The usual suspects headline the 30-man Ballon d’Or shortlist that’s now in the hands of European journalists and esteemed publication France Football.
But the supporting cast includes some surprising players, and excludes some great ones. Even though the award will likely come down to Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Antoine Griezmann, a few superstars have a right to feel aggrieved with the voting results.
Related – Ronaldo, Messi headline Ballon d’Or shortlist; Vardy gets surprise nod
Here are five names that are conspicuous in their absence:
Mesut Ozil (Arsenal and Germany)
Mesut Ozil is becoming the ultimate snub.
Having missed out on a 2015-16 PFA Player of the Year nomination, Ozil once again failed to land a spot in the Ballon d’Or conversation.
It’s an incredible insult to a player who nearly broke Thierry Henry’s Premier League assists record last season. Ozil racked up 19 helpers – one short of Henry’s haul – and created more chances (146) than any other player across Europe’s top five leagues. He was a big part of Arsenal’s goal production last season and is beginning to show a willingness to push forward and score some himself.
The Germany international often bears the cross of a so-called luxury player, but he is as influential as anyone on the pitch. He was quieter during his country’s Euro 2016 run, registering just a goal and an assist, but that had more to do with Germany’s problems converting chances.
He’s economical with the ball and a primary hub for both his domestic and international team’s offence. An egregious omission.
Gerard Pique (Barcelona and Spain)
For the past few years, Gerard Pique has been nominated for every Ballon d’Or. He is a mainstay on these kinds of lists.
Not this time.
It took time to see Pique perform to his capabilities last season, but he was a big reason why Barcelona rebounded from a midseason crisis to win the domestic double. His performance in the Copa del Rey final was a tour de force, covering for Javier Mascherano’s early dismissal and timing numerous challenges to perfection.
The 29-year-old doesn’t often get the respect he deserves. He announced his impending retirement from international duty following unending criticism over his pro-Catalan views.
It’s a shame, because his play does a lot of talking itself. He’s the living embodiment of a modern defender: a threat in the opposing penalty area just as he is a rock in his own.
N’Golo Kante (Chelsea and France)
This time last year, the football world was only beginning to take notice of N’Golo Kante. The 25-year-old was the engine of Leicester City’s title run, a ball of energy that wouldn’t quit. He led the Premier League in successful tackles (175) and interceptions (156), which made Leicester’s counterattacking game possible.
Former head of recruitment Steve Walsh joked that Kante was practically two players in one, such was his unending drive and energy.
He earned his first France call-up for his domestic efforts and later convinced Didier Deschamps of consecutive starts at Euro 2016.
His summer move to Chelsea required some adapting, but he’s beginning to look like the midfield dynamo that covered every blade of the King Power Stadium pitch.
Angel Di Maria (Paris Saint-Germain and Argentina)
Considered one of the biggest busts in Premier League history, Angel Di Maria went to Paris Saint-Germain and showed just how much class he has.
The Argentine amassed a Ligue 1 record 18 assists as PSG won the French title in just 30 matches – a national record.
The team Di Maria joined was already comprised of established stars, but he gave PSG a cutting edge.
“With Di Maria’s arrival we moved from ‘PSG can’t win the Champions League’ to ‘With him PSG can win the Champions League,'” said Laurent Blanc, who managed the capital club at the time.
Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus and Italy)
There’s a good reason why Pep Guardiola adores Leonardo Bonucci: he’s one of the best at playing passes out from the back. A director as much as he is a centre-back, the Italian is comfortable building moves from his own end.
Juventus and Italy wouldn’t have enjoyed the successes they had this year without Bonucci involved. He provided a solid base for the Bianconeri to win consecutive domestic doubles and was the Azzurri’s main protagonist in a surprising quarter-final run at Euro 2016.
His 50-yard pass to Emanuele Giaccherini for Italy’s opening goal at the tournament was sublime, and he converted the first in-game penalty kick of his professional life under a huge amount of pressure to prolong the knockout match against Germany.
It’s obvious that the Euros play a huge role in the voting process for the Ballon d’Or nominations – otherwise we wouldn’t see winners Rui Patricio or Pepe on the shortlist.
By that same token, Bonucci must be in there.