The celebrated Ballon d’Or gala - a subtle display of glitz and glamour - was not only a footballing highlight in its own right but also the exalted moment the world has been waiting for with bated breath.
This majestic 2013 ceremony will live long in the memories of Cristiano Ronaldo and his most ardent fans and it is one that shall be remembered by us all as the moment when a true warrior was crowned king. After a goal-laden year for club and country the magician from Madeira claimed the ultimate individual prize.
The Portuguese icon who left Zurich with a Ballon d’Or in his grasp wasn’t reluctant to express his lofty ambitions for a third trophy, come next year. But as for those unfortunate nominees who turned up at the glitzy gala but couldn't come out with there’s always a ‘next time’ to aim for.
And that’s exactly what they are eyeing as their golden opportunity to make it up for the unlucky hit-and-miss. With the momentous World Cup, having carved its name as football’s greatest events, looming even closer, and with no lack of club completion around, 2014 will provide the stage of success for all those with enough talent and audacity to compete.
Almost everyone at the elite footballing level from the reigning Ballon d’Or champion to his bitter rivals are preying an auspicious 2014 to hunt down as their very own year. As we usher the memories of a lost year into a forgotten past long gone, and gaze into the horizon of new days with optimism, we can confidently foretell that there will be the same relentless battle for the Ballon d’Or as there had been on previous occasions.
But we shouldn’t let the obvious signs go unnoticed, for it is these early signs that will accumulate at the very end of the year before the eventual winner is announced live before millions in early 2015.
So here’s my top five favourites for the prestigious award:
1. Lionel Messi ( Argentina / FC Barcelona)
The living legend from Rosario, Lionel Andres Messi may have broken all the records football has ever known, but at only 26 years of age, there are plenty of trophy-laden years yet to come.
For nearly a decade now, the sensational Argentine has been scoring goals for fun in Europe’s top flight as he continues to mesmerise us with his dazzling skills. However in spite setting new heights in world football and amassing a remarkable tally of both goals and assists, the Barcelona forward’s lofty ambitions remains boundless.
Following an injury-plagued season and a rather unimpressive 2013 (by his standards), the Barcelona phenomenon’s Ballon d'Or winning streak came to an abrupt halt when he failed to win the prestigious accolade for the first time since 2009.
After relishing four long years in the limelight as a Ballon d'Or champion, the humble Argentine at long last, had to experience the bitter taste of being second to someone - a
sentiment that is certain to push him one step further in his pursuits of becoming the world’s undisputed number one.
According to the Spanish newspaper MARCA, Messi is now the favourite for the Ballon d’Or 2014 edging the reigning champion Ronaldo who takes up second place. Only days after recovering from a hamstring injury that has haunted him for months, the Argentine is back on track for the heated title race.
The remarkable firepower that he had exhibited early in the season is a sure sign that the determined Argentinian will return at Zurich next time around, stronger than ever before. And when you are the protagonist at a club the size of Barcelona, success at elite level is almost guaranteed.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo ( Portugal/ Real Madrid)
The dawn of 2014 will go down as one of the many highlights in the Portuguese star’s dazzling career. On Monday January 13, Cristiano Ronaldo took home with him the prestigious Ballon d'Or , for the first time since winning it back in 2008, with Manchester United.
After playing second fiddle to Messi’s undisputed dominance for four years, the Madrid superstar finally found an answer to what he thought was an unfair humiliation - by winning the coveted award.
The Madrid luminary concluded his stellar 2013 in sensational fashion; firing Portugal into the World Cup 2014 with four goals entitled to his glorified name. The Portuguese phenomenon continued his unwavering consistency into 2014 - having already found the net four times this season.
Despite playing alongside the Welsh sensation Gareth Bale and some other high-profile players, Ronaldo has always found himself to be in the driving seat of Real’s recent successes.
