As Cristiano Ronaldo looks poised for a fifth Ballon d’Or of his career, it would officially mark a decade long domination of this coveted award by two of football’s all time greats, Ronaldo and his Argentine counterpart Lionel Messi. But who will break Messi and Ronaldo’s duopoly over the Ballon d’Or?
The Ballon d’Or or the Golden Ball, since its inception in 1956, had been awarded to the best European player till the year 1995 when it was expanded to consider all the players involved at European clubs. The award was made a global one in 2007 and was merged with the FIFA World Player of the Year award from 2010 to 2015 which was subsequently called the FIFA Ballon d’Or.
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Before these two legends entered the fray, it was Michel Platini, Johan Cryff and Marco van Basten who shared the record for winning the most number of Golden Balls with three awards each. It was in 2007 that the duo found their way into the top 3 of this crown for the very first time, and after that there was no looking back. For the next nine years, it was Messi and Ronaldo who shared the title, with the Argentine claiming 5 of those. Their exploits have propelled their club sides Real Madrid and Barcelona to dominate world football during the last ten years.
It would take a huge dip in form for these two men to let anyone else even have a slight glimmer of hope of attaining this acclaim. Considering the possibility that something like that might occur as both of them move slowly towards the twilight of their career, we can have a peep into the possible contenders for this prize after these two.
The 26-year-old Frenchman seems to the best bet to dethrone Messi and Ronaldo for the Ballon dÓr. Leading the line for Atlético Madrid, Griezmann has managed to amass astunning 60 goals in just 111 appearances. His contributions had a major role in Los Rojiblancos reaching the final of the UEFA Champions League last year.
He also played a major part in France’s run to the Euro 2016 final. His efforts saw him finish third for the Ballon dÓr last year. Despite his small frame, Griezmann does pack a punch when it comes to finishing off chances. Blessed with the ability to create opportunities on his own, matching it with the required pace, skill and vision puts Griezmann as a firm contender for the award in the future.
Messi’s Barcelona teammate Neymar will also have a strong say in these matters. Just like Griezmann, the Brazilian has also been in the top 3 of this prize in the past. Neymar has been prolific with both club and country, notching up an impressive 52 goals in just 77 appearances for the seleçào.
His record for Barca stands at 68 goals from 123 appearances. The 25-year-old forward is gifted with the dribbling skills that you normally associate Brazilians with, tricks and playmaking ability, often drawing comparisons to Brazil legend Ronaldinho. He also has the capability of stepping up in big games just like he did when Barca managed to overturn a 4-0 first leg deficit against PSG last season.
Another strong candidate for winning this prize in the near future would be Chelsea’s Belgian winger Eden Hazard. Hazard had a fantastic 2016-17 season with his club winning the Barclays Premier League title and reaching the FA Cup final. The 26-year-old is known for his speed, technical ability and creative prowess, prompting his former manager José Mourinho to describe him at the same level as that of Ronaldo and Messi.
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Hazard also won the PFA Player’s Player of the Year award in Chelsea’s title winning campaign from 2014-15. Not surprisingly enough, he is being linked with a move to Real Madrid as a replacement for the outgoing Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Germany and Bayern Munich goalkeeper is the only player in his position to have featured in the top 3 of this award in the last ten years. Often dubbed as a “sweeper keeper”, the 31-year-old is known for his speed when coming off his line, excellent reflexes and shot stopping ability, quick distribution, control, and commanding presence in front of goal.
The 6’4” world cup winner has won all the major trophies at club level. He was awarded the Golden Glove at the last World Cup and has also been named UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year four times. But time is not on his side as he tries to become just the second goalkeeper ever to win this prestigious title.
The same can’t be said about the 23-year-old Argentine forward who plies his trade in the Serie A with Turin based club Juventus, as he has got plenty of time under his belt to realise his full potential and grab this honour with both hands. Known for his pace and great eye for goal, Dybala managed to earn himself a big money move to Juve in 2015, where he has shown that he can also be a creative engine for the side with his incredible technique.
At this young tender age, people have already started comparing him to his Argentine counterpart Messi due to their similar playing styles. Dybala had made a huge impact with Juve’s double winning side, which also found its way into the Champions League final.
David De Gea
The Manchester United shot stopper is arguably one of the best goalkeepers in the world and probably the best in the English league right now, after being part of the PFA Team of the Year in four of the last five seasons. He also got the rare accolade of becoming the only goalkeeper to win the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award which is given to United fans’ player of the season.
The 26-year-old Spaniard is renowned for his ability with his feet, agility, shot stopping skills and also his presence inside the penalty box. Despite starting off his United career in a very fragile manner, De Gea has managed to turn it around and has transformed himself into becoming the one to watch out for in the race for this prize in years to come.
De Gea’s United teammate and France international Paul Pogba became the world’s most expensive footballer when he signed for a fee of £89.3m from Juventus. The 24-year-old mainly operates mainly as a central midfielder and has evolved into a powerful and creative enforcer with the necessary skills and energy to go with it.
He also has the innate ability to pull something spectacular out of the bag and certainly possess an eye for a goal. He was the one who was pulling the strings in the midfield for the Juve team that made it into the UCL final in 2015.
This list could go on and on and on, with the likes of Dele Alli, Harry Kane, Gabriel Jesus, Marcus Rashford, Marco Asensio, Kylian Mbappé, Ousmane Dembele all showing a lot of promise and turning themselves into aspirants for the Ballon d’Ór in the future. But considering their performance in the last season, it can be safely assumed that they are not the finished products yet. Maybe five to six years from now it could be these players who could become the favourites for the Golden Ball.