 were England midfield pair Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.

The Barca man had received 50 votes in all, with Lampard second on 45 and Gerrard third on 39, though the Brazilian was significantly ahead of his two rivals in terms of those who voted him first (with voters marking down their top five in order).

It had been an excellent year for both Lampard and Gerrard though, with the former a key part of Jose Mourinho's dominant Chelsea who not only won the Premier League at a canter, securing 95 points and finishing 12 ahead of second-place Arsenal, but also dumped Barcelona out of the Champions League.

However, they in turn were eliminated from the competition in the semi-finals by Gerrard and Liverpool, who went on to lift the cup in Istanbul after a dramatic win on penalties against Milan in the final.

Had it been the modern day, in all likelihood, Gerrard would have received the most votes given the emphasis placed on winning the Champions League in recent years.

The Reds captain was a force of nature in 2004-05, dragging Liverpool through several games on his own though, like Ronaldinho, had not been a very regular scorer, only netting seven goals and four assists in 30 Premier League games, and Rafael Benitez's side finished a disappointing fifth.

Lampard was more of a net botherer though, scoring 13 goals and recording an impressive 18 assists in 38 league games for the Blues on their march to the title.

Funnily enough, Gerrard and Lampard will face each other as managers on Saturday as Aston Villa host Everton in the Premier League.

The little engine that would

Little did the game know what was about to hit it.

When Messi scored that goal against Albacete on May 1, 2005, it was the birth of a figure who would go on to become arguably the greatest footballer of all time.

It must be said that the last time Messi was not on what was then a 50-man shortlist for the Ballon d'Or, he was just 18 years old, and had been just 17 when he netted his first goal for Barca.

For the remainder of the year, Messi set about establishing himself as a key part of Barca's attack alongside Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto'o under the coaching of Frank Rijkaard.

Messi scored six goals in 17 LaLiga appearances for the Blaugrana in 2005-06, as well as notching his first Champions League goal in a 5-0 win over Panathinaikos at the Camp Nou.

In 2006, he was tied 20th in the voting for the Ballon d'Or and the rest, as they say, is history.

Don't bet against seeing his name back on the shortlist in 2023, having already scored three goals in his first two games for PSG this season.

There is also a World Cup on the horizon, after all.

Seven-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi has not been named on the 30-man shortlist for the 2022 award.

Messi – who won last year's award – endured a frustrating first season at Paris Saint-Germain in 2021-22 after arriving on a free transfer from Barcelona, scoring just 11 goals in 34 games in all competitions.

Three goals in two games at the start of the new season were not enough to see Messi make the cut, but great rival Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United was included.

Six players from Ronaldo's former club Real Madrid have been named among the 30, including heavy favourite for the award Karim Benzema, while there are also six inclusions each from Premier League duo Manchester City and Liverpool.

The nominees for the prestigious award were announced on Friday, with notable names including Bayern Munich's Sadio Mane and City's Kevin De Bruyne, the latter of whom is also among the three nominees for the 2021-22 UEFA Men's Player of the Year Award along with Benzema and Thibaut Courtois.

Benzema is fancied to take home the prize after a season in which he scored 27 goals in 32 LaLiga games as Madrid won the title, and he also scored 15 in 12 Champions League outings as Los Blancos lifted their 14th European crown in Paris in May.

The Yashin Trophy for the best goalkeeper will be contested among 10 nominees, including Courtois and Eintracht Frankfurt's Europa League winner Kevin Trapp.

The 10 nominees for the Kopa Trophy for the best player under the age of 21 includes six players from the Bundesliga, with Borussia Dortmund's Jude Bellingham and Bayern's Jamal Musiala among them.

Alexia Putellas, last year's winner of the Ballon d'Or Feminin, has been announced as one of 20 nominees despite missing the Women's Euro 2022 with an injury.

Five of Lyon's Champions League-winning side are included, as are three members of the England team who won the Euros on home turf last month.

The winners of each award will be announced on October 17, a month before the men's World Cup, meaning the tournament in Qatar at the end of the year will count towards consideration for the 2023 awards.

