The last three Fifa Ballon d’Or awards have all been won by one man: Lionel Messi. 

In each of those years Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Cristiano Ronaldo have been second and third, meaning one missed out altogether. The Ballon d’Or and the Fifa World Player of the Year merged 2010. Messi had won both the previous year.

To win three in a row is unprecedented, let alone four, so I found myself reminiscing about  past winners, which led me to ask: is world football lacking the amount of world-class players it had 15 years ago?

Comparing different eras in football is extremely difficult, so I am going to focus on the years between the turn of the century and the present day.

The reason behind this is that not only does it focus on recent players, but also there isn’t such a big culture difference in football between then and now, as there would be between now and the 60s.

Apart from the aforementioned players, who are undeniably world-class, current players that I believe are amongst those four as the best in the world are as follows: Radamel Falcao, Robin van Persie, Sergio Ramos and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The Man City contingent of David Silva and Sergio Aguero, plus Chelsea’s Juan Mata and Liverpool's Luis Suarez, who have been excellent this season, all are good players, but are they really world-class? Do they rank alongside the likes of former greats such as Lothar Matthaus, Gheorghe Hagi, Patrick Kluivert or Alessandro Del Piero?

Many would be asking where Gareth Bale is. He has had a storming six or so months; however, he isn’t at that level yet - but he will be.

I realise I haven’t mentioned conventional choices such as Arjen Robben, Wayne Rooney or Mesut Ozil, and had this been written four years ago, Frank Lampard would have been a certain inclusion along with Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba.

While some will question my decision to omit Neymar, until he has proven he has what it takes to make it in Europe or on the world stage, he doesn’t deserve to be on a list of this magnitude.

Gianluigi Buffon has been brilliant for a decade, while Manuel Neuer stakes his claim to be the best of the current bunch. It is easy to name drop and speak about players that have been good for their clubs. For example, look at Ashley Cole: he has been a mainstay of both Arsenal and Chelsea and perhaps the best left-back in the world, but would you say he is better than Paolo Maldini?

Between the years of 1997 and 2005 only one player won it twice: Ronaldo. And on every occasion the runner up and third placed player changed.

The likes of Zinedine Zidane, Rivaldo, Pavel Nedved and Andriy Shevchenko all won that prestigious award. This is without mentioning players like Dennis Bergkamp, Luis Figo, Theirry Henry, George Weah and Gabriel Batitsuta.

Ronaldinho was the epitome of brilliance until his lifestyle got in the way and his performances suffered because of it.

While it is easy to remember the brilliance of the attacking player, it would be naive to forget the world-class defenders. For example, the rock that was Jaap Stam; Italian pair Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro; left-backs Bixente Lizaruzu and Roberto Carlos, and right-back Lillian Thuram, with custodians Peter Schmeichel, Fabien Barthez and Olivier Kahn being the last line of defence.

The majority of players mentioned here were instrumental in taking their respective teams to either World Cup or Champions League glory.

So, is Lionel Messi just that good that he makes others look ordinary - or does world football now generally lack the star quality it once had?

 

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