Who Will Win the 2016 Ballon d'Or?
For the last eight years Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have monopolised the Ballon d`Or and many would argue, unopposed, deservedly so. But for 2016 there are big questions being asked if there is anyone around who can push either of those megastars all the way or even push them down into second and third place.
There are many worthy candidates among the 30 nominees, some worthier than others. There are some surprise names too but there is one major factor that may have some bearing on who eventually picks up the golden ball.
After a six year partnership between FIFA and France Football during which the award was a combined award, with Lionel Messi lifting the last of them in 2015, both organisations reverted to the previous formats of FIFA World Player of the Year and Ballon d`Or. France Football announced the 30 man list of nominees for the latter, with one or two notable absentees, amongst them Mezut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez.
Antoine Griezmann is perhaps the most fancied of outsiders to thwart Ronaldo and Messi. The French striker was instrumental in his club Atletico Madrid reaching the Champions` League Final and France reaching the Final of Euro 2016, on both occasions losing to sides captained by Cristiano Ronaldo. However, the Atletico player was recently voted La Liga Player of the Year, which, like the Golden Globe relationship with the eventual Oscar winners, is a decent indicator as to the destination of the Golden Ball.
Jamie Vardy is the only Englishman on the list following his 24 goal haul that helped spearhead Leicester City to the Premier League title. However, despite his unprecedented rise from non-league football to England international and FWA Footballer of the Year, he has struggled to regain his electric form of last season.
Leicester team mate Riyad Mahrez also makes the list of nominees and like Vardy he resisted lucrative offers to leave the Premier League champions. However, unlike Vardy, Mahrez is still producing on the field though neither are likely to feature on the Ballon d`Or podium.
Gareth Bale is a strong contender to finish in the top four of the voting after successfully riding out a spell of indifferent form for Real Madrid and helping them win the Champions` League as well as being the driving force behind Wales` Euro 2016 adventure. Momentum which has been maintained as Wales strive to qualify for their first World Cup since 1958. His recent record six year contract extension at Real with massive weekly pay, reportedly over £600,000, is perhaps likely to be the only example of him finishing ahead of Ronaldo.
Luis Suarez has been exceptional since he moved to Barcelona and in `growing up` his stature in the world game has also gone stratospheric and last season he outscored Messi to claim 59 goals in 52 games. Barca team mate Neymar has also grown up and matured into a much better all-round player than when he first arrived at the Camp Nou. Now there is much more to his game than simply scoring goals and the chemistry with Suarez and Messi, which saw them produce 130 goals and 77 assists last season, makes them the deadliest attacking trio in world football.
Sergio Aguero is quite simply the deadliest striker in, arguably, the most demanding top flight league in the world and for five years he has been the top ranked attacker in that league. He has scored 149 goals in 188 games for Manchester City and has taken the crown for minutes played for goals scored from Thierry Henry, averaging a goal every 109 minutes.
However meritorious the aforementioned are and however worthy any of them would be to win the award the top two names for the Ballon d`Or will be the same ones as the previous eight years.
Despite brief spells of indifferent form - a relative word INDIFFERENT because we are of course referring to Messi where normal does not apply- his goal stats are ridiculous. He has netted 478 in 575 appearances and at 29 still has many more mesmerising years ahead of him as well as years to continue his media-induced rivalry with fellow Ballon d`Or monopolist Ronaldo. However, and this may be the critical factor in this year`s voting, on the international trophy front Portugal`s Euro 2016 triumph may well seal it for the Real Madrid player.
The higher you go in world football the more cutting and `persuasive` politics become and I doubt you will get long odds AGAINST the name of Cristiano Ronaldo appearing on the trophy come January.
Written by Brian Beard.