Ballon d'Or 2017: Why Messi, not Ronaldo, should claim the trophy
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have occupied the top two spots in the Ballon d'Or voting in all but one of the past nine years, and 2017 promises to continue that trend.
The Barcelona superstar just holds the edge on his rival with five wins to Ronaldo's four, and if the trophy truly stands as the ultimate reward for individual brilliance - as it claims - Messi will extend that advantage at Thursday's ceremony in Paris.
Ronaldo took home the prize last year, at the end of a 12-month period that saw him claim European glory on both domestic and international fronts with Real Madrid and Portugal.
He has enjoyed a similarly stellar 2017, scooping a LaLiga winners' medal as well as a third Champions League crown in four seasons.
But the Ballon d'Or does not - at least, it should not - reward collective triumph over individual mastery and it is by this reckoning that Messi undoubtedly enjoys the superior standing.
Analysis of their 2017 exploits for their respective LaLiga giants shows Messi has scored more goals (48 to Ronaldo's 37, at the time of writing) provided more assists (14 to eight) and boasts a better shot conversion rate (23.41 to 18.69).
Messi's sustained brilliance across the year kept Barca afloat in a sometimes stuttering 2016-17 campaign, and last month he equalled Ronaldo in claiming his fourth European Golden Shoe.
His stunning form has carried over into the current season, where he has 13 goals from 14 LaLiga outings to propel his side to the summit. Ronaldo has two in 10 and Madrid are eight points off the pace.
In contrast to Messi's consistent artistry, Ronaldo was only truly exceptional across a devastating six-week spell between mid-April and the Champions League final in early June.
The Portuguese netted eight of Madrid's 10 goals across quarter- and semi-final ties with Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid, before a brace helped seal a 4-1 demolition of Juventus in the denouement in Cardiff.
And although Ronaldo's season ended in a shower of trophies and ticker tape, Messi may well have watched on knowing his rival's late surge helped to mask an otherwise - by their standards - moderate return.
Those Ronaldo performances against Atletico, Bayern and Juve may stick in the memory, but Messi was producing similar displays on an almost weekly basis.
His virtuoso hat-trick against Ecuador in October sealed Argentina's place at Russia 2018, six months on from an equally standout showing against Ronaldo and Madrid as a stoppage-time strike - his 500th for Barca - earned a 3-2 win in a Clasico for the ages.
It was a goal celebrated with a now iconic lift of the Blaugrana shirt to the Bernabeu crowd, a fitting way to remind us all of his individual genius, which ought to be recognised again in the French capital on Thursday.