5 Players who can break the Lionel Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo Ballon d'Or duopoly in the near future
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have shared the Ballon d’Or since 2008After helping his side A.C. Milan to Champions League glory in 2007, Brazilian midfielder Kaka was adjudged the Ballon d’Or (French for “Golden Ball”) winner for the year. Few would have guessed at that time that it would be the last time for a while that the prestigious award was won by a player other than the two players who finished runners-up to Kaka in 2007 – Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.Since 2007, the two players have raised their respective games to another level and dominated football, wowed millions worldwide and have rightly won many laurels. The Ballon d’Or award for 2015 was won by Messi for a record fifth time, while Ronaldo has won the award thrice and often talks about his aim to win the trophy again.Aged 28 and 30 respectively, Messi and Ronaldo are at the peak of their careers and will be expected to continue their golden runs of form and achieve more glory in coming years. However as is often seen in the history of sport, new challengers will rise and challenge the two players who have split the award between themselves for 8 years.We look at some players who may go on to break the duopoly of Messi and Ronaldo over the Ballon d’Or award in the near future:
#6 Honourable mentions
Thomas Müller (Bayern Munich/Germany)
The 26-year-old German forward has excelled for the national team and Bayern Munich and has often slipped under the radar with the presence of other star players in the teams, and his efforts tend to be undermined by the fans.
He may not always get the stardom of Messi and Ronaldo, but Müller continues to enjoy success at international and club level, and with his performances he will continue to be considered for the Ballon d’Or award in the future.
Luis Suarez (Barcelona/Uruguay)
If talent and performances on the field were the sole criteria for deciding the Ballon d’Or, Luis Suarez would have given a stronger challenge to Messi and Ronaldo already. But the weight of controversies that he keeps getting involved in continues to diminish his chances of winning the award. However, if Suarez continues his incredible goal-scoring run and manages to stay away from controversies, he will continue to be counted among the contenders for the Ballon d’Or.
#5 Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich/Germany)
Neuer was expected to be a strong contender for the 2014 Ballon d’Or award after the goalkeeper played a starring role in Germany’s World Cup win and Bayern Munich’s domestic success. The player was pipped by both Ronaldo and Messi in the voting process, which disappointed many including German legend Franz Beckenbauer, who described the result as unjust and that Neuer wasn’t given due recognition for his efforts in the year.
The German’s skills as sweeper-keeper are admired universally and he is widely considered as the best goalkeeper in the world currently by some distance and also counted among the best footballers in modern era. He stands a very good chance of being only the second goalkeeper since Lev Yashin in 1963 to win the prestigious football honour.
While at the age of 29, Neuer is older than Messi and only a year younger than Ronaldo, goalkeepers usually tend to play on much longer at the top level than strikers. Hence Neuer could play on with his best game for almost a decade, and his solid presence at the back for the strong German national team and Bayern Munich will keep the goalkeeper in the contention for the Ballon d’Or.
#4 Paul Pogba (Juventus/France)
The youngest player in team 2015 FIFA Team of the Year, 22-year-old Paul Pogba has taken rapid strides to develop into a top world-class midfielder in recent years. While the player finished only 15th in the 2015 Ballon d’Or voting with less than 1% votes, he has talent and age on his side to convert his potential into performances and become the leading footballer in the world.
The central midfielder is equally comfortable in attack and defence and this dual ability sets him apart from any other player in this list whose role is to primarily attack (or in case of Neuer – goalkeeping).
Pogba, who was part of the Manchester United youth team but opted against signing a new contract because of lack of opportunities, has become a key player for the Juventus side, which has been dominating Italian domestic football and also been a major force in Europe in recent times. He has been an important player for the French national team as well, and his performances at the 2014 World Cup won him the Best Young Player of the Tournament award.
The young midfielder has started the 2015-16 season strongly for Juventus with 5 goals and 5 assists so far apart from being a vital cog in the team’s defensive unit.
#3 Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich/Poland)
The Polish national team captain Lewandowski has been enjoying rich goal-scoring form in recent times. Some consider him to be a major reason why Poland qualified for Euro 2016 ahead of Scotland and the striker finished the Euro qualifiers as the leading goal-scorer with a record haul of 13 goals in the qualifying campaign.
Lewandowski has been scoring goals for fun for both Poland as well as Bayern Munich. The feat of scoring five goals in nine minutes for Bayern against Wolfsburg has been a major highlight and the striker averages close to one goal every game this season. Apart from his goals tally, Lewandowski also has a very impressive conversion rate (goals on attempted shots) in excess of 30%.
Lewandowski was tipped to make it to the top 3 for the 2015 Ballon d’Or, and was ultimately ranked fourth in the list and missed out on a spot in the Team of Year with the top three trio of Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar forming the team’s attack. But the 27-year-old has age on his side and if he continues his goal-scoring run, he will be in the reckoning for the prestigious football honour.
#2 Gareth Bale (Real Madrid/Wales)
Bale, who is the world’s most expensive player, has been a key player for Real Madrid after his record-fee move in 2013, but has often been in the shadows of Cristiano Ronaldo around whom the team is often built. But being 4 years younger than the Portugal captain, Bale has time on his side and is likely to take up the mantle of being the team’s super star when Ronaldo decides to move to another club or his performances show a decline as he grows older.
Another option for Bale is to move to Manchester United, a club he has been often linked with. If the move does go through, he would be the main player in the team and after succeeding in the Premier League with Tottenham previously, Bale can aspire for higher glories at Old Trafford.
Bale has been in excellent form in recent times, having scored 8 goals and assisted 2 in the last 4 matches for Madrid. While the team has seen a change of managers, Bale will look to continue the good run under new boss Zinedine Zidane. Apart from his achievements at club level, Bale has also been a key player for the impressive Welsh national team which has qualified for Euro 2016 and achieved their highest ever world-ranking of 8.
Bale managed a 16th rank in the 2015 Ballon d’Or list and didn’t feature in the World XI but many, including teammate Luka Modric and football journalist Guillem Balague, have tipped Bale to feature among the strong contenders for Ballon d’Or in the coming years.
#1 Neymar (Barcelona/Brazil)
Neymar has been tipped by many, including Kaka – the last player other than Messi and Ronaldo to win the Ballon d’Or - to go on to win the prestigious award in the coming years and the most likely to threaten the duopoly of the two players.
The second runner-up in the 2015 Ballon d’Or, Neymar has been in excellent form for both Barcelona and Brazil national side. In the current season, with Messi out due to injury, Neymar stepped up and excelled to ensure that Barcelona didn’t suffer any blip in performances in the absence of the side’s talismanic player.
The forward has formed a deadly attacking partnership with Messi and Luis Suarez which scored a phenomenal 180 goals in calendar year 2015 and helped the Barcelona side win almost every honour. In the ongoing season, Neymar has scored 22 goals and 11 assists so far.
Still only 23-years-old, Neymar has scored over 250 goals in his professional career so far for Santos, Barcelona and Brazil, and there’s promise of achieving more laurels and glory in the coming years – including the coveted Ballon d’Or award.