For the first time in its history the prestigious Ballon d’Or will not be awarded this year – and some of the biggest names in the game can be forgiven for cursing their bad luck.
France Football, which presents the award, announced the cancellation of the prize following the disruption to the 2019-20 campaign caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Barcelona star Lionel Messi won a record sixth Ballon d’Or last year, taking him past rival Cristiano Ronaldo, but this time around it appeared to be a much more open race for the gong.
Here, Sportsmail looks at the contenders who have missed out on a shot at winning the world player prize.
The 31-year-old has enjoyed an unforgettable season as Bayern Munich won their eighth consecutive Bundesliga title and lifted the German Cup.
The striker has been prolific, notching a staggering 51 goals in 43 matches, with 34 of those coming in the German top flight.
‘If I measure for goals now and I see that he has scored 34 goals in the Bundesliga this year, then you can think about how a player from the Bundesliga can become the Ballon d’Or winner. So why not? He has laid all the groundwork with this achievement this year and I would wish him well,’ Bayern boss Hansi flick said earlier this month.
Hitting over half a century of goals put Lewandowski firmly in the frame to win his first Ballon d’Or until it was suspended.
And his season could get better with Bayern’s hopes of a Treble still alive as the Champions League resumes next month.
Lewandowski has already scored 11 in six in Europe’s elite competition and Bayern look on course to reach the quarter-finals with a 3-0 advantage over Chelsea heading into the second leg of the last-16 tie.
What a campaign it’s been for the Poland star and the Ballon d’Or was a very realistic possibility. Considering his age he might have just seen his last chance of landing the gong slip away.
Another veteran forward who has had a sensational 2019-20 campaign is Real Madrid’s Benzema.
He scored 21 goals in 37 league games as Real beat arch rivals Barcelona to the LaLiga title.
Benzema found the net four times in his last four LaLiga matches, including both goals in Real’s 2-1 win over Villarreal last Thursday which secured the domestic crown.
Real president Florentino Perez called for the 32-year-old striker to win the individual prize following his brace last week.
‘Benzema should be the Ballon d’Or,’ he said. ‘I have not seen any player have as good a year as him.’
The Frenchman’s form put him in with a massive chance of claiming the prize but like Lewandowski time is running out for him and it begs the question whether he will ever be in such a strong position to win it again.
Like Lewandowski, Benzema had the chance to enhance his claims further with Real competing in the Champions League in August, although they trail Manchester City 2-1 after a first-leg defeat at the Bernabeu.
Monday’s announcement was a big blow to Ronaldo’s hopes of catching Messi by adding a sixth Ballon d’Or to his collection.
The Juventus star became the quickest player to reach 50 goals in Serie A on Monday after scoring a brace in their 2-1 win over Lazio.
The double also meant Ronaldo became the first player to score at least 50 goals in the Premier League, LaLiga and Serie A.
The Portugal international has bagged 34 goals in 42 matches in all competitions this season with Juventus on the cusp of winning the Italian top flight.
Ronaldo finished third behind Messi and Virgil van Dijk in last year’s edition of the award and was second in 2018.
Again the Champions League would have provided him with the stage to strengthen his push for the Ballon d’Or, although Juventus trail 1-0 in their last-16 tie against Lyon.
It’s no secret that he will be desperate to draw level with his fierce rival Messi but he’ll have to wait at least another year.
What another cracking year it has been for the Manchester City maestro despite his side falling well short in the defence of their domestic crown. The hugely talented De Bruyne continues to light up the Premier League.
The 29-year-old has racked up 21 assists and 13 goals in 44 appearances so far this campaign – staggering numbers for a midfielder – and has been virtually unstoppable.
City were beaten by new champions Liverpool by some distance but their pursuit of the Champions League and impressive numbers puts De Bruyne in contention.
Pep Guardiola’s side are among the favourites to go all the way and lift the trophy City are so desperate to get their hands on.
Should they win the Champions League in August, De Bruyne would have been in with a massive shout of winning the Ballon d’Or.
City have never had anyone finish in the top three of the award since its launch in 1956.
De Bruyne looks like the man who could achieve the feat but he’s lost out on the opportunity in 2020.
The Liverpool forward has starred as the club ended their 30-year wait for an English league title.
As the Reds dominated the Premier League from start to finish, Mane has supplied nine assists and notched 17 goals in 33 matches to date.
He has 12 assists and 21 goals in 45 appearances in all competitions to his name so far.
Mane finished fourth in the Ballon d’Or rankings in December 2019 after a fine season as Liverpool won the Champions League and finished runners-up to City in the English top flight.
Messi praised him and said he should have been higher up in the standings last year.
Mane was again in the running in 2020, although the fact that Liverpool were knocked out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage might have affected his chances.
The Senegal international has been pivotal to Liverpool’s success and has been a consistent stand-out performer.
Yes, he’s already won it six times so he might not be as upset as some of the others who have potentially missed out, but that would underestimate the competitive fire that burns deep inside possibly the best player the world has ever seen.
Despite Barcelona’s implosion since returning from the coronavirus-enforced break, Messi is still performing at levels simply unimaginable to other mere mortals.
He notched a staggering 25 goals and 22 assists in 33 LaLiga games, while his two goals and three assists in six Champions League games so far mean Barca are still potential winners of Europe’s biggest prize.
While his rivals for this elite gong might fancy their chances of pipping Messi to the prize this year due to Barca’s relative toil, the great man was still the bookmakers’ favourite to win it before the cancellation.
One more win would also have taken him to seven Ballon d’Or awards and surely ensured that his great rival Ronaldo would never have caught him in their head-to-head battle for all-time supremacy.
Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos deserves an honourable mention after his sensational campaign.
The Real captain led from the front as they won the domestic crown and he has scored a stunning 13 goals from defence.