The Golden Ball of the FIFA World Cup is presented to the player who has shown the most outstanding performance during the competition. The formal award was first presented to a player in 1982. Since then, there have been 12 different players to receive the trophy, and none has won it more than once; can Lionel Messi shatter the record for most wins by a single player?
In this article, we take a look at the leading candidates for the Golden Ball award at the 2022 World Cup.
1. The Greatest: Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Lionel Messi’s World Cup career is over after this tournament.
This might be the most pivotal World Cup for Messi in terms of his legacy, as many people believe he must win the tournament to be regarded on par with Diego Maradona.
Having an electrifying start for Paris Saint-Germain should give Messi momentum, but his emotional connection to the game puts him in the conversation for the Golden Ball regardless of his actual performance.
With an average of 1.2 anticipated goal involvements per 90 minutes from non-penalty situations, Messi has been the most dangerous forward in the top five European leagues this season.
Messi leads all players in the top five European leagues in both league play (10) and overall (15) assists (14). He has already matched his 2021-22 season assist total at PSG with this year’s total despite playing 1,290 fewer minutes, and he has scored more goals (12) in all competitions than he did all of last season (11).
Therefore, he is not only PSG’s primary goal-scoring threat, but he is also heavily impacting their offence by making himself accessible in the build-up phase. Good news for Lionel Scaloni, who serves an equally crucial role for Argentina.
Although some may argue otherwise, Messi has already “done it before” on the international scene by taking home the Golden Ball in Brazil in 2014. However, no player in World Cup history has ever won the Golden Ball award more than once.
Messi led Argentina to its first Copa America triumph in 28 years in 2021, and he was rewarded for his efforts with the Best Player Award and the Top Scorer Award (shared with Luis Diaz).
The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner has certainly played with more brilliant Argentina teams, but he has probably never played on one as cohesive as this one. It’s not out of the question that they’ll go far into the competition, and Messi will likely play a pivotal role in that.
If Messi wants to break his own personal curse and win the Golden Ball in 2022, he’ll need to finally break his drought of not scoring in any of his eight prior World Cup knockout stage appearances, despite playing 756 minutes and trying 26 shots in the round of 16 and beyond.
2. Neymar (Brazil)
To a greater or lesser extent, Neymar’s alleged antics during the 2018 World Cup were the most talked about aspects of his performance. Maybe this year, for once, we can all agree to focus on his genius instead.
Neymar is undeniably a top-tier talent. He’s the type of sportsman we would have all aspired to be back in elementary school. To top it all off, he gets the job done while being entertaining and cheeky.
He got off to a red-hot start in the first few games of the season. Only Mbappé has been more involved in a month’s worth of goals in Ligue 1 (seven scored, six assisted) since Opta started tracking the tournament in 2006-07. (14).
Although Neymar has only contributed to six goals since then, he looks content while playing (not always a given for PSG) and is obviously enjoying joining up with Messi once again, especially since the Argentine is sharper this season. When comparing the top five European leagues in 2022-23, only Erling Haaland (21) has been involved in more goals (20) than these players (20) in league play.
Neymar’s enthusiasm in the game is mirrored in his on-the-ball prowess, which has benefited PSG. The Brazilian has three assists and is third in Ligue 1 with 14 carries that resulted in a chance created, behind only Armand Laurienté (15) and Enzo Le Fée (16) of Lorient. In the top five European leagues, Neymar has the highest rate of progressive carriers (13.8 per 90) among all offensive players, so look for him to use this to his advantage in Qatar.
Only three players have represented Brazil more frequently than Neymar, and his international credentials is undisputed. The beauty of Neymar is that he is a maverick who will play the same manner regardless of the squad he is with.
Neymar’s chances of winning an individual award will be bolstered if he scores three goals, as it would put him ahead of Pele as Brazil’s all-time best scorer.
3.Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium)
At this moment, it seems as if references to the men’s national team of Belgium have been accompanied by the slogan “so-called golden generation” for what seems like an entire generation. It is anticipated that the majority of them will compete in their last World Cup in 2022.
Kevin De Bruyne, on the other hand, stands out from the rest of a bunch that is, for the most part, regressing. The dynamic player for Manchester City is still operating at the pinnacle of his abilities and is getting ready for the competition while in outstanding shape.
