This year, the Ballon d'Or race will feature a raft of dark horses and one of them could very well go on to win the most coveted individual prize in football.
The Ballon d'Or trophy is awarded to the most distinguished exponents of the beautiful game. It is awarded by France Football and is decided by a panel comprising of journalists, national team coaches and captains.
In the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2020 edition of the Ballon d'Or was canceled. Football action returned after a break following the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 and this season has so far gone on without any hitches.
As such, we're expecting the return of the most coveted individual prize in football this year. Robert Lewandowski was the favourite to win the Ballon d'Or last year and would be justified in feeling robbed of it.
However, he has been clocking incredible numbers once again and has been making a very good case for himself. But today, we're taking a look at the dark horses who could swoop in and steal the prize.
5 outside contenders for the 2021 Ballon d'Or
#5 Ilkay Gundogan
Manchester City haven't been able to rely on their strikers much this season. Sergio Aguero has been injured for the majority of the season so far. Gabriel Jesus has scored just four goals in 17 Premier League appearances. Yet, Manchester City are 10 points clear at the top of the league table.
That is because they found an unlikely goalscoring outlet in Ilkay Gundogan. To say that the German is a midfielder who contributes well in the goalscoring department alone would be reductive.
Gundogan is a special player who is technically proficient and seldom fails to provide a creative spark in the final third these days. The 30-year-old has scored 14 goals this season across all competitions.
If Gundogan can add some titles to his kitty which he looks like he's well on his way to doing, he is most definitely in with a shout for the Ballon d'Or.
#4 Joshua Kimmich
The VfB Stuttgart academy has produced some world-class talents. Joshua Kimmich joined the Stuttgart academy as a 12-year-old but could not break into the senior setup. He subsequently joined RB Leipzig when they were on the come up.
His performances caught the then Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola's eye and the Bavarians snapped him up. Kimmich thrived at right-back for Bayern Munich but it was his versatility that set him apart.
He was likened to Philipp Lahm and his vision and technical ability enabled him to return to midfield and despite being hailed as one of the best full-backs of his generation, he wanted to return to his position of choice. It was not a move that worked like a charm from the get-go.
But under Hansi Flick, Kimmich has now gone on to become a world-class central midfielder. Flick's high-pressing, high-tempo system suited Kimmich and he became a vital cog in the Bayern team that went on to win the continental treble in the 2019-20 season.
A hard-worker and a leader, Kimmich is now one of Bayern Munich's most important players. His stats from central midfield make for interesting reading. Kimmich has racked up 13 assists and scored three goals from 19 appearances across the Bundesliga and the UEFA Champions League this term.
If the 25-year-old, who is yet to reach his peak, can keep this up, he is surely going to be a top contender for the Ballon d'Or.