Beth Mead unlucky not to dethrone Alexia Putellas and win Ballon d’Or | Ballon d’Or

The images of Alexia Putellas clutching the Ballon d’Or trophy for the second successive year, becoming the first female player to do so since the introduction of the women’s award in 2018, were poignant.

Poignant first because Putellas was standing there with the ACL injury that crushed her Euro 2022 dream and will keep her out for much of this season. And poignant also because, although injury meant she was not a signatory of the statement from 15 Spain players that said the national team environment was affecting their emotional state and health, she is the talisman of the team, has expressed support for her teammates and was clutching the trophy for them as much as for herself.

“The only thing I’m going to say today about the national team is that it is a subject that makes me very sad,” she said after. “I think we have to talk about it, but also that today is not the day. Today is a day of celebration, historical for me.”

There is no doubt about her genius or extraordinary season. The Barcelona midfielder captained her side to a domestic treble, finished as the Champions League top scorer with 11 goals in 10 games and contributed 18 goals and 15 assists in the league.

Line up the best players in the world and, objectively, Putellas would likely be the first picked by any coach. Is she the best player on the planet? Probably. Did she have the best individual season? Arguably, by her standards, no.

The Ballon d’Or is not an award for the best player but the player deemed to have performed best over the previous season. If it were for the best player, it could be awarded to the same player every year until retirement. Is Megan Rapinoe objectively a better player than the best female footballer to play the game, Marta? No. Did she have a better and more influential 2019? Yes. This is how individual year-on-year awards work, or should.

Alexia Putellas holds the Ballon d’Or aloft
Alexia Putellas holds the Ballon d’Or aloft. Photograph: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images

Putellas had an incredible domestic year, is arguably the best player on the planet and could end up becoming one of the greatest women to play the game. But having suffered defeat in the Champions League final – scoring a consolation goal after Barcelona had conceded three times in 33 minutes to the eight-time winners Lyon – and having been cruelly ruled out of the European Championship days before the tournament, was it a season worthy of the biggest prize?

She beat England’s and Arsenal’s Beth Mead to the award she won by a landslide last year, but it is believed the voting was much tighter. Mead had a superb club season, ending with 14 goals and 19 assists from 40 appearances. At international level it was a clean sweep: she helped the Lionesses to secure a first European title, won the golden boot with six goals in six games and was named player of the tournament.

What more could she have done? Winning domestic honours with Arsenal would surely have made the difference, but Arsenal pushed Chelsea to the wire, losing the league by a point.

Some have questioned the quality of the Spanish league in criticism of Putellas’s win over Mead potentially being based on a lack domestic success, but that is unfair. Yes, La Liga is newly professional and Barcelona have not lost a league game since June 2021, but any suggestion that it is not as competitive as the WSL significantly underplays its quality.

Comparing the competitiveness of the two leagues is tough when there are so many variables to what makes a league competitive: style of play, financial investment, ideological investment, achievements in European competition – the list goes on.

In my mind, Mead edged Putellas for the various individual player of the year awards based on last season but Putellas is, broadly, the better player. Do I begrudge the award going to Putellas? No. Do I feel bad for Mead that, in possibly the best season of her career, it wasn’t enough? Yes.

Benzema’s legacy is ever larger. There can have been few clearer winners | Ballon d’Or

Luka Modric knew, but then so did everyone else. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and Real Madrid had just defeated Barcelona in another clásico – Rodrygo had scored, Fede Valverde had scored and Karim Benzema had scored of course – and the Croatian was standing at the side of the pitch, where his teammates were celebrating their return to the top of the table. “We all know what’s going to happen and we all want it to happen and we’re very happy for Karim,” he said. “We hope that tomorrow he will win the Ballon d’Or.”

Modric, the winner in 2018, wasn’t there when Benzema boarded a plane at Barajas airport just after 3.30pm the following day, but Benzema was joined by Thibaut Courtois. The club’s president, Florentino Pérez, travelled with them. Luis Figo and Ronaldo Nazário were on board, too. They have three Ballon d’Ors between them. By the time they made the return journey, there was a fourth. Five of the past eight have made the same journey. Benzema is the first Frenchman to win it since Zinedine Zidane 24 years ago and the sixth Real Madrid player.

When Pérez went to Benzema’s house at No 33 Rue Youri Gagarin to convince him to come to Spain, he told him that he could become the best player in the world and that Real Madrid was the best place to make that happen. It has taken 14 years, and there may even be an argument that in his case being at Madrid was an obstacle at times, the shadow cast by Cristiano Ronaldo colossal, but now he is.

