It's that time of the year when players are hailed for their performances, and GOAL has polled fans for their opinions on the best footballers in 2021.
With the two greatest players of this generation, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, relatively unsettled at club level, 2021 was a good year for the younger players to take charge. Youngsters like Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland performed admirably well, and experienced heads like Robert Lewandowski and Karim Benzema also had a very good year.
The poll was carried out among as many as 14 million football fans from across the globe. Who emerged as the no.1 on the list? Here is a detailed look at the top 10 players of 2021 according to fans:
#10 Neymar Jr
Brazil and PSG star Neymar finished in 10th place in the vote after a year of near-misses for the world's most expensive player. The 29-year-old scored 17 goals in all competitions for his club as they narrowly failed to win their now-customary Ligue 1 title as Lille pulled off a surprise. He was also a part of the team that lost in the semi-final of the UEFA Champions League to Manchester City.
Neymar played a starring role for Brazil as they were defeated in the final of the 2021 Copa America. He then returned to help Brazil become the first team from South America to reach the 2022 World Cup with 15 goal contributions in only nine matches.
#9 Kevin De Bruyne
Manchester City and Belgium star Kevin De Bruyne were well below his usual standards as he suffered several injuries. However, he played an important role for club and country when fit.
De Bruyne was part of the City side that regained the Premier League crown and won the Carabao Cup before losing to Chelsea in the Champions League final.
The Belgian international, who went off injured in the Champions League final, returned during Euro 2020 for Belgium but was knocked out in the quarter-finals by eventual winners Italy.
#8 N'Golo Kante
Chelsea and France midfielder N'Golo Kante reminded the world of his impressive capabilities as he delivered consecutive man-of-the-match performances in the latter stages of Chelsea's successful UEFA Champions League campaign.
The Frenchman had a tough start to the season under Frank Lampard as he battled through injuries. The 30-year-old midfielder was also part of the French squad for Euro 2020 before an injury curtailed his involvement in the UEFA Nations League Finals.
The midfielder has scored two Premier League goals for Chelsea this season, helping the European champions reach the top of the league standings.
#7 Karim Benzema
Real Madrid captain Karim Benzema scored 30 goals in all competitions for the club as they reached the UEFA Champions League semi-finals in 2021. He also earned a recall to the French national team for the first time in six years, and was part of the squad for Euro 2020.
The Frenchman has been in sizzling form for Real Madrid this season, having scored 14 goals in 15 appearances so far. He also had a sensational impact for France as he scored for them in the UEFA Nations League semi-finals and final. The 33-year-old striker remains one of the most in-form strikers in world football this year.
#6 Erling Haaland
Borussia Dortmund superstar Erling Haaland has blown the football world away with his performances for club and country so far in 2021. The 21-year-old striker finished as top scorer in the UEFA Champions League last season and scored 41 goals in 41 appearances for Borussia Dortmund in all competitions. Haaland also scored a brace for Dortmund as they won the DFB Pokal.
The Norwegian started the ongoing season brilliantly as usual, scoring 13 goals in 10 appearances in all competitions before suffering an injury that will keep him out until January. His impact was not limited to his club, as he scored six times in eight appearances for Norway in 2021.
#5 Kylian Mbappe
Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe has continued his meteoric rise and capped off a fantastic 2021 by scoring the winner for France in their UEFA Nations League final against Spain.
Mbappe scored an incredible hat-trick against Barcelona at the Camp Nou in a 4-1 win for PSG. He scored 42 times in all competitions, while also becoming the top-scorer in Ligue 1.
Mbappe also became the first Frenchman to score four times in a match for Les Bleus since 1958 when he did so in a 8-0 drubbing of Kazakhstan.
#4 Mohamed Salah
Liverpool and Egypt forward Mohamed Salah has had a season to remember so far with 11 goals and seven assists in only 12 league games. The 29-year-old has impressed greatly since the turn of the year and helped Liverpool achieve a top-four finish despite the side's injury problems.
Mohamed Salah scored 31 goals in all competitions for Liverpool last season. He also became the first Liverpool player to score more than 20 league goals in three different seasons.
#3 Robert Lewandowski
Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowski carried his stellar 2020 form into 2021 for club and country. The Poland captain scored 48 goals in 40 appearances for his club last season as Bayern Munich strolled to a ninth consecutive Bundesliga title.
He broke Gerd Muller's record for most goals in a single Bundesliga season with 41 goals scored last season. He also scored three times as Poland exited Euro 2020 after the group stage. The striker has already scored 24 goals in 18 games this season for Bayern.
Lewandowski was the front-runner for the Ballon d'Or in 2020 after helping Bayern Munich win a treble, but the award was canceled due to the pandemic. Once again, he is among the favorites to win the award in 2022 for the first time in his career. At 33, he will not have many better years than 2021.
#2 Cristiano Ronaldo
Portuguese legend Cristiano Ronaldo came second in the poll after completing a summer move from Juventus back to Manchester United. The 36-year-old scored 29 goals in Serie A last season to win the Capacanonniere and also won the golden boot at Euro 2020 with Portugal. Ronaldo has scored nine goals for Manchester United since making the switch.
A five-time GOAL50 winner, Ronaldo has had a productive 2021, in which he won two separate golden boots before moving on to a new challenge. The former Sporting Lisbon forward is among the 30 players shortlisted for the Ballon d'Or, but is unlikely to win the award.
#1 Lionel Messi
PSG forward Lionel Messi was voted the GOAL50 best player of the year for the fifth time in his career after an impressive 2021. Notably, he guided Argentina to a first title since 1993. Messi led the competition in goals, assists, chances created, and other major attacking statistics, an incredible achievement for one man.
The forward won his eighth career top scorer award in La Liga with Barcelona and scored 38 goals in all competitions for Blaugrana. Messi is one of the favorites to pick up the Ballon d'Or as he looks to extend his dominance with an unprecedented seventh triumph in the race for the award.
Notably, Messi edged Ronaldo to the award by a mere 24 votes after 14 million fans cast their opinion.