The fact that people are already discussing the next winner of the FIFA Ballon d’Or is testament to the players who are certain to contest it.
Whilst UEFA president Michel Platini has tried his best to create an award of similar stature with the ‘Best Player in Europe’, it simply lacks the mystique and grandeur that comes with the Ballon d’Or.
Merged in 2010 with the FIFA World Player of the Year, the new award is based on votes from coaches and captains of international teams, as well as some of world football’s top journalists.
And, in both the inaugural year and 2011, it’s Argentine playmaker Lionel Messi who has been crowned the very best player on the planet.
In 2010, he beat teammates Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez into second and third, whilst Cristiano Ronaldo and Xavi occupied those places in 2011.
The general consensus this year is that ‘the big two’ – Messi and Ronaldo – will once again be fighting it out for the top honour, and that the Portuguese winger might finally gets one over on his great Argentine adversary.
Whilst the Barcelona star scored 73 goals for the Catalan giants, and over 80 when you include goals for his country, he didn’t help his team win as many trophies as normal. Notably, their La Liga dominance was ended by Madrid, for whom Ronaldo was the star of the show.
He scored 60 goals in 55 games, and then went on to inspire Portugal to the Euro 2012 semi-final, when a penalty shootout ended their chances of a dream run to the final. Had they gone all the way, Paolo Maldini is in no doubt that the Ballon d’Or would be his.
“I don't think that the Ballon d'Or is possible (for Andrea Pirlo). Messi and Ronaldo's seasons were better, and Ronaldo will definitely win it if he goes to the final with Portugal," said the Italian legend.
Compatriot Luis Figo, who played for both Madrid and Barcelona in a controversial career, has also given his backing to Ronaldo to win the award.
"Ronaldo has done everything possible in order to win [the Ballon d'Or]," he said.
However, Barcelona’s top players have attempted to stem the flow of love for Ronaldo, with Messi himself suggesting that Xavi and Iniesta should once again be in the running to claim the trophy.
Rather than blowing his own trumpet for the award, he simply suggested that the trophy should remain in the Nou Camp dressing room, rather than travelling across Spain to the Santiago Bernabeu.
"There's still a long way to go before we know the winner of the Ballon d'Or. We don't even know the nominees yet. Those who are in charge of it will have to decide who wins it," Messi told the world’s press yesterday.
"I would like it if the Ballon d'Or remains in the Barca dressing-room. Hopefully, Iniesta or Xavi can win the award. They would deserve it for everything they've done in recent years and at Euro 2012. The more Barcelona players are nominated for the Ballon d'Or, the better it is for the club."
Javier Mascherano has followed-up his compatriots comments today, again responding to media questions about the FIFA Ballon d’Or five month before the announcement will be made.
The versatile Barcelona midfielder put his weight behind Messi, and also predicted a potential one-two-three for the club reminiscent of 2010.
"The Ballon d'Or is an individual trophy. I'd give it to Messi. Then Xavi and Iniesta. Messi scored 80+ goals, that's madness," said the former Liverpool star.
This year’s race for the FIFA Ballon d’Or has certainly divided opinion inside the world of football, and with time to still swing votes one way or the other at the start of the new season, it's a debate that will keep on running until Sepp Blatter opens the golden envelope!
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