Full nominee lists

Ballon d'Or: Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid), Rafael Leao (Milan), Christopher Nkunku (RB Leipzig), Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich), Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Vinicius Junior (Real Madrid), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Luis Diaz (Liverpool), Robert Lewandowski (Barcelona), Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City), Casemiro (Real Madrid), Son Heung-min (Tottenham), Fabinho (Liverpool), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Mike Maignan (Milan), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Darwin Nunez (Liverpool), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Sadio Mane (Bayern Munich), Sebastien Haller (Borussia Dortmund), Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Antonio Rudiger (Real Madrid), Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Dusan Vlahovic (Juventus), Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), Joao Cancelo (Manchester City), Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain), Erling Haaland (Manchester City)

Ballon d'Or Feminin: Selma Bacha (Lyon), Fridolina Rolfo (Barcelona), Vivianne Miedema (Arsenal), Lucy Bronze (Barcelona), Sam Kerr (Chelsea), Christiane Endler (Lyon), Lena Oberdorf (Wolfsburg), Kadidiatou Diani (Paris Saint-Germain), Catarina Macario (Lyon), Alexia Putellas (Barcelona), Alexandra Popp (Wolfsburg), Aitana Bonmati (Barcelona), Wendie Renard (Lyon), Alex Morgan (San Diego Wave), Beth Mead (Arsenal), Asisat Oshoala (Barcelona), Marie-Antoinette Katoto (Paris Saint-Germain), Millie Bright (Chelsea), Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit), Ada Hegerberg (Lyon)

Yashin Trophy: Yassine Bounou (Sevilla), Alisson (Liverpool), Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid), Ederson (Manchester City), Mike Maignan (Milan), Edouard Mendy (Chelsea), Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Jan Oblak (Atletico Madrid), Kevin Trapp (Eintracht Frankfurt), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham)

Kopa Trophy: Karim Adeyemi (Borussia Dortmund), Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Eduardo Camavinga (Real Madrid), Gavi (Barcelona), Ryan Gravenberch (Bayern Munich), Nuno Mendes (Paris Saint-Germain), Jamal Musiala (Bayern Munich), Josko Gvardiol (RB Leipzig), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Florian Wirtz (Bayer Leverkusen)

Real Madrid duo Karim Benzema and Thibaut Courtois, alongside Manchester City playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, are the three nominees for the 2021-22 UEFA Men's Player of the Year Award.

The three are joined by bosses Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola, plus Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp, on the three-man shortlist for the UEFA Men's Coach of the Year Award.

Ahead of this week's Ballon d'Or nominations, France forward Benzema has further enshrined his frontrunner status, after firing Madrid to a continental double last term in La Liga and the UEFA Champions League.

But there is no room for any player from Liverpool, the side who Ancelotti's men vanquished in last season's final in Paris.

Five Reds stars - Mohamed Salah, Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Fabinho, plus the departed Sadio Mane - made the 15-man longlist, but none made the final cut for the eventual nominations.

Other players included Robert Lewandowski and Luka Modric, who came fourth and fifth respectively, while Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe came eighth, one spot ahead of Madrid forward Vinicius Junior.

Benzema is feted for his superb efforts in helping Madrid bounce back to glory under Ancelotti, with 44 goals in 46 games across all competitions, while Courtois is recognised for his superb feats between the posts.

De Bruyne meanwhile helped City and Guardiola to another Premier League crown, while Klopp steered Liverpool to two domestic trophies, plus a second-place league finish and the Champions League final.

The winners will be announced at the ceremony for the 2022-23 Champions League group stage draw in Istanbul on August 25.

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez ruled out further additions following Los Blancos' Super Cup win over Eintracht Frankfurt, as he backed the team's ability to cover for talismanic striker Karim Benzema. 

Goals from David Alaba and Benzema – who moved above Raul in Madrid's all-time goalscoring charts – sealed a deserved win for the Champions League holders on Wednesday.

The triumph represented the ideal start to Madrid's 2022-23 campaign and meant the Spanish giants have now won 17 of their last 19 one-legged finals. 

Since winning the Champions League and LaLiga last season, Madrid have added highly rated midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni and powerful defender Antonio Rudiger, both of whom appeared from the bench in Helsinki.

And Perez is satisfied with Madrid's business as he ruled out signing a back-up striker to cover for Benzema.

"We have to continue training well, Ancelotti managed the squad, today we don't contemplate anything else," he told Movistar after the match.

"Look at all the strikers we have. If he [Benzema] does [get injured] we have so many strikers that it won't be noticed."

Asked whether he believed the France striker was on course to win the Ballon d'Or, Perez added: "In my opinion he already deserved it last year and this year more."

 

Madrid's victory also saw Carlo Ancelotti surpass Pep Guardiola as the coach with the most Super Cup titles (four) and Perez showered praise upon the European specialist after he brought yet another trophy to the Santiago Bernabeu.

