Does Neymar really stand a chance to win the 2015 Ballon d'Or?
Another year, another Ballon d’Or. For the past seven years, FIFA’s prize for the footballer of the year has just been another ‘Messi vs Ronaldo’ debate.
Players like Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Franck Ribery and Manuel Neuer have tried to break the duopoly, but without success. Messi and Ronaldo still remain favourites, but would Neymar be a more deserving winner, this time around?
Performances in the latter half of 2015 suggest he should run them close, at the very least.
A case for Neymar
Neymar has shown impressive form for most of the calendar year, but his true ability has come to the fore in the latter half of 2015, unsurprisingly with Messi out injured. The Brazilian relished the opportunity of being Barcelona’s go-to man, putting in man-of-the-match performances against Celta Vigo, Bate Borisov, Villareal and Real Madrid.
Neymar’s superlative performances and Messi’s injury have, interestingly, coincided with the voting period for Ballon d’Or (October 26 to November 20). In other words, the 23-year old could not have chosen a better time to lay stake for football’s ultimate individual prize.
Ronaldo, meanwhile, has not been poor by any means. His rift with Rafa Benitez notwithstanding, the Portuguese has a goal tally of 14 this season, level with Neymar on second.
The Real Madrid man’s displays in big games, though, stick out like a sore thumb. Out of 18 appearances in the Spanish league, Ronaldo has not scored in 11. Of the 14 league goals he has scored this season, only two have been against teams currently in the top half of La Liga - Celta Vigo and Eibar, the second of which was a penalty.
Contrast Ronaldo’s disappointing outings with Neymar- the latter scored in both legs of Champions League quarter-finals and semi-finals against PSG and Bayern Munich respectively, before securing Barcelona’s trophy with a late goal in the final against Juventus. The UCL triumph also meant Neymar and Barcelona secured a treble while Ronaldo ended up trophyless with Real Madrid.
Does he stand a chance?
What may go against Neymar is a sub-par Copa America campaign in the summer.
Brazil's captain and poster boy saw his tournament brought to a premature end with a petulant red card against Colombia. Neymar made just two appearances in Chile and, despite scoring and registering a sensational assist in Brazil's first group game, the Selecao exited the tournament in the quarter-finals with their skipper suspended.
That said, while Argentina reached the final of the same tournament in the summer, it was another disappointing showing by his astronomical standards from Lionel Messi, whose only goal in Chile came from the spot.
Messi, however, does still stake a very strong claim to the Ballon d'Or. After a lukewarm start to 2014/15, the Argentine turned it up in the business end of the season, putting in match-winning performances in Barcelona’s biggest games of the season. Neymar played his part too, but there is no mistaking the fact that Messi was, and still is, Barcelona’s talisman.
Ronaldo will challenge through the sheer number of goals he scores. The 30-year old has racked up 57 goals in 57 appearances for club and country, five more than Messi. One could argue his goals did not help his team win any silverware, but then again, should that really matter when considering an individual prize?
Which brings us back to the question- will Neymar win the Ballon d’ Or this year?
The answer, in a nutshell - No, not yet. He has been overshadowed in Barcelona’s achievements by Messi and his numbers still are no match for Ronaldo.
Where will Neymar finish?
The most likely position for any Ballon d’ Or contender apart from football’s ‘Big Two’ remains third. Having said that, Neymar appears to be the best bet for emerging as a proper contender and not merely filling up the numbers.
While his chances at winning the award altogether look slim to none, he may give whoever finishes second a run for his money. At the moment, it looks like Messi will be the eventual winner, with Ronaldo and Neymar fighting a close battle for the second spot.
Neymar’s recent performances, though, have forced fans and pundits alike to sit up and take notice and have even fuelled rumours of him leaving Barcelona to emerge from Messi’s shadow and fulfil his potential. Reaching the stature of Messi as well as the goal-scoring feats of Ronaldo is unthinkable, but the Brazilian looks up to the challenge, making him possibly the prime contender for Ballon d’ Or in the next five years.
In the meantime, he can look at this year as a stepping stone for the future.