If there have been doubts over the years – and there have been many, many of them, Benzema clearly believing his football has been misunderstood – there were very few this time. Modric knew; the Bernabéu knew, singing him on his way with chants of Karim, Balón de Oro; everyone knew. There can have been few clearer winners.

Last season Benzema scored 44 goals in 46 games and provided 15 assists. He was top scorer in La Liga, and top scorer in the Champions League, on 15, two off the record that Ronaldo had set back when Benzema was providing for him. He won both, plus the Spanish Super Cup. He won the Nations League with France, scoring in the final and the goal that begun the comeback against Belgium in the semi-final. Comeback: that’s a word you might have heard a bit, Benzema at the heart of probably the most absurd campaign the European Cup has seen.

If he was a Superman, and sometimes he was, his kryptonite was Osasuna’s keeper Sergio Herrera – against whom he missed two penalties in a single game last season and one this. Yet six days after those two misses in just seven minutes against Herrera, he stood on the spot at the Etihad Stadium, with time running out and the pressure on and clipped in a Panenka. It was 4-3 and somehow Madrid had life. A week later, he had another one at the Bernabéu, the clock on 96, and he scored that too, sending Madrid to the final. “We’re going to do something magic,” he said in Manchester, and now they had.

Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema celebrates after scoring a goal against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.
Karim Benzema scored hat-tricks against Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain in Real Madrid’s journey to another European title. Photograph: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

Again. Against Paris Saint-Germain Madrid were 2-0 down on aggregate when he scored a hat-trick to take them through. He scored three more at Stamford Bridge, and scored again at the Bernabéu. Then came City. He had scored in every knockout game, having missed the loss in Paris. “Yes, we’re dependent on him; I have no problem saying that,” Carlo Ancelotti said. “I’m happy to be dependent on a player like Karim.” Nor was it just the goals, the coach saying that describing him as a striker “stopped short”.

Zidane, who Benzema saw as a kind of big brother, would agree. “People talk about Karim as a pure No 9, a 9 and a half, a 10; for me, he’s a bit of everything,” he said. “I would define him as a total footballer.”

Benzema had always felt so too. In fact, he didn’t always see himself as a striker at all; he played, and for others. He played, he liked to say, for those who understand the game. Above all, of course, he played for Ronaldo and while he likes to claim his game hasn’t changed, he admits that it’s different when you have someone alongside you who gets 50 a season. In Ronaldo’s absence, he has taken on that responsibility. It didn’t happen immediately – the first year post Ronaldo was hard – but he has embraced it too, enjoyed it.

Stepping into the spotlight, he has been recognised too, the conversation shifting, his legacy ever larger, ever more lasting. The Balon d’Or in his luggage, where everyone knew it would end up, takes him to another level, driven there by numbers even though they are not everything. Benzema has overtaken Alfredo Di Stéfano and Raúl, meaning the only man to have scored more than him at Madrid is the man he provided.

Every season he got better: six times he has scored more than 20 league goals in his 13 seasons at Madrid; four of those are the past four, all having passed 30 years of age. Last season was better than any other and, put simply, better than any other player too. It culminated in Paris where he won his fifth European Cup and perhaps the first that was seen as his, ensuring that when he went back on Monday night this award would be too.

Alexia Putellas and Karim Benzema are crowned 2022 Ballon d’Or winners | Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas and Karim Benzema have been named the 2022 Ballon d’Or winners at the annual football awards ceremony in Paris.

Putellas retains her title as the world’s best women’s player after leading Barcelona to another Spanish title, scoring 18 goals in the process. Barça won all 30 of their league games and also won the Spanish Cup and Super Cup, but lost the Women’s Champions League final to Lyon and shed missed the Euros after suffering an ACL injury.

“I’m very happy to be back here,” Putellas said. “Winning last year pushed me to want to be even better. Without my teammates, this wouldn’t have been possible. I want to thank the coaches and technical staff who help me to improve every day.”

Benzema has won the men’s award for the first time after leading Real Madrid to the Spanish title and their 14th European Cup. The 34-year-old scored 27 goals in La Liga and was also the top scorer in the Champions League with 15. Ten of those goals came in the knockout stages, including hat-tricks against Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea.

After receiving a huge ovation from the crowd, Benzema said: “This prize in front of me makes me really proud. I never gave up, it was a childhood dream. There was a difficult period where I wasn’t in the France team, but I kept working hard. I kept in my head this joy of playing football; I’m really proud of my journey here.”

