Top 10: Players to challenge Lionel Messi & Cristiano Ronaldo for Ballon d'Or
Which players are best positioned to end Messi and Ronaldo's dominance of the coveted award?
Though who truly comes out on top is a matter for debate, it is fair to say Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are undisputedly the two best players on the planet, and both are young enough to dominate for several years yet.
Here we take a look at the potential challengers for their crown as world's top player:
A prolific goal scorer at Napoli, Cavani has arguably been the best player in Serie A over the last couple of seasons. Another fantastic season during 2012-13 has seen him find the back of the net 31 times in 37 games, and a long rumoured transfer to one of Europe's footballing giants may be what turns him into a true great.
Radamel Falcao has been a revelation since arriving in Europe with Porto in 2009. Now at Atletico Madrid, his goals have helped them challenge their more illustrious neighbours this year. Another who is being tipped to move to the European elite for big money, he will need to start meeting the goal scoring figures of Messi and Ronaldo to be alongside them.
Despite being only 20-years-old Götze is nevertheless the most exciting of an extraordinary batch of young German players. This season has seen him take his form onto the European stage, helping Borussia Dortmund into the Champions League semi-finals.
Legendary Franz Beckenbauer has been effusive in his praise of the youngster, claiming "it is not possible to stop Mario Götze, he has the same assets as Messi." High praise indeed, and within a couple of years we will all have a better idea just how good he can be.
As he develops, Gareth Bale exhibits more and more of the abilities shown by the very best in the world. He has already won the PFA Player of the Year in England, and this season his game has risen several levels, leading to several in the sport rating him only marginally behind Messi and Ronaldo. While such statements may be a little early, he is arguably the most complete footballer around, having the ability to play fullback as well as any attacking position. Whether he can genuinely rise to the very top at Tottenham is debatable, as he will need to be helping teams to titles at some point.
Iniesta is the oldest player on the list at 28, though arguably he is the closest to their level already. His ability and influence for both Barcelona and Spain are already common knowledge, and he is one of the most respected football players around. Like his midfield partner Xavi, he is capable of continuing his wonderful football well into his thirties.
At one point Wayne Rooney was earmarked as a future best player in the world and at times with Manchester United, he has flirted with making a serious case for it. Recently however, his importance to United has seemed to diminish somewhat, with Robin van Persie garnering the majority of the praise afforded to their attacking players this season. His excellent performance in midfielder against Stoke however means Rooney still has a lot to offer the world of football. He will need to once more become the fulcrum for United to truly challenge Messi and Ronaldo.
Probably the most sought after player not currently plying his trade in Europe, Neymar has undeniably dominated South American football since his debut for Santos in 2009. Still just 21, he has racked up over 130 goals in just 214 games, many scored with outstanding flair and swagger.
The big question remains as to whether he can do similar things in a stronger league. Rumours of a move to Barcelona or Real Madrid may mean we find out sooner than later. It will be intriguing to see him adapt to which ever world class team have the chequebook to acquire him.
One player who has comfortably moved from player of genuine promise to actual superstar is Eden Hazard. After starring for Lille as they won their first ever Ligue 1 title, winning French player of the year two years in a row, he moved to Chelsea for a huge £32 million fee. He immediately settled in, scoring and creating goals at will. Ball boys around the country may wince, but it’s likely that Hazard will be an even greater influence next season.
If you said Luis Suarez has been the best player in England this year it would be hard to disagree. Current Premier League top scorer and general live wire, Suarez has impressed in nearly every game he has played for Liverpool all season, and has complimented his skill with the work ethic. Like Gareth Bale, if he can't reach such levels with his present club he may have to move to an already established European force.
As with Suarez, Aguero has an outstanding goal record wherever he has played and has been an intrinsic part in bringing Manchester City their first title for nearly half a century. His year has been interrupted by injury this season, and City have missed his threat up front. He may have to inspire his team to greater success in Europe in order to edge closer towards his countryman Messi.
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