The Madrid icon has exhibited the epitome of footballing greatness over the span of 2013, and it is quite likely that will continue of his flawless form in the limelight of world attention - and if he indeed does so - then his path to a third Ballon d'Or would remain quite clear, rid of obstacles, lest of course Messi steals the show.
3. Zlatan Ibrahimovic ( Sweden/ Paris Saint-Germain)
The PSG forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic is not only one of football’s most charismatic characters, but is also a thrill to spectate - be it slicing up defences, baffling goalkeepers with free-kicks or simply scoring those ridiculously awe-some goals that are bound to get the nod for the FIFA Puskas Award.
Unsurprisingly, the award for goal of the year went into the hands of the volatile PSG forward, who has by now made himself famous for blasting thrilling and mind-blowing goals into the net.
Though a rather surprising candidate in the list, the mighty Zlatan had enjoyed the pinnacle of his powers during the closing half of 2013 and is evidently continuing his fine form into 2014.
It is thus very likely that Zlatan might have made the three-man shortlist for the Ballon d’Or this year had Ribery not featured in the race for accolade. With Edinson Cavani now having joined ranks at PSG to spearhead their already frightening offence, Ibrahimovic surely has a golden year ahead of him.
Playing at the top order in one of the world’s biggest clubs, should the sensational Swede maintain his subtle form and prowess in front of goal, then he might be lucky enough to snatch away the coveted laurel at Zurich next time around.
4. Luis Suarez (Uruguay / Liverpool FC)
There is no doubt that the Uruguayan sensation Luis Suarez has been one of the biggest entertainers in arguably the world’s best league - the Premier League. With already 22 goals to his name this season, the Liverpool striker had begun 2013 in spectacular fashion – better than many other big names in world football.
Following an embarrassing arm–biting incident with Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic last year, the English media had for long unfairly criticised the Liverpool prodigy for his misdemeanours both on and off the pitch, a treatment that has tempted the Liverpool star to consider a move away from Anfield.
Following a 10-match ban imposed by the FA due to his involvement in such shameful incidents, Suarez returned stronger than ever before . Even his most fervent hater can’t deny that Suarez has been the indisputable best so far among the illustrious elite of the Premier League.
However, at Anfield, the Uruguayan talisman often finds himself the only player performing at such world-class level and may be unable to win anything on his own. But if he, in spite of all the obstacles, continues his performance on the basis of his flawless form that he had exhibited earlier this year, then he may turn out to be one of the top favourites for the prestigious laurel.
5. Neymar Da Silva Jr. ( Brazil/ FC Barcelona )
The Brazilian forward Neymar had been the talk of summer when he made his long-awaited multi-million pund transfer from his boyhood club Santos to Liga giants Barcelona.
Ever since, the 21-year-old has adapted smoothly to life in Catalonia and with only months going into his transfer, the samba star has grown to become an integral part of the club’s regular line-up.
The young Brazilian prodigy led his nation to a sixth Confederations Cup glory on home soil, after a stellar performance in the final where they humiliated the world and European champions Spain in spectacular fashion.
The new star of La Liga , Neymar had put together some quite stunning performances for Barcelona, most notable of whom were his goals in El Classico and Spanish Super Cup final.
Neymar is arguably the protagonist in a star-studded Brazil line-up and considering his young age, there is a bright and dazzling future ahead for the former Santos star. We have seen some quite stellar performances from the Brazil’s prominent icon, I must assure you, they were merely glimpses of his boundless potential.
As he continues to adapt himself to the elite level of Spanish and European soccer , Neymar is sure to unveil his potential befoe the world, come next year. As Brazil aims to recruit a record sixth World Cup glory on home soil under the expert leadership of Felipe Scolari, the nation’s hope would now rest upon Neymar’s slender shoulders to bring home the coveted trophy.
But should the young man flourish for Barcelona and simultaneously fulfil the nation’s expectation that hangs above him then the Barcelona superstar might even come out as a serious contender for the Ballon d’Or title race in Zurich.
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