Quick Guide

Men’s Ballon d’Or 2022: the full list


Karim Benzema (Real Madrid, France)
Sadio Mané (Liverpool/Bayern, Senegal)
3 Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City, Belgium)
4 Robert Lewandowski (Bayern/Barcelona, Poland)
Mohamed Salah (Liverpool, Egypt) 
Kylian Mbappé (PSG, France)
Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid, Belgium)
Vinícius Júnior (Real Madrid, Brazil)
Luka Modric (Real Madrid, Croatia)
10 Erling Haaland (Dortmund/Man City, Norway)

11 Son Heung-min (Tottenham, Kor)
12 Riyad Mahrez (Man City, Alg)
13 Sébastien Haller (Ajax/Dortmund, Civ)
14= Fabinho (Liverpool, Bra), Rafael Leão (Milan, Por)
16 Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool, Neth)
17= Casemiro (Real/Man Utd, Bra); Luis Díaz (Porto/Liverpool, Col); Dusan Vlahovic (Fiorentina/Juventus, Ser)
20 Cristiano Ronaldo (Man Utd, Por)

21 Harry Kane (Tottenham, Eng)
22= Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool, Eng); Phil Foden (Man City, Eng); Bernardo Silva (Man City, Por)
25= João Cancelo (Man City, Por); Joshua Kimmich (Bayern, Ger); Mike Maignan (Milan, Fr); Darwin Núñez (Benfica/Liverpool, Uru); Christopher Nkunku (Leipzig, Fr); Antonio Rüdiger (Chelsea/Real, Ger).

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Beth Mead finished second in the women’s vote after leading England to glory at Euro 2022. The Arsenal forward scored six goals and added five assists to win the tournament’s golden boot and best player awards.

The Australia and Chelsea forward Sam Kerr came third, ahead of the Germany and Wolfsburg midfielder Lena Oberdorf. Putellas’s Spain and Barça teammate Aitana Bonmatí completed the top five.

Sadio Mané, who left Liverpool for Bayern Munich this summer, came second in the men’s vote and won the Socrates award for his charitable work in Senegal. The Manchester City playmaker Kevin De Bruyne finished third, his highest placing to date ahead of Robert Lewandowski and Mohamed Salah.

Sadio Mané receives the Socrates award from the late Brazilian’s brother, Rai.
Sadio Mané receives the Socrates award from the late Brazilian’s brother, Rai. Photograph: Benoît Tessier/Reuters

Lewandowski, who joined Barcelona from Bayern Munich this summer, came fourth in the men’s ranking and also won the Gerd Müller trophy for the world’s best forward. “I want to thank my teammates from both Bayern and Barça, because I know how hard we have to work to score the goals,” he said.

Salah placed fifth, with the PSG forward Kylian Mbappé in sixth. Thibaut Courtois won the Lev Yashin trophy for the world’s best goalkeeper and placed seventh overall, with his Real Madrid teammates Vinícius Júnior and Luka Modric in eighth and ninth place. Erling Haaland (10th) finished in the top 10 for the first time.

Quick Guide

Women’s Ballon d’Or 2022: the full list


1 Alexia Putellas (Barcelona, Spain)
2 Beth Mead (Arsenal, England)
3 Sam Kerr (Chelsea, Australia)
4 Lena Oberdorf (Wolfsburg, Germany)
5 Aitana Bonmatí (Barcelona, Sp)
6 Alexandra Popp (Wolfsburg, Ger)
7 Ada Hegerberg (Lyon, Norway)
8 Wendie Renard (Lyon, France)
9 Catarina Macario (Lyon, USA)
10 Lucy Bronze (Man City/Barça, Eng)

11 Vivianne Miedema (Arsenal, Netherlands)
12 Christiane Endler (Lyon, Chile)
13 Alex Morgan (Orlando/San Diego, USA)
14 Selma Bacha (Lyon, Fr)
15 Millie Bright (Chelsea, Eng)
16 Marie-Antoinette Katoto (PSG, Fr)
17 Asisat Oshoala (Barcelona, Nga)
18 Trinity Rodman (Washington, USA)
19 Fridolina Rolfö (Barcelona, Sweden)
20 Kadidiatou Diani (PSG, Fr)

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The Spain and Barcelona midfielder Gavi won the Kopa trophy for the best men’s under-21 player, following the success of his teammate Pedri last season. Manchester City were named club of the year after Pep Guardiola’s side won their fourth Premier League title in five seasons.

Changes to the format of the awards, which are organised by France Football magazine, meant that for the first time, performances were judged across the 2021-22 season rather than the calendar year. The men’s judging panel was also reduced from 170 to 100, with 50 judges for the women’s prize.