The 2022 Ballon d'Or trophy is meant for Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, if it was all up to Manchester United legend Rio Ferdinand. After the Frenchman's hat-trick against Chelsea in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals on Wednesday, the player-turned-pundit thinks the winner has been decided.

Benzema was one of the top contenders for the prestigious award last year, but he ultimately lost out to Lionel Messi. The Argentine bagged his record seventh Balon d'Or trophy thanks largely to the fact that he finally won a major trophy for his national team side during last summer's Copa America.

Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, who many believe should have won the Ballon d'Or in 2020, also missed out but was at least awarded the FIFA Best Men's Player trophy. This year, Ferdinand thinks that Benzema is simply head and shoulders above the rest.

His hat-trick in the second leg of the Champions League last-16 clash against Paris Saint-Germain brought Los Blancos back from the dead, and he netted three once more against Chelsea on Wednesday. The defending champions still have a chance to turn things around in the second leg, but Ferdinand thinks Benzema's performances need to be acknowledged.

"They should already be writing Karim Benzema's name on the next Ballon d'Or," he told BT Sport. "This is the business end and he keeps scoring," he added, as quoted by Marca.

Apart from the Frenchman's heroics in the Champions League, Ferdinand also praised his impact across all competitions. "He's taken Real Madrid top of the league [in LaLiga Santander]. They are flying and he is the talisman," he said. In fact, whenever Benzema is sidelined for one reason or the other, Real Madrid is completely destabilised. Such is his importance, as seen in their 4-0 defeat in El Clasico just two weeks ago, when he was out injured.

Ferdinand also pointed out the Frenchman's attitude and humility. "When Cristiano Ronaldo was there, he had the humility to sit in the background because he knew what the team needed, but now he's come out of the shadows."

The words of admiration just kept coming out of the former England and Manchester United star. "He's the best No.9 in the world. He's on another level. He has goals, assists, link-up play, he can slow the game down..."

Benzema admitted last year that it would be a dream come true to win the Ballon d'Or. However, he admitted that he needed to win trophies to make it happen apart from his own individual achievements.

Real Madrid have a comfortable lead at the the top of the La Liga table, and have already picked up the Spanish Super Cup trophy earlier this year. For all intents and purposes, Rio Ferdinand may very well be proven right.

Karim Benzema
Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema celebrates after scoring against Chelsea AFP / JAVIER SORIANO