The 67th annual ceremony of one of football's most prestigious awards saw a record-extending win for Lionel Messi, a first for Barça Femení star Aitana Bonmatí, and highlighted one of the most significant controversies surrounding the ceremony following the introduction of the Ballon d’Or Féminin in 2018.
The evening saw its usual range of awards before the final two Ballon d’Or winners were announced, celebrating outstanding performances throughout the 2022/23 season.
The Kopa Trophy for the best-performing player under twenty-one was awarded to England’s Jude Bellingham who signed for Real Madrid earlier this year. Bellingham’s teammate, Brazil’s Vinícious Júnior also walked away with an accolade, after being presented with the Sócrates Award in recognition of the player's humanitarian work.
The Yashin Trophy for best performing goalkeeper was awarded to Argentinian player, Emiliano Martínez. The player was commended for his performance in the World Cup, though a replay of his ‘Best Save’ during the World Cup Final against France prompted host, former Chelsea player Didier Drogba, to request 'respect' from the audience after an onslaught of booing.
FC Barcelona Femení collected the award for Best Women’s Team, and with six nominations for the Women’s Ballon d’Or, the Supercopa de España Femenina and the UEFA Women’s Champions League under their belt, it’s not difficult to see why.
Manchester City walked away with the Men’s Club of the Year award, with seven nominees for the Men’s Ballon d’Or. The team enjoyed another exceptional season, winning the Premier League, the FA Cup, and the UEFA Champions League. Indeed, it was City’s Erling Haaland who came out on top for the Gerd Müller Trophy, having scored 56 goals across the season.
In the Men’s Ballon d’Or, Lionel Messi won his eighth title after leading Argentina to World Cup victory in 2022, extending his record of the most titles for any footballer in the history of the award. The accolade tops off another exceptional season for Messi, after winning the coveted Golden Ball in the World Cup, breaking the record for most games played at a World Cup, and winning the MLS Leagues Cup with current team, Inter Miami CF.
Aitana Bonmatí secured her first Ballon d’Or trophy following a historic season with both Spain and Barça Femení. Bonmatí ended the 2022/23 season highly decorated, being presented with UEFA’s Women’s Player of the Year award and The Golden Ball for best player in the 2023 Women’s World Cup, as well as securing the treble with Barcelona Femení and, perhaps most memorably, being a key part of Spain’s winning World Cup squad.
Despite the evening’s celebratory atmosphere, there remained a significant absence during the ceremony – most of the female nominees. The startling number of vacant seats highlights an issue dominating debates around the Ballon d’Or within women’s football – the clash between the ceremony and women’s international duty. Indeed, out of the thirty women nominated for this year’s award, only seven were in attendance.
Georgia Stanway, one of four England Lionesses nominated yet unable to attend, expressed disappointment at missing the ‘once-in-a-lifetime' opportunity. Stanway, who placed 22nd, called for better scheduling in the future - "You want to feel like a star among the stars […] if it was planned a little better then it would be easier for a lot of female footballers to be there." Stanway’s comments were echoed by Ireland captain Katie McCabe, as she casually brushed off suggestions that she would be in attendance – ‘Nah, I’ve training on Monday!’
Whilst significant headway is clearly being made both within the Ballon d’Or and the wider sporting world regarding the inclusion and recognition of female footballers, the scheduling clashes and lack of female equivalents in most award categories imply that there is still much work to be done.
However, with the introduction of the Best Women’s Team award this year, and the rising popularity of the women's game, there remains hope that the ceremony will continue to adapt, becoming more inclusive and representative of the breadth and talent of world football.