For the past decade, the Ballon d’Or has been shared between just two men. It was in 2007, when the Brazilian Kaka was adjudged the winner of this prestigious award, but ever since then world football has been dominated by two of the biggest names of our generation.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been in this battle for the past 10 years in an attempt to claim the title of the greatest player ever. They have won accolades in almost all competitions accompanied by individual honors, but they haven't yet tasted success on the grandest stage of all, the FIFA World Cup.
It’s no easy task to outshine Messi and Ronaldo in the same season or even be at par with them. But it may be time for a new era where a different player finally upstages them to the biggest individual honor in football.
So let’s look at a few names that are in the race to win the Ballon d’Or this year:
World Cup heartbreak: The Messi – Ronaldo saga
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have shared this trophy a record five times and this year could be another one when history is made - or rather, extended - if either of them wins the Ballon d’Or for a record sixth time.
Prior to the recently concluded FIFA World Cup, most people thought that being crowned World Champion would seal this year’s debate for the winner and a record sixth Ballon d’Or trophy. The one trophy that still eludes Messi and Ronaldo is the World Cup, and this year again they did not come close as Argentina and Portugal both crashed out in the round of 16.
Messi dominated Spanish football last year by winning the La Liga and the Copa del Rey with Barcelona, and finished the season with the Pichichi scoring 34 goals in the process - eight goals ahead of rival Ronaldo. Messi scored one goal at the World Cup against Nigeria which helped Argentina qualify for the Round of 16.
Ronaldo on the other hand won the UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid for a record three times in a row and finished as the top scorer with 15 goals in the tournament. He also scored four goals at the World Cup which included a hat-trick against Spain.
Could he be the next big thing? At only 19, Kylian Mbappe has already made a name for himself. Coming into the World Cup after an impressive season with PSG, he is part of the attacking trio that has been the French club’s main asset through the season.
Mbappe finished the season being crowned French Ligue 1, French Cup and League Cup champion with PSG. But more importantly, his consistent performances in Russia led to him being named the FIFA World Cup Best Young Player, and he helped France win its second World Cup by beating Croatia in the finals.
The history books have already been updated; he is only the second teenager to score in a World Cup final after Pele and if he goes on to win the Ballon d’Or, Mbappe will be the youngest player to ever do so. The future is very bright for Mbappe and he could be on his way to making history.
Modric is a hard-working footballer who has been raised through a difficult childhood in Croatia. From a war stricken refugee to the national team captain, Modric has been a picture of discipline and focus.
A leader in many ways for both club and country, Modric may have just done enough to be the top contender for this year’s Ballon d’Or award. He finished the domestic impressively with Real Madrid, as they were crowned UCL champions for the record third consecutive year.
No one would have guessed that Croatia would go on to play in the finals of the FIFA World Cup this year, but Modric and Co. just showed us all why hard work, perseverance and determination are all that matter. Defying all odds, Croatia played their first ever FIFA World Cup final and that alone is history-making for this small 4 million populated nation.
Delivering stellar performances in the midfield, Modric was adjudged as the FIFA World Cup Golden Ball winner. A favorite for this year’s Ballon d’Or? Time will tell.
Widely judged as one of the players in contention for knocking Messi and Ronaldo off their perch, is the Belgian wonder Eden Hazard. As suggested by his name itself, the man is a hazard to any team he faces. The 2015 PFA Player of the Year has put in repeated standout performances for both club and country, and all the top teams in Europe are vying for his signature.
Belgium were regarded as one of the favorites to win this year’s World Cup; there were high expectations from the country's golden generation of world class players. Even though Hazard’s season with Chelsea may not have ended with a trophy, he captained Belgium who finished in third place at the FIFA World Cup - their highest finish in the tournament's history.
Hazard delivered brilliant performances throughout the tournament which earned him the FIFA World Cup Silver Ball behind Luka Modric.
With the completion of the World Cup, Hazard could possibly choose to move to another big club in Europe to win more silverware. He could be one of the names that ends up high on this year’s list considering his achievements for both club and country.
Ending a brilliant season with Liverpool by finishing with the Golden Boot and Player of the Season awards, Salah has been on fire ever since his move from AS Roma. The Egyptian genius was clinical in almost every match and was a runaway winner for the Golden Boot.
Salah guided Liverpool to the Champions League finals but it resulted in heartbreak. He suffered an injury early in the first half which ended his fairy-tale run of the season and he had to settle for a runners-up medal, having been beaten by Real Madrid.
Salah was instrumental in helping Egypt qualify for the FIFA World Cup as he scored an all-important last-minute penalty during qualification which confirmed their tickets to Russia.
However, Egypt did not progress to the knockouts at the FIFA World Cup and Salah could not emulate his season’s performance as he was just back from injury. It can, therefore, be said that Salah’s chances of bagging the Ballon d’Or may have dipped a little.
Could we see a new winner this year? We will have to wait till December to find out.