"We've had a good season and this Super Cup makes us very excited," Perez said. "First you have to reach the finals and then win them. We have a great team, it's hard work well done.

"Ancelotti manages this squad very well, it is an important part of the success and we start this new season, which begins on Sunday, with great enthusiasm. 

"This year it is true that everything has gone well for us and nobody can be dissatisfied but you have to keep working, every day you work for your future."

Barcelona star Alexia Putellas insists she is "getting better every day" after being ruled out for 10-12 months with an anterior cruciate ligament injury, as she thanked fans for their support.

Putellas suffered the injury during training just three days before Spain's opening match of the Women's European Championship last month, and was subsequently ruled out for up to a year after undergoing surgery.

Spain were understandably hampered by the Ballon d'Or-winning attacker's absence, exiting the competition after a quarter-final loss to eventual winners England.

Putellas, who top-scored with 11 goals in the Women's Champions League last season, has now spoken out on her injury for the first time, expressing gratitude for the support offered to her.

"I feel fine given the circumstances. I'm fine, getting better every day," she told Barcelona's website. "I have to work through each stage as it comes, luckily I haven't been through anything like this before, and it will be step-by-step, but most importantly, let's keep supporting the team.

"I fully believe [in the team], as do all the fans and everyone else. This is a new season and we have to target everything.

"I want to say thank you because I have felt tremendous support since what happened, with so many demonstrations of warmth. 

"I can't answer everyone individually, so I'll take this opportunity to say thanks. It's been tough and feeling so many people's warmth helps you deal with it a bit better."

Putellas, who has 27 goals in 100 appearances for Spain, was influential as Barca won all 30 of their domestic league games last season, also scoring a consolation goal in their 3-1 Champions League final loss to Lyon.

Vinicius Junior says he faces "a long road" to compete for the Ballon d'Or, as he tipped team-mate Karim Benzema to be named the world's best player this year.

Vinicius scored the only goal of the game as Real Madrid beat Liverpool to win their 14th Champions League title in May, having also played a key role in Los Blancos' dominant La Liga triumph.

The Brazilian scored 22 goals and recorded 16 assists in all competitions during the 2021-22 season, the latter figure representing a team-high total and one bettered only by Thomas Muller (22), Kylian Mbappe (21) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (18) among players in Europe's top five leagues.

Brazil's 2002 World Cup winner Rivaldo recently tipped Vinicius to challenge for the title of the world's best as early as next year, but the winger believes the examples set by fellow Madrid stars Benzema and Luka Modric show he has a long way to go.  

"It's [the Ballon d'Or] something that has to come naturally," Vinicius told YouTube channel Que Papinho. 

"Karim is 35 years old and now he will win it, Modric won it at 33 [in 2018].

"I have many years to evolve, a very long road for me if God wants me to win it one day."

Benzema's total of 59 goal contributions (44 goals, 15 assists) was only bettered by Mbappe (39 goals, 21 assists) in Europe's top five leagues last term, and Vinicius says his fellow Blancos attacker is the perfect role model. 

"I'm only 21 years old. I want to follow players like Karim, Modric, Marcelo, who won five Champions League titles," he added.

"I want to get as close to them as possible. That's when someone can call me that [a role model].

"Benzema repays the affection I have for him. He was a player I followed for a long time. I'm a big fan and being able to play with him today is incredible.

"He recently in an interview put me in his top five in the world, so I'm really happy."

While believing 1998 was not his best year as a footballer, Zinedine Zidane has conceded he wanted to be recognised as the best player in the world.

Zidane was a talismanic figure on French soil as Les Bleus claimed their first World Cup, scoring two goals in the final against Brazil and propelling him to the Ballon d'Or.

Despite going on to scale further heights in football at both club and international level, it remained the only year he ever won the prestigious individual award.

Speaking to L'Equipe to mark his 50th birthday, Zidane revealed it is one of the few trophies he kept from an exceptional playing career, while admitting he particularly wanted the status in the game that accompanied it.

"Because I give everything, I am able to offer everything," he said. "I have almost nothing at home from my career. Two or three objects. I am not at all conservative or materialistic. When I want to see souvenirs, I go to Marseille [where his parents live]. I don't live with it.

"I was a little overconfident the weeks before the vote. I got a little fired up in a few interviews. I've never been one to say, 'I deserve this or that,' but with this Ballon d'Or, in 1998, I told myself a little bit. It wasn't really me but I really wanted to have it.

