Since the 23 man shortlist of the FIFA Ballon d’Or was announced, there has been a lot of debate and discussion over who deserves to take home the prize. Cristiano Ronaldo is odds on favourite to retain his crown as the best player in the world, with Lionel Messi as the second favourite at the bookmakers.
As this is a World Cup year, there are those who feel that someone else deserves to win though and support for other candidates is growing. These other candidates are of course members of the German World Cup winning squad; namingly Manuel Neuer and Thomas Muller. However, while both of the Bayern stars are world class players in their own right; there is still no one out there that deserves to break the duopoly that Ronaldo and Messi have held over the trophy since 2008.
In an ordinary World Cup year it would be perfectly normal for one of Germany’s squad to be favourite to win the award. Neuer, Kroos, Gotze and Muller would all have a great chance of winning. The same way that in 2006, Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro won it; or in 2002 Brazilian Ronaldo won it etc. But we are living in a time when we have two abnormally good footballers, who are scoring unparalleled numbers of goals and breaking records on a weekly basis, battling it out with one another to be the best; perhaps even of all time. In the next 7 days alone, Messi can become the all time top scorer in Spanish league history and Champions League history. While Ronaldo is one goal closer to Raul’s Champions League record than Messi is. He will have the chance to break that record a day sooner than Messi when he lines up against Liverpool next Tuesday.
From a personal standpoint, I’ve always held the two on a level playing field, even now when more people seem to opine that the Portuguese has the upperhand. People said Messi had a bad season last year, but he still scored 41 goals in 46 appearances. His “bad year” is twice as good as most of the best players in the game. Ronaldo was said to be finished at the end of last season. He carried an injury into the back end of the campaign and hobbled around Brazil on a dodgy knee. At 29 years old his best years were behind him. This season though, he had scored 20 goals before the winter ball was even introduced. He has 16 goals in eight league games. As for Messi, he has nine goals and nine assists this season, as he takes on a more unselfish role under Luis Enrique.
No one in history has done what they are doing and certainly not for as long as they’ve been doing it. Between them they have shared that past six Ballon d’Or trophies (Messi 4, Ronaldo 2) and they have been the top scorers in the Champions League for the past seven seasons. Last season Ronaldo scored 17 in the competition, smashing Jose Altafini’s 51 year old record of 14 goals; which Messi had previously equalled in 2012. Since the European Cup became the Champions League in 92/93 only one player had ever scored more than 10 goals in a single campaign, Ronaldo and Messi have done it twice each in the last four seasons. It’s a similar story in La Liga, where Ronaldo broke Hugo Sanchez’ record of 38 goals in 2011. Only for it to be beaten by Messi a year later. Ronaldo is on course to beat it again this season.
Over the years many great footballers have come and gone but even the very best players have a lifespan of two to three years at the very top. What Ronaldo and Messi are doing is unprecedented. Messi may have started the season slowly but rest assured he will go through a purple patch similar to the one Ronaldo has had over the past month and a half at least once this season. Both have said in the past that there is no personal rivalry but to think that they don’t keep an eye on each other would be naïve. They push each other further and further each season and since Ronaldo joined Barcelona’s great rivals in 2009 it has been a barbaric battle for supremacy.
One day their dominance will come to and end. When that happens discussion about who should win the Ballon d’Or will be a more interesting debate and players that help their country win the World Cup will once again be the frontrunners for the award.
Until then though, there are two players on a completely different level to all others, and they’re the only two that deserve to be named the best in the world.