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5 youngest players to feature on the Ballon d'Or shortlist in the 21st century

Lionel Messi is one of the youngest Ballon d'Or nominees this century.
Lionel Messi is one of the youngest Ballon d'Or nominees this century.
Aditya Duse
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The Ballon d'Or award has been dominated by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in recent years. The race for this year's award has heated up this summer.

Plenty of contenders have emerged for the 2021 Ballon d'Or award. N'Golo Kante was considered the favourite after Chelsea's Champions League win. But France's early exit from Euro 2020 and Messi helping Argentina win Copa America 2021 has put the Argentine ahead in the race.

Jorginho's name has also been thrown in the fray after he won both the Champions League with Chelsea and the Euros with Italy.

Plenty of youngsters nominated for the Ballon d'Or over the years

While plenty of established stars get nominated for the Ballon d'Or award each year, there are also a host of young talents who get selected in the 30-man shortlist. The likes of Ronaldo and Messi were also pretty young when they were first nominated for the Ballon d'Or award. But how young were they compared to others?

On that note, let us take a look at the five youngest players to have featured on the Ballon d'Or shortlist in the 21st century


#5 Neymar (2011 - 19 years and 339 days)

Neymar was the only player outside Europe in the Ballon d'Or shortlist in 2011.
Neymar was the only player outside Europe in the Ballon d'Or shortlist in 2011.

Considered by many as the third-best player, after Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, Neymar Jr. has arguably been the best talent Brazil has produced in recent years.

Neymar came into prominence at Santos in 2009, where he made his professional debut at the age of 17. He showcased his talent and quickly became a first-team regular in his second season. The Brazilian soon made his international debut in a friendly against the USA in 2010.

The next season, Neymar was sensational for Santos, as he led the club to their first Copa Libertadores title in 48 years. He scored six goals and provided three assists as he also bagged the Player of the Tournament award. Neymar was also brilliant in the Brazilian Serie A, netting 13 goals and providing five assists.

His form earned him a place in Brazil's 2011 Copa America squad. Neymar scored twice in the group-stage game with Ecuador before the Selecao crashed out in the quarter-finals.

Neymar was subsequently selected in the 23-man shortlist for the Ballon d'Or award that year; he was the only one playing outside Europe. Though he finished 10th in the race, Neymar won the 2011 FIFA Puskas award for his goal against Flamengo; the Brazilian beat several defenders with an outrageous array of skill before delicately dinking the ball over the advancing goalkeeper.

Neymar moved to Barcelona in 2013, where he formed a lethal striking partnership with Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, famously known as the MSN, before moving to PSG in 2017 for a world record fee of €222 million. The Brazilian is yet to win the Ballon d'Or award, though.


#4 Cristiano Ronaldo (2004 - 19 years and 313 days)

Cristiano Ronaldo has won the Ballon d'Or award five times in his career.
Cristiano Ronaldo has won the Ballon d'Or award five times in his career.

Widely considered one of the greatest players of all time, Cristiano Ronaldo has dominated the Ballon d'Or award in recent years. Ronaldo's five Ballon d'Or wins are only one short of Lionel Messi's six.

Ronaldo came into the spotlight after his move to Manchester United in 2003. He was signed for a fee of £12.24 million from Sporting CP, making him the most expensive teenager in history at that time.

The then-teenager took his time to get going in his first season, scoring six goals and providing nine assists in all competitions while winning the FA Cup. Ronaldo was selected for the Portugal team for Euro 2004, where he helped his team reach the final. He made four goal contributions (scoring two, assisting two) as hosts Portugal fell in the final against Greece.

Ronaldo's performances for club and country earned him a place in the 2004 Ballon d'Or shortlist, where he finished 12th in the rankings. He would win his first Ballond'Or award in 2008 after helping Manchester United win the Premier League and the Champions League.

Since then, Ronaldo has won four more Ballon d'Or awards. Now 36, he is still playing at the top level, currently plying his trade in Serie A with Juventus.

#3 Lionel Messi (2006 - 19 years & 157 days)

Lionel Messi has won the Ballon d'Or a record six times.
Lionel Messi has won the Ballon d'Or a record six times.

Arguably the greatest player to have graced the game, Lionel Messi has dominated the Ballon d'Or award alongside Cristiano Ronaldo. Messi has won the award a record six times and is one of the youngest players this century to have been nominated for this prestigious award.

Lionel Messi had a breakout campaign in 2005-06 for Barcelona, when he was first nominated for the Ballon d'Or award at the age of 19. Although he had made his Barcelona debut the previous season, the said campaign saw Messi score eight goals and record five assists in 25 appearances in all competitions. That helped Barcelona clinch the La Liga and Champions League titles, although Messi missed the latter part of the season due to injury.

Nevertheless, Messi earned a spot in the Ballon d'Or shortlist in 2006, where he finished 20th, before finally clinching the award in 2009. Since then, Messi has won the Ballon d'Or five more times, despite fierce competition from Ronaldo.

Messi has made 778 appearances for Barcelona in all competitions, scoring 672 goals and registering 305 assists. He has won numerous individual and club trophies and recently won the Copa America with Argentina.

The Argentine is currently out of contract, but is likely to be offered a contract extension by Barcelona, where Messi has played all his career.


#2 Wayne Rooney (2004 - 19 years and 51 days)

Wayne Rooney was also nominated alongside Cristiano Ronaldo for the 2004 Ballon d'Or award.
Wayne Rooney was also nominated alongside Cristiano Ronaldo for the 2004 Ballon d'Or award.

Wayne Rooney was one of the youngsters alongside Cristiano Ronaldo to be nominated for the 2004 Ballon d'Or award.

Rooney rose to prominence following his exploits at Euro 2004. Despite being only 18, the Englishman scored four goals and registered an assist before England were knocked out by Portugal in the quarter-final.

The Englishman also had a brilliant campaign with Everton in the 2003-04 season, playing 40 games in all competitions, scoring nine goals. That attracted interest from a host of Premier League clubs before Manchester United snapped him up in the summer of 2004.

Rooney has had a spectacular career with Manchester United, playing 559 games, scoring 253 goals and providing 146 assists. However, Rooney has never been able to make the Ballon d'Or top three, his best finish being fifth in the 2011 Ballon d'Or race.


#1 Kylian Mbappe (2017 - 18 years and 353 days)

Kylian Mbappe is the youngest player ever to be nominated for the Ballon d'Or award.
Kylian Mbappe is the youngest player ever to be nominated for the Ballon d'Or award.

The youngest player to ever be nominated for the Ballon d'Or award is none other than Paris Saint Germain and France sensation Kylian Mbappe.

Mbappe burst onto the scene in 2017 at AS Monaco, where he contributed a staggering tally of 40 goals in just 44 appearances, helping them win the Ligue 1 title ahead of cash-rich PSG.

The youngster broke several records with Monaco that season, scoring 18 goals in as many consecutive games while becoming the youngest player in Europe's top five leagues to score at least 14 league goals in a season in the 21st century. Moreover, Mbappe also became the youngest player to score five goals in a Champions League season.

Kylian Mbappe subsequently moved to PSG the next season, where he has flourished alongside Brazilian superstar Neymar.

The youngster came under heavy criticism recently after his performances at Euro 2020, where he missed the deciding penalty in the shootout against Switzerland, which sent France packing out of the tournament. Still only 22, Kylian Mbappe has a long career ahead of him and is touted by many experts as a future Ballon d'Or winner.

Edited by Bhargav
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