"I was the best player in the world. It does not happen often, and to me only once. There may be preferences in the votes but when you have it, you have it. You are the best player in the world at this time, and it's beautiful."

Zidane admitted to a dip in form with Juventus after the World Cup success, but believes 2000 was his best year as a footballer as he led an "unplayable" France to a second European Championship.

"After the World Cup, I was catastrophic," he said. "I no longer put one foot in front of the other. Even my friends told me: 'But it's your cousin who plays, it's your cousin who came back to Juve!' When you win a big title like the World Cup, you tend to slack off. And me, I really relaxed.

"It takes time. After January, I restarted. Very well in January and February then I injured myself. One hundred days. The season is over. Then I resumed for the 1999-2000 season with the victory at the Euro. There, I was at the top.

"For the next two or three seasons, I never let go. 1998 was my year but I think 1999-2000 was my greatest season. Not just for me. For our whole generation in blue. Our France team was exceptional. Euro 2000 remains the pinnacle of this generation. At the Euro, we were unplayable."

Vinicius Junior will be one of the leading candidates for the Ballon d'Or in 2023, according to Rivaldo. 

Brazil international Vinicius was a key part of the Real Madrid side that won LaLiga and the Champions League in 2021-22, scoring the only goal of the game as Los Blancos beat Liverpool in the European final. 

The 21-year-old scored 22 goals and supplied 16 assists – more than he managed across the previous three campaigns combined – in 52 games in all competitions. Only Kylian Mbappe (60), Karim Benzema (59), Christopher Nkunku (51) and Mohamed Salah (46) were involved in more goals in all competitions among players in the top five European leagues. 

Benzema is the favourite for the 2022 Ballon d'Or, which will be awarded in October, but World Cup-winning former attacker Rivaldo believes next year could be Vinicius' time. 

"After a fantastic season with Real Madrid, in which he scored the goal that won the Champions League, I can only hope the young Brazilian attacker continues to develop in this way," Rivaldo told Betfair. 

"He has improved a lot in front of goal and if he continues like this he can claim to be the star of Real Madrid, because Karim Benzema will retire one day. 

"It's hard to name favourites [for the Ballon d'Or] when the season hasn't started, but I don't seem him behind Kylian Mbappe, Kevin De Bruyne and others. 

"The titles that each club wins will be very important in the final choice." 

Edouard Mendy was affected by missing out on a Ballon d'Or nomination, although his outstanding trophy haul goes some way to making up for it.

Goalkeeper Mendy helped Senegal to win their first Africa Cup of Nations title in February, having helped Chelsea win the FIFA Club World Cup that same month.

But 2021 represented a stellar year for Mendy as he enjoyed success in his first season in England following a switch from Rennes. 

He played a key role as Chelsea clinched their second Champions League title, boasting a higher save percentage (91.18) than any goalkeeper to make more than one appearance in the competition and keeping nine clean sheets in 12 outings. 

Despite that, Mendy failed to make a 30-man shortlist for football's biggest individual prize, and lost out on the Yashin Trophy – awarded to the best goalkeeper – to Italy's Euro 2020 hero Gianluigi Donnarumma.

"There have been some incredible moments and there have been some moments that have been more difficult," Mendy told Chelsea's club media.

"After the Ballon d'Or, I think that even if you try to rise above it, unconsciously you are still affected by it. But also it was something new for me.

"You learn from every challenge and I've learned how to deal with it. These are things that I've experienced that have made me a better person, even if at the time it [did] affect me.

"I've also experienced some absolutely joyous moments with AFCON and the Champions League, the [2021 UEFA] Super Cup, winning trophies. When you win them, it becomes an addiction, when you live your life in competition you want to be in the final to win.

"I've been lucky enough to experience that at club level and with my national team who won for the first time in our history. So it's a mix of a lot of emotions but enormously positive ones that bring huge amounts of pride to my family. My reality is what every footballer dreams of."

While the Ballon d'Or has so far evaded Mendy, he hailed the influence Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel – and the club's sporting director, former goalkeeper Petr Cech – have had on his time in west London.

"We have a really good relationship with the coach, he's always been clear with me, he's always clear with all the players," he said of Tuchel.

"He's always explaining things, trying to make sure the messages are understood. He's always looking to explain his decisions so there's a lot of transparency in what he does. That's important for the team and of course for myself too.

"We can talk about everything and nothing, but when we're talking about what happens on the pitch it's always a good exchange of ideas."

Cech also made the switch from Rennes to Chelsea, and went on to become the Premier League's all-time leader for clean sheets kept as a goalkeeper (202).

