On the field, it was business as usual for the prolific strikers across competitions, with Robert Lewandowski, Mohamed Salah and Kylian Mpabbe on top of the charts in goals and assists, along with the usual suspects Ronaldo and Messi.
TimesofIndia.com takes a look at the 2021 graph of the above five names as another eventful year draws to a close:
Club: Paris Saint-Germain
Lionel Messi lived the dream in 2021 he had been waiting to fulfill — lifting a major international trophy for Argentina. By winning the Copa America this year, Messi was able to do that; and the win tasted that much sweeter coming against archrivals Brazil in the final.
Though many debated Messi winning the Ballon d’Or once for a record seventh time, that is now a fact as well as a record. His goal-scoring prowess in 2021 may not have been the same as some of his previous prolific years, but Messi remains one of the most desired players of his era.
The year also saw something that very few, if any, football fans ever imagined: Messi left Barcelona. Though the writing had been on the wall for a while, Messi’s exit was not really a smooth one. Ultimately it boiled down to a choice between Manchester City and PSG, and Messi chose to go to France. After his contract with Barcelona was over, Messi officially became the most desired free agent, perhaps ever.
The 24-year-old football icon is yet to find his top gear at PSG, where he agreed to a two-year deal, with the option of extending it for another season. His former club Barcelona, meanwhile, goes through a transition phase following its most influential player’s departure.
Club: Manchester United
Cristiano Ronaldo would have been disappointed at not being able to take Portugal past the Round of 16 at Euro 2020/21, but a return to his former club Manchester United from Juventus looks to have reignited the fire within.
Though he is turning 37 next February, Ronaldo hasn’t lost the knack of putting himself in scoring opportunities, besides continuing to have a high conversion rate on those chances. And he didn’t take time to prove that on his United return, when he netted a brace against Newcastle United in his first match back for the Premier League giants.
Going forward, Ronaldo would want to celebrate his 37th birthday in style when Manchester United take on Atletico Madrid on February 23 in the first (away) leg of their Round-of-16 Champions League clash against the top Spanish club.
Club: Bayern Munich
For many, Robert Lewandowski should have been holding this year’s Ballon d’Or trophy, but that didn’t happen despite there being little to debate that the Bayern Munich goal-scoring machine was equally deserving as Messi, if not more.
When it comes to scoring goals, Lewandowski has given the likes of Messi and Ronaldo a run for their money. On that note, the Polish striker recently scored his 43rd goal in the 2021 season of the Bundesliga to break Gerd Muller’s 49-year record.
Those numbers made him the unanimous choice for the inaugural ‘Striker of the Year’ award at the 2021 Ballon d’Or ceremony, and Messi’s words in awe of Lewandowski best describe the great player he has become.
“It’s an honour to be here with you today. You broke records and you would have deserved to win the Ballon d’Or. You had an unbelievable year,” said Messi at the Ballon d’Or ceremony.
Mohamed Salah’s breathtaking runs, dribbles and goals for Liverpool are scorching Premier League record books, which has put him in the league of the top five footballers of 2021.
The Egyptian striker’s statistics this year are headlined by his hat-trick when Liverpool hammered Manchester United 5-0 at Old Trafford earlier this year. It was also his fourth hat-trick in the Premier League.
The goal in the December 17 game against Newcastle made Salah, the 2021 ‘African Player of the Year’, the first player ever to score in five consecutive matches at Anfield.
Salah is now also the African player with most goals overall in the Premier League, going past the 104-goals mark set by Didier Drogba.
Club: Paris Saint-Germain
An anticipated move from PSG to Real Madrid might be the top Kylian Mbappe news on social media currently, but the reason behind that demand is his ability to score goals with consummate ease. Incidentally, it’s Real Madrid who PSG have drawn as their opponent in the Champions League Round of 16.
Just 22 years of age, French forward Mbappe has already completed a century of Ligue 1 goals for PSG and is now only behind the 156 goals scored by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and 200 by Edinson Cavani on the all time list.