Karim Benzema and Alexia Putellas are etching their names in the history books as the 2022 Ballon d’Or winners. The award, presented by the magazine France Football, was given to the best male and female footballers from the previous season, as voted on by a group of journalists.
This is the first Ballon d’Or for Benzema, a member of the French national team and striker for Real Madrid, and the second for Putellas. The captain of the Spanish national team and member of Barcelona won the trophy last season, making her the first woman to go back-to-back since the award was introduced to the women’s game in 2018.
Benzema’s career started with his hometown club, Lyon, before joining Real Madrid in 2009. He became a central pillar of the team’s offense, playing alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. Since the departure of Ronaldo and Bale in 2018 and 2020, respectively, Benzema’s profile has only skyrocketed.
This past year Benzema led Madrid to a UEFA Champions League title, recording a tournament-high 15 goals. That number tied Robert Lewandowski’s 2019-20 performance and has only been exceeded by Cristiano Ronaldo.
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Benzema’s win – while not particularly surprising – indicates the end of a golden era in soccer, defined largely by the likes of Lionel Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar.
Messi and Ronaldo are atop of the all-time winners tables with 7 and 5 trophies, respectively. The two have combined for 12 of the last 13 wins and 2022 marks the first time neither of them finished in the top three of vote getters. In fact, Messi and Neymar – who is yet to win the award but has cracked the top three twice – were left off the list of 30 finalists altogether.
Despite the absence of Messi and Neymar, plenty of veteran players made a run at the award, starting at the top with five players all 30 or older.
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Benzema’s stiffest competition came from Bayern Munich's Sadio Mané and Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne. Rounding out the top-five was Lewandowski, now with Barcelona, and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah.
The Frenchmen, 34, appeared on the finalist list six times between 2012 and 2019, but never finished higher than 16th. His breakthrough moment came last year when he finished 4th, setting the stage for his championship season.
Further down the list was Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappé in sixth place, followed by Thibaut Courtois and Vinicius Jr. Rounding out the top-10 was 2018 winner Luka Modrić, the only player to dethrone Messi and Ronaldo in that 13-year stretch, and the newest Premier League wonderkid, Erling Haaland.
While only Benzema left with the night’s premier hardware, several of those players collected awards of their own, including Courtois – who won the Yashin Trophy for the best goalkeeper – and Lewandowski – who won the Gerd Muller award for the best striker.
Barcelona’s Gavi won the Kopa trophy, given to the best under-21 player. The newly 18-year-old was the youngest in the field of 10. Gavi now joins an exclusive club of winners that includes Mbappé, Bayern’s Matthijs de Ligt and teammate Pedri. The Spanish powerhouse has to be excited about their young core with Gavi and Pedri at the helm.
Mané made history as the inaugural Socrates Award winner, given in recognition to his efforts toward social justice and humanitarian efforts. The Senegalese forward funded a hospital and multiple schools in his childhood village of Bambali, and was a significant contributor in his country’s efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
“Sometimes I’m a bit shy to talk about it, but I’m really happy to do what I can for my – for our people,” Mane said.
Manchester City was named Club of the Year, beating out Liverpool and Real Madrid, the two teams in the 2022 Champions League Final.
On the women’s side, Putellas made history of her own as she became the first female footballer to win the award twice. The 28-year-old led Barcelona to an undefeated season last year, finishing as the leading goal-scorer in every match.
She tore her ACL in July and is expected to miss the entire 2022-23 season.
Putellas was not one of the 15 Spanish players to resign in the past couple weeks over allegations that their coach was “significantly affecting their emotional state.”
Behind Putellas in the voting was England’s Beth Mead (Arsenal) and Australia’s Sam Kerr (Chelsea).
Two Americans cracked the top-20 list: Alex Morgan in 13th place and 20-year-old Trinity Rodman in 18th. Megan Rapinoe won in 2019, becoming the only American – man or woman – to win the game’s top individual award.