The 65th annual ceremony of the Ballon d'Or, which is presented by France Football, will take place on November 29th as the best footballers from around the globe are recognised for their achievements across the year.
The nominees for the awards were announced on October 8th, with a shortlist of 30 confirmed for the men's prize, including Paris Saint-Germain's Lionel Messi, who is among the favourites to be handed the trophy for a record-extending seventh time.
Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowksi and Chelsea and Italy midfielder Jorginho are also considered among the leading contenders to pick up the prestigious trophy at the ceremony, which will be held at the Theatre du Chatelet, Paris in just a few weeks' time.
Conceived by French sportswriter Gabriel Hanot, the Ballon d'Or was first awarded in 1956 to Blackpool and England star Stanley Matthews, who pipped Real Madrid duo Alfredo Di Stefano and Raymond Kopa to the prize.
Initially seen as an award for just European players, the criteria was extended to include players from all over the world playing in Europe in 1995, with George Weah becoming the first player from outside the continent to pick up the trophy that same year.
The award then became a truly global prize in 2007, with all professional footballers from around the world being considered eligible.
Argentina star Messi has won the Ballon d'Or on a record six occasions, one more than old adversary Cristiano Ronaldo, while Michel Platini, Marco van Basten and Johan Cruyff are the only other players to have received the accolade more than twice.
Messi is also the most recent recipient of the trophy, picking it up for the sixth time in 2019 and he is the only Argentinian ever to have won the award.
Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal are the most decorated nations in the trophy's history, with players from those countries having won it seven times, while along with Italy, Germany also boast the most individual winners of the Ballon d'Or (5).
Messi has enjoyed an eventful 2021 having ended his 21-year association with Barcelona during the summer to join Paris Saint-Germain.
While he is yet to set the world alight in Paris - bar a trademark spectacular strike against Manchester City in the Champions League - the 34-year-old did finally end his long wait to lift a major trophy with Argentina during the summer, as he helped his country win the 2021 Copa America.
Not only was Messi the joint-leading scorer at this year's Copa, but he was also named best player, which has put him firmly in the running to land the Ballon d'Or for an unprecedented seventh time.
Messi will now also be believing that he can help Argentina to World Cup glory in Qatar next year - La Albiceleste are priced at 10/1 to be crowned world champions for the first time since 1986.
Lewandowski is perhaps Messi's main rival for this year's Ballon d'Or, with the Bayern Munich and Poland forward likely to consider himself unfortunate that he has not previously lifted the trophy.
The evergreen 33-year-old shows no signs of slowing down, as he has followed up scoring a staggering 48 goals in just 40 appearances across all competitions for Bayern last term by netting 23 in his first 17 outings this season.
Those goals have not just been reserved for club level, however, as he has netted nine in 11 for Poland during 2021, although his country's failure to get beyond the group stage at Euro 2020 could ultimately count against him.
Lewandowski is also bidding to become the first Pole to lift the Ballon d'Or and surpass the great Zbigniew Boniek, who came third, when the trophy was won by Italy's Paolo Rossi in 1982.
Speaking of Italians, Jorginho appears to be the third main contender to be crowned the best player of 2021, with the midfielder having played a key role in both Chelsea's Champions League success and his country's triumph at Euro 2020.
Jorginho may not have been the standout player in either of those successes, but he was a linchpin for both teams, while he also scored the winning penalty for Italy against Spain in the semi-finals of the Euros.
This may represent the 29-year-old's only shot at winning the Ballon d'Or, as even if Chelsea win the Champions League again this season and Italy lift the 2022 World Cup - they are priced at 15/2 and 10/1 respectively to achieve those feats - it seems likely that other players rather than Jorginho will be at the fore for those successes.
Mohamed Salah has been talked up as a potential Ballon d'Or contender following his spectacular start to the season with Liverpool, with the Egyptian having netted 15 goals in as many appearances for his club so far this term.
That includes a run of scoring in 10 consecutive matches for Liverpool over the autumn, with many people suggesting, on current form, Salah must be regarded as the best player in the world.
However, the Ballon d'Or is based on achievements across the calendar year and where Salah may fall short is due to his lack of involvement on the international stage, as Egypt have not featured in a major tournament during 2021 - the next Africa Cup of Nations does not get under way until January.
Many of Italy's successful Euro 2020 squad could also come into contention, with goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma being named player of the tournament at those finals, while veteran defenders Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini also impressed, although unlike Jorginho, those players did not replicate the same success at club level.
England also enjoyed an impressive Euros, reaching their first major tournament final since the 1966 World Cup, but the four Three Lions' players on the shortlist - Harry Kane, Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling and Mason Mount - are unlikely to challenge for the top prize.
The Ballon d'Or Feminin, or as it is more commonly known the Women's Ballon d'Or, will be held for the third time this year, with Ada Hegerberg having claimed the inaugural prize in 2018, before Megan Rapinoe picked up the accolade the following year.
Hegerberg's success came off the back of helping Lyon to Champions League glory, while Rapinoe was honoured after starring in the United States' World Cup triumph.
There is no doubt that Barcelona have been the team of 2021 and it is no surprise that players from the Catalan giants are expected to fight it out for the top prize, although captain Alexia Putellas will take some stopping.
Putellas played a starring role in Barcelona's treble-winning season last term, including scoring in their 4-0 success over Chelsea in the Champions League final, while she was also named both UEFA's midfielder and player of the season.
The 27-year-old is Spain's most capped female player of all-time and her country are priced at 7/2 to win next year's European Championship.
If Putellas is to be denied then it is likely to be by one of her Barca team-mates, with Caroline Graham Hansen and Jenni Hermoso also in the running - the latter was named UEFA's forward of the year and was the leading scorer in Spain's Primera Division last season with 31 goals.
That being said, Canada did claim Olympic gold this summer, which could throw some of their squad into the equation, particularly Paris Saint-Germain's Ashley Lawrence, while Arsenal and Netherlands striker Vivianne Miedema was the top scorer at those Games.
Miedema also became the all-time leading scorer in the Women's Super League during 2021, with her tally currently standing at 64, six more than nearest rival Ellen White in 54 fewer games.
It is not just the best men's and women's player awards that are up grabs, as the Kopa Trophy for best player under the age of 21 and the Yashin Trophy for best goalkeeper will also be announced.
This will be the third time the Kopa Trophy has been awarded, with France and Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe becoming the first winner in 2018, while Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt triumphed 12 months later.
Both those players are now too old to be nominated, but some of the leading names on the 10-man shortlist include English trio Bukayo Saka, Mason Greenwood and Jude Bellingham, as well as Barcelona and Spain star Pedri and Dutch sensation Ryan Gravenberch.
Donnarumma seems the obvious candidate to win the Yashin Trophy following his summer exploits with Italy, with the award set to be handed out for just the second time after Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson became the inaugural winner in 2019.
Alisson is not on the shortlist this time, but some of the likely rivals to Donnarumma include Chelsea's Champions League-winning keeper Edouard Mendy, Argentina's penalty-saving specialist Emiliano Martinez and the ever-dependable Manuel Neuer of Bayern Munich and Germany.
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