This year’s FIFA Ballon d’Or award will go to Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or Franck Ribery after the three top contenders were announced on Monday.
Messi is vying to lift the award for the year’s best player for an incredible fifth-straight time. However, his title has never been under such threat as in 2013.
The main reason is that, by his almost unprecedented high standards, Messi has had a disappointing 12 months. Much of that blip has been due to injuries. At the climax of club football’s biggest stage, Messi was rendered completely ineffective as Barcelona went down 4-0 in the first leg of their semifinal to Bayern Munich.
Clearly not fully fit, he wasn’t even put on the field for the second leg. Those nagging muscular injuries, which he previously avoided, have continued into this season and, after playing below top gear, he is now ruled out until the New Year.
Messi's statistics still make hugely impressive reading. He has scored at a rate of exactly a goal per game for Barcelona in his 39 appearances. At the international level, he has long since dispelled the critics that questioned his record for Argentina. The 26-year-old finished as South America’s top scorer in World Cup qualifying. Yet, having made little impact on the year’s standout competition, and troubled by injuries for much of the past year, it would be hard to say that, while he may still be the world’s best player, that he has had the best year.
In contrast to Messi, Ribery was a key player in the Champions League, with his performances helping Bayern Munich to lift the trophy in May. Indeed, in terms of silverware neither of his two rivals for the award can come close to the France international. Not only did Bayern take possession of the European Cup, but they claimed an extraordinary treble to complete a historic season and an incredible turnaround from missing out at the death for the Bundesliga, German Cup and Champions League the previous campaign.
Much of that success was built on a phenomenal hunger that manifested itself in a new commitment to working without the ball. And Ribery was fully on board with that, adding the work rate to his talents on the ball. With 22 assists during the year, Ribery is primarily a creator and, although he is on course for his best season to date, he is still far from a prolific scorer.
Ribery is a key part of the best team of the year, but his impact on his side is less than his rivals for the award. While there is generally a clamor to pick a winner from the team that won the biggest trophy, the Ballon d’Or is an individual award and, with that in mind, there can only be one winner.
And everything is pointing toward Cristiano Ronaldo picking up the trophy for the second time. For his club, Real Madrid, it has been a difficult and turbulent year and one involving the transition between managers with contrasting styles. Still, one thing has remained constant: Ronaldo’s incredible scoring record. The 28-year-old has struck a phenomenal 57 goals in just 48 appearances for Madrid during the year.
For his country, Portugal, for whom he has not always been at his best, he came good at the crucial time -- the true mark of a world-class player. If there had been any doubt about Ronaldo’s claims to add to the award he won as a Manchester United player in 2008, they were surely ended when he struck an outstanding hat-trick to lift Portugal past Sweden in their World Cup playoff.
Purely by coincidence, it has to be assumed, the voting for the Ballon d’Or -- by the coaches, captains and journalists from every FIFA country -- was extended due to a slow response to meet the deadline occurred after Ronaldo’s heroics.
On the back of a undignified public spat with FIFA president Sepp Blatter, and having gotten a distaste for smiling politely as Messi collected award after award in recent years, it remains to be seen whether Ronaldo will be at the ceremony in Zurich on Jan. 13.
One thing is for sure, though, it should be his name being read out.