Already after 14 games in the Premier League this season, he has recorded nine assists, which is one more than he had in the whole of last season in all 30 games played (eight). As things stand, he is well on the way to at least repeating his own Premier League seasonal assist record of 20 in 2019-20, which currently sits as a joint-competition record inside a single season with Thierry Henry’s 20 for Arsenal in 2002-03 season. De Bruyne has a total of 24 games left for Manchester City, during which he may strive to rack up 11 more assists. This goal is even more attainable now that Erling Haaland is being fed by De Bruyne in the attacking third.
The outstanding player for Manchester City has already set up 47 opportunities for his teammates to score goals in the 2022-23 Premier League. No other player in any of the top five European leagues has done more for a team than the Manchester City star.
Golden Ball Award for the 2022 World Cup Given to Kevin De Bruyne
It is true that De Bruyne only had nine assists despite the fact that he was expected to have 6.8 assists. This discrepancy can be explained in part by the exceptional finishing skills of Haaland, but it can also be explained by the absurd ability of the Belgian to play passes that very few other players are capable of. Despite the fact that no one else in the Premier League has even topped 4.5 xA, the 31-year-old is still in a category all to himself because of his performance.
The most significant difference, of course, is that De Bruyne won’t be providing Haaland at the World Cup, and let’s face it: Romelu Lukaku hasn’t exactly had an easy time of it over the last year or so.
But Lukaku’s eight goals for Belgium throughout Euro 2020 and Russia 2018 indicate that he’s been reliable, and given the brilliance of De Bruyne’s delivery, his inventiveness should come through regardless of who leads the line.
5.Kylian Mbappé (France)
If you believe the extensive rumors that have been circulating over the last week, Mbappé will apparently be attempting to place himself in the store window in Qatar.
The rumored reasons for Mbappé’s dissatisfaction with his role at PSG include playing as a number nine rather than on the left side of the attack and the club’s transfer activities, among other things.
But based on Mbappé’s performance so far this year, it does not seem like there will be a significant change between this season and 2021-22. Even though he is touching the ball significantly less frequently, his touches within the box of the opponent have climbed from 10 to 11.6 on a per-90-minute basis, which is a significant jump. Mbappé is also carrying the ball more than he ever has in a PSG jersey, with a total of 19.9 carries per ninety minutes in Ligue 1 this season. His previous high in this measure was 18.8 in the 2020-21 season.
During his time with France in the Nations League last month, he made the following statement: “Here [with France], I have far more freedom than at PSG.” And yet, even if he seems to be in a bad mood, Mbappé is nevertheless doing rather well.
Only Lionel Messi (1.15 goals) and Robert Lewandowski (1.04 assists) are capable of topping Mbappé’s 0.99 non-penalty xG + xA combined per 90 minutes in 2022-23 among the top five European leagues.
The French star is tied for first place among all players in the top five European leagues for the number of attacking sequence involvements in open play (98), with 57 of those involvements seeing Mbappé at the end of the move attempting the shot. However, he also contributes creatively, as he has either been involved in the build-up or as the creator of the chance on 41 of those occasions.
Who knows what he’s capable of when he’s in his element, playing for Didier Deschamps if he can be this product even when he’s reportedly miserable.
Truthfully, we are aware of his capabilities. As a matter of fact, he has scored 28 goals for France since his debut in March 2017.
He has already demonstrated his prowess as a goal scorer at the highest level by becoming the youngest player in the history of the UEFA Champions League to score 40 goals (he did so in the 2022–23 season, when he was just 23 years and 317 days old, surpassing Lionel Messi’s record by three years and one month) (24 years, 130 days).
With his club’s success translating to the World Cup, France has a legitimate shot of being the first team to win back-to-back World Cups since Brazil in 1958 and 1962. We certainly wouldn’t bet against it.
6. Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Even Ronaldo, who has been the embodiment of confidence throughout his career, cannot believe that he will be participating in the 2026 World Cup. It would be quite an accomplishment for someone of his age (he’d be 41).
Since this is likely to be his final World Cup appearance, he will come to Qatar with something to prove. With just two goals separating him from the Portugal record set by the great Eusébio in the 1994 World Cup, Ronaldo will make that record his first target.
