Exclusive: Steve McManaman Thinks Champions League Final Will Decide Ballon d'Or Winner
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Steve McManaman believes the Champions League final will decide who wins this year's Ballon d'Or.
McManaman's former clubs, Liverpool and Real Madrid, will play out the 2022 final at the Stade de France, Paris, on Saturday, in a repeat of the 2018 final in Kiev.
Real talisman Karim Benzema and Liverpool pair Mo Salah and Sadio Mane are the three primary contenders for the prize after a slew of stellar performances on the big stage.
Benzema in particular has come up with clutch performances against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City and almost single-handedly dragged Los Blancos to yet another European final.
And McManaman, who won two Champions Leagues with Real, thinks the outcome of Saturday's final will determine who gets their hands on France Football's award.
“I think if they win the Champions League he deserves it," McManaman told SPORTbible on Benzema.
"I think if Liverpool win it Salah or Mane should get it.
“They gave it Leo [Messi] last year, didn't they for winning the Copa America. He actually wasn't great in the Copa America, because I watched the tournament.
“But for Saudi Mane to get them [Senegal'] to the World Cup, and win them the Africa Cup of Nations - and the year he’s had.
“I think if Mo and Sadio do something special, one of them could win it but if Real Madrid, Karim Benzema definitely deserves it. 44 goals in 45 games at this moment. That’s just outstanding.
“If Leo or Ronnie, did it, we'd be talking about them in glowing terms, but because it's Benzema.
“I think in this standout year, I think whoever wins it may tip it in their favour.”
Another of the stand-out performers for the La Liga winners has been Luka Modric, who show no signs of slowing down at the age of 36 and looks to have earned himself a new contract.
The Croatian, who broke the Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo domination in winning the Ballon d'Or in 2018, produced an outrageous outside of the boot assist against Chelsea in the quarter-final second leg.
McManaman met the former Spurs midfielder recently and believes he still goes under the radar for how good a player he is.
The 50-year-old explained: “I've always thought he was a wonderful player. He probably doesn't get the credit. He deserves it because of the type of person he is.
'He's quite quiet, isn't he? I'm not saying he's shy. But he's a quiet person. He doesn't hog the limelight. He's not big commercially as in he doesn't want to be big commercially.
“He just wants to get on with it. He's 37 In September, I just think he's had the most incredible career. You know, the fact that he's nearly 37 and your still talking about the crosses for Benzema at Stamford Bridge or the cross Rodrygo with the outside of his right foot for them against Chelsea in that game.
“He’s still possibly or arguably the most important player Real Madrid has got. He's going for his fifth Champions League, it's brilliant, isn't it? Absolutely brilliant.”
Liverpool's midfield metronome has been Thiago Alcantara, who is looking to match Clarence Seedorf's record of winning the Champions League with three different teams.
He went off with an injury at half-time against Wolves on Sunday but trained at the stadium on Friday.
McManaman is hopeful the silky Spaniard will play - even if it is with pain.
“He did have an achilles problem after the end of the game because I I was speaking to him on the pitch," McManaman added.
"But I think he was hopeful. I think it's and I'm not a doctor, and I certainly don't want to pre-judge it, but hopefully, hopefully he'll play.
“I think it's something that he can manage. I don't think he's going to be injury free of it. I think he’d be playing with a problem. "But you know, most players do play with with problems, aches and pains. And he’s been exceptional of late and I think it's important that he does play.
“You'd hate him to miss out on a game like this because of an injury. He got Liverpool back into the game against Wolves on Sunday with that little flick to Sadie Mane and he just gives you something a little bit different, doesn’t he?
“And on this stage, you want you want something a little bit different at times.”
McManaman has allegiances to both sides and has friends in either camp but above all he's hoping for a good contest to commentate on, particularly after a few drab affairs in recent years.
He summarised: “I hope it's a really good final. We haven't had a great final in recent times. Last year wasn't very good was it? The year before, PSG vs Bayern Munich – when you saw them scoring eight against Barca and PSG scoring goals – the final was a bit of a damp squib again. It wasn’t a great game.
“Even Liverpool vs Tottenham a couple of years ago wasn’t brilliant. Probably the last good game was the Real Madrid vs Liverpool game in Kiev four years ago.
“I hope there's no sending offs or injuries and I hope it’s a really good spectacle.
“Liverpool’s team has changed and more importantly, they are successful. Four years ago you thought Real Madrid were the favourites because of their history and the fact they’ve won this trophy many times. They’ve been there and done it.
“The nerves counted on that particular day for Liverpool. [Mo] Salah went off early and the goalkeeper made a couple of mistakes.
“I think that doesn’t happen know because Liverpool play in finals all the time and are successful. It should be a battle between two good sides.”
McManaman was speaking after unveiling a stunning FedEx Champions League mural containing the most iconic moments from the 2021/22 season.
Featured Image Credit: Image: PA
Topics: Real Madrid, Liverpool, Champions League, Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane