Football

Messi on the cusp of historic Ballon d'Or win

Messi has won the last three Ballon d'Or awards (©GettyImages)
Messi has won the last three Ballon d'Or awards (©GettyImages).

When it comes to Lionel Messi, records tumble seemingly week by week, and the Barcelona superstar is on the cusp of another - perhaps the most historic of his career so far.

With three Ballon d'Or awards, the Argentinian is currently tied with some of the all-time greats - the likes of Johan Cruyff, Michel Platini, and Marco Van Basten.

Now, eurocentric rules prohibited Diego Maradona and Pele from winning the award - non-European players were not eligible until 1985 - and it's debatable whether one of the pair would have surpassed the current record. It's likely, but it's purely hypothetical.

With Maradona and Pele out of the picture, players like Kevin Keegan, Paolo Rossi, Gianni Rivera and Florian Albert won the award - great players, but not among the greatest ever.

Still, Messi can become the first to win four.

The FIFA Ballon d'Or, as it become known in 2009, has a messy history. Originally a vote among journalists conducted by French magazine France Football, the Ballon d'Or aimed to select the best European player playing in Europe.

That changed in 1985 when non-European players became eligible for the first time, but only on the condition that they played in Europe. George Weah then became the first non-European to win the award that very same year.

It was then altered again in 2007 to include any player in the world. Football's a global game, it makes sense for the world's best to be considered, regardless of location.

But, there was a problem. FIFA wanted in on this annual presentation, and in 1991 the governing body created it's own rival award - the FIFA World Player of the Year.

So, for a brief period the world's best players could scoop two awards - the Ballon d'Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year.

That era ended in 2010, when the FIFA World Player of the Year and France Football's Ballon d'Or merged to become the FIFA Ballon d'Or.

Discounting the World Player of the award - it's since been disbanded - Messi has two FIFA Ballon d'Ors and one original Ballon d'Or, while Cruyff, Platini, and Van Basten have three original Ballon d'Ors.

Brazil legend Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane have three World Player of the Year awards, while Ronaldo has two Ballon d'Ors and Zidane one.

In January 2013, Messi can make history, becoming the first player to win four Ballon d'Ors, and the first to win four in consecutive years. Whether you think it makes him the best player ever is besides the point. Maradona and Pele - his two chief rivals - were not eligible, so no matter how many Ballon d'Or awards Messi wins, he cannot be compared to his South American peers in terms of this individual silverware.

After an 82-goal season for club and country, the Argentinian is the favourite, but he faces competition from Cristiano Ronaldo - a player for whom it would be unjust if he finished with just one Ballon d'Or. Here is a run down of how the Ballon d'Or league table currently stands.

Do you think Messi will win this year, and if he does scoop an unprecedented fourth, does that make him the best ever?

Johan Cruyff - 3 Ballon d'Or - 1971, 1973, 1974

Michel Platini - 3 Ballon d'Or - 1983,1984,1985

Marco Van Basten - 3 Ballon d'Or - 1988,1989, 1992

Lionel Messi - 1 Ballon d'Or, 2 FIFA Ballon d'Or - 2009, 2010, 2011

Ronaldo - 2 Ballon d'Or - 1997, 2002

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