"Of course, he means a lot," Mendy added of Cech. "He was a big factor in the fact I came to Chelsea. 

"You have to always make them proud, last year I had the chance to train with Petr and that year [2020-21], he hung his boots! But I had the chance to train with him and see what a great player he was.

"Talent never dies. I was lucky enough to see him evolve and get advice from him every day. What he says is very important to me, especially from a goalkeeper who won a lot at Chelsea and is a legend of goalkeeping."

Karim Benzema deserves to win the Ballon d'Or, according to Real Madrid great Roberto Carlos. 

A stellar season with Madrid has made Benzema one of the favourites for the accolade. He scored 44 goals and supplied 15 assists in 46 games in all competitions, helping Los Blancos win LaLiga, the Champions League and the Supercopa de Espana. 

The 34-year-old scored a joint-record 10 goals in the knockout stages of the Champions League, earning the competition's Player of the Season award. 

Luka Modric is the only player other than Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to have won the Ballon d'Or since 2008, but Roberto Carlos thinks now is Benzema's time. 

"We hope that this year it can be given to him because he has had a great season and we are all eager for Karim to win the Ballon d'Or for what he has done on the pitch," he told Stats Perform ahead of his participation in Sunday's Soccer Aid match. 

"He has scored goals, he is a leader and captain of Real Madrid, and it is time for him to win the Ballon d'Or." 

Madrid had been linked with a move for Benfica striker Darwin Nunez, but the Uruguayan is reportedly set for a €100million switch to Liverpool. 

"I think Benzema has done so many things for Real Madrid that today everyone wants a striker like him. Darwin has shown in Portugal to be a great striker and I wish him the best if he ends up at Liverpool," said Roberto Carlos. 

Madrid's success against Liverpool in Paris made Carlo Ancelotti the first coach to win the Champions League on four separate occasions. 

He has now won 23 titles during his coaching career and Roberto Carlos anticipates there will be more in the 2022-23 campaign. 

"The coach is fantastic, he's fantastic. That is why he has won so many Champions Leagues and so many leagues," said Roberto Carlos. 

"He is an amazing person. Real Madrid has had a great season in LaLiga, the Supercopa and the Champions League. Now they have to rest to have the same titles next season as this year." 

Eden Hazard has backed Real Madrid colleague Karim Benzema to win the Ballon d'Or, while he suggested fellow team-mate Thibaut Courtois should finish in the top five.

Benzema has enjoyed a remarkable season, inspiring Madrid to Champions League success and the Spanish title with four games to spare.

The France international scored 15 times in the Champions League, including a joint-record 10 in the knockout stages to be named as the competition's Player of the Season.

The Madrid talisman ended the season with 44 goals and 15 assists across all competitions. Only Kylian Mbappe (60) can better Benzema's 59 goal involvements among players from Europe's top five leagues.

Meanwhile, Courtois was the star of the show against Liverpool as he made nine saves, a record for a Champions League final since Opta began collecting data in 2003-04.

Courtois has led the way among goalkeepers in the competition this season, making the most saves (59) and boasting the highest save percentage of those to produce five stops or more (80.6).

That led to suggestions the Belgium international may be an unlikely contender for the Ballon d'Or, but Red Devils team-mate Hazard believes Benzema should win the coveted individual award.

"I've known [Courtois] for ten years now and he's been doing this for ten years," Hazard told reporters at a Nations League news conference on Tuesday.

"That was already the case at Chelsea and now at Real. Courtois, [Kevin] De Bruyne, [Sadio] Mane, Vinicius [Junior], they all had a good season. 

"But still I think Benzema deserves to win it. Courtois should be in the top five. But when you see how Benzema played in the quarter and semi-finals, that was really impressive."

Benzema will hope to carry his scintillating club form into the next season with Madrid, and also with France at the World Cup in Qatar.

The 34-year-old will partner with Mbappe at the tournament in November, and the Paris Saint-Germain star was almost Benzema's club team-mate before he snubbed Los Blancos earlier in the month.

Mbappe opted to stay in the French capital and sign a three-year extension with PSG, leaving Hazard to rue the impact he could have had at the Santiago Bernabeu as he aims to recover his own form for the upcoming campaign.

"The seats are already expensive at Real, but with Kylian Mbappe they would be even more expensive," Hazard added.

"Now I have to show the coach that I'm ready, that I can play. But since my surgery I do feel better. My approach will not change. All my success is also due to how I approached it."

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