Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Manuel Neuer will vie for the tag of the best player in the world for 2014 when the FIFA Ballon d’Or is announced in Zurich on Monday. Real Madrid star Ronaldo and his long-time rival from Barcelona Lionel Messi have dominated the prestigious award in recent years, but are on this occasion face strong competition from Germany’s World Cup winning goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. The world’s top male player is just one of the awards up for grabs at the gala. The Women’s World Player of the year and male and female coaches of the year will be decided, as with the Ballon d’Or, voted on by journalists from the creators of the Ballon d’Or, France Football magazine, and coaches and captains from every FIFA nation. Here’s the full rundown.
Ronaldo is a strong favorite to win the award he claimed for the second time 12 months ago after a sensational year. As well as scoring a frankly preposterous 56 goals in 51 appearances for Real Madrid, he also improved as a team player, adding 21 assists and helping the Spanish giants win an unprecedented 10th European Cup as well as adding the Club World Cup. The major disappointment was an injury-impacted disappointing showing with Portugal at the World Cup.
Messi, four-time world player of the year, did deliver on the World Cup stage, playing a major part in helping Argentina to the final. But in the latter stages there were signs of the slight physical depreciation that has seen him, despite his continued brilliance, still just a little shy of his world-beating peak. It is impossible to compare outfield players with a goalkeeper, but there can be no doubt that Neuer deserves his place in the final three and it would even be hard to begrudge him walking away with the trophy. The Bayern Munich man’s evolution of the goalkeeping position toward more of a sweeper role was essential in Germany winning the World Cup this summer.
Women’s World Player of the Year
Five-time winner Marta is joined on the shortlist by 2012 winner Abby Wambach and German first-time finalist Nadine Kessler. The 26-year-old Wolfsburg midfielder has a good chance of walking home with the crown, too, having taken UEFA’s Best Women’s Player in Europe Award for last season, on the back of winning Bundesliga and Champions League titles. She also helped Germany cruise through qualification for the 2015 World Cup. Marta, while maybe not displaying the form that saw her dominate the award between 2006 and 2010, did score a memorable hat-trick for Brazil in a friendly against the United States last month. Wambach, meanwhile, scored 14 times in 19 appearances for the U.S. team to take her world-record international scoring tally to 177.
Men’s Coach of the Year
Both Joachim Löw and Carlo Ancelotti recorded tremendous achievements in 2014. Löw, having played such a prominent role in revolutionizing the German national team over the past decade, delivered the trophy his country craved by ending their 24-year wait to win the World Cup. Ancelotti, meanwhile, managed to balance both the dressing room and the lineup of an incredible collection of attacking stars to deliver Real Madrid an unprecedented and long-sought 10th European Cup.
It speaks volumes for his accomplishments, then, that surely the prize will be heading to Diego Simeone. What the Argentinean achieved in 2014 is arguably unmatched in a modern era where success is so much dictated by finances. Taking over at a club that was on the floor when he arrived in 2011, Simeone continued his stunning revival of Atletico Madrid to best the dominant duo of Real Madrid and Barcelona over a 38-match league season. Incredibly, Atletico were just 90 seconds away from adding the Champions League, too.
Women’s Coach of the Year
After winning the award in 2011 for leading Japan to World Cup victory, Norio Osaski is back in the running this time, thanks largely to leading his country to the Asian Women’s Cup glory for the first time. He will be up against strong competition in the form of last-year’s runner-up Ralf Kellermann, mastermind of Wolfsburg’s successful defense of the Women’s Champions League, and Maren Meinert, who won her seconds successive Under-20 World Cup as coach of the German side.
The only award voted on by fans will see the best goal of 2014 decided. The World Cup dominates the final three, with Robin van Persie’s majestic diving header for the Netherlands against Spain and James Rodríguez’s incredible chest and volley in Colombia’s Round of 16 victory against Uruguay in the running. Joining them is a goal scored in very different surroundings: Stephanie Roche’s effort for Peamount United against Wexford youths in Ireland’s Women’s National League. But the first woman to be shortlisted for the award, which is named after the Hungarian great Ferenc Puskás, more than merits her place for the brilliant juggling and unstoppable volley.