Since this has not been Ronaldo’s easiest season with Manchester United, it is impossible to see him challenging for the title of the greatest player in Qatar based only on his current form.
His lone Premier League goal came in 520 out of a possible 1,170 minutes played (44.4%). His 0.33 non-penalty xG per 90 minutes is his lowest ever and about half the average from the previous season, indicating that high-quality opportunities are also scarce (0.57).
World Cup Golden Ball Winner: Ronaldo
The UEFA Europa League, a tournament Ronaldo reportedly didn’t want to compete in before the season started, has turned out to be the one he’s had to get most familiar with this season. Those rumors seem to have been validated when a highly publicized interview was published a week before the World Cup.
But this is the same guy who led the world with 117 goals for his country and scored 24 goals in all competitions for what was perhaps the worst Manchester United squad in Premier League history last season.
His five goals at Euro 2020 last year were the most of anybody and it seems that Fernando Santos still has trust in him.
It’s unlikely that Ronaldo would go out with a whimper on the World Cup stage since this will be his last chance to shine.
Alternate Candidates for the Golden Ball in the 2022 World Cup
After winning the tournament once before in 1966, England will be looking to Harry Kane to guide them to a repeat performance. The Tottenham Hotspur striker scored six goals to earn the 2018 Golden Boot as the tournament’s top goalscorer, despite England’s disappointing semi-final loss to Croatia.
Having already tied Wayne Rooney’s record of 51 goals for the men’s side, Kane is the most apparent candidate to lead England’s attack this summer. Note, however, that only one player, the Italian Salvatore Schillaci in the 1990 tournament, has ever won both the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball awards in the same World Cup.
When Germany beat Argentina 2-1 in overtime in the 2014 World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro, Silver Ball winner Thomas Muller was named Man of the Match. Despite an unexpected early elimination from the 2018 World Cup (in the group stage), they are among the favorites for 2022.
The Bayern Munich great has been in the World Cup 16 times, contributing to 16 goals and scoring 10 goals, third-most among all Germans behind his namesake Gerd Muller (14) and Miroslav Klose (13). (16).
Vinicius Junior may be in the running for the Golden Ball if Brazil reaches the finals. The talented winger had a breakout season in 2022, helping Real Madrid win the La Liga and UEFA Champions League. He was widely considered the greatest young player in both tournaments that year.
If Vincius Jr. were to win the trophy in the 2022 World Cup, he would join Brazilian icon, Ronaldo, as the youngest recipients of the honor (both were 21 when they were first given out) since the award was established in 1982.
Former FIFA World Cup Golden Ball Trophy Winners
Only Diego Forlán of Uruguay in 2010 (their team finished fourth after losing in the semi-finals to the Netherlands) is the only player in World Cup history to win the Golden Ball and not see his country lift the championship.
In 1994, Romário of Brazil became the last player to win the Golden Ball and the World Cup. His team, Brazil, defeated Italy in the final on penalties to win their fourth of five World Cups.
In 1990, Italy’s Salvatore Schillaci won both the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player and the Golden Boot as the tournament’s top scorer thanks to his six goals for his team.
Despite losing the 2002 World Cup final to Brazil and making a rare blunder for Ronaldo’s first goal by spilling Rivaldo’s shot into the path of the lethal striker, German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn earned the official World Cup Golden Ball award. Kahn won the Golden Glove as the best goalkeeper in the 2002 World Cup, which was not a huge surprise.
1982: Paolo Rossi of Spain (Italy)
Diego Maradona of Mexico in 1986. (Argentina)
The Italian author Salvatore Schillaci, was born in the year 1990. (Italy)
Rómulo 1999, United States of America (Brazil)
Ronaldo of Portugal scored a hat trick in a 1998 France (Brazil)
Oliver Kahn, 2002, South Korea/Japan (Germany)
German soccer legend Zinedine Zidane in 2006. (France)
Diego Forlán, South Africa, 2010. (Uruguay)
Lionel Messi, 2014, Brazil (Argentina)
The 2018 Russian Champion is Luka Modric (Croatia)
Mario Kempes won the unofficial “Best Player” award in 1978, while the Brazilians Pelé in 1970, Garrincha in 1962, Didi in 1958, Zizinho in 1950, and Leônidas in 1938 were all singled out as tournament standouts. This practice did not become official until 1982.