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Sadio Mane Should Win the Ballon d'Or
The only African player to ever win the Ballon d'Or was George Weah of Liberia in 1995. Samuel Eto'o came close a few times, as did Mo Salah, but I believe Sadio Mane is in a position to win the continent's second trophy and Sengal's first.
Why Sadio Mane? He's checked all the boxes this year. He's scored 20 goals and could end the season north of 25. He led Senegal to a World Cup qualification and their first-ever African Cup of Nations win, where he was named the tournament's best player. And he could be part of a Liverpool team that wins a historic quadruple. If he does all of this or even wins just a treble with Liverpool, I believe that would give him the best season of any player in the world.
Four trophies for your club, a historic continental title for your country where you were named the best player, add a handful of key goals across the year, and it should be your trophy to win.
Unfortunately, it is not that straightforward with the Ballon d'Or. For one, there is a bias.
That bias is that the African Cup of Nations is not held in the same regard as other continental trophies. We watched Jorginho finish third in Ballon d'Or voting because Italy won the Euros. We gave Messi the Ballon d'Or for winning Copa America, even though all he won for Barcelona was the Spanish Cup. Meanwhile, Sadio Mane led Senegal to their first-ever continental trophy, is on pace for an additional four club trophies, and current Ballon d'Or odds have him in seventh place. And that is behind guys he has had objectively better seasons than, but voters don't see it that way because of the bias towards big names.
Karim Benzema is the current favorite, and sure he's scored a ton of goals, but he could legit finish the season with just a league trophy, and that's it.
Mo Salah is currently in second, understandable based on how he started the season, but since then, Mane has arguably been more important. His last 6 goals are three against Manchester City across two games, and one each in the Champions League QF and first leg of the Semi-final. On top of that, how are we supposed to explain to our kids that Sadio Mane beat Salah's Egypt to win the African Nations Cup, and then again later to determine which country would go to the World Cup, but Salah was the favorite for the Ballon d'Or?
And before you get to Mane at 7th favorite, you have to get past Mbappe, Lewandowski, De Bruyne, and Messi. Mbappe, Lewandowski, and Messi are in the midst of disappointing seasons where all they'll win is a league trophy. A season where we'll remember the PSG choke to Real Madrid and Bayern's shocking upset to Villareal. On the other hand, De Bruyne hasn't been healthy enough to have a real say. For context, Sadio Mane missed a month in the middle of the season for the African Cup of Nations, and he's still played four more games than De Bruyne this season.
Sadio Mane should be favored to win the trophy and, at the very least, should be in the top three. But the fact the odds have him in seventh shows the disrespectfully little regard the sport holds for the African tournament and the bias that exists for big names as opposed to those who are performing. Fortunately, if Liverpool can put together at least a treble or quadruple, then Mane's resume to win the Ballon d'Or will become even more undeniable.
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