Year after year, experts and voters alike at the end of the calendar year have the difficult task of picking their winner of FIFA's most prestigious award, the Ballon D"or.
Most years they come to the decision based on which player is the most on form, coupled with the most individual achievements or trophies for their club. Yet, there comes one time every four years where there is a major change up and the rankings are no longer based on the performance at club level, but at the biggest sporting event in history, the World Cup.
Barring the 2010 World Cup, every single Ballon D'or winner has come from a World Cup winning side. So just as a refresher: 1990, Lothar Matthaus (Germany). 1994, Romario (Brazil). 1998, Zinadine Zidane (France). 2002, Ronaldo (Brazil). 2006, Fabio Cannavaro (Italy).
Even after Lionel Messi took the award in the 2010 season, many believed that that Andres Iniesta or Wesley Sneijder were more deserving of the award, based on how their brilliant performances led their respective national teams to the final. Messi himself said he thought that Iniesta was the most deserving of the award for all that he was able to achieve on the international stage, and also the game winning goal that led to Spain's first World Cup in history.
When reviewing their club form over the past three to four years, it's easy to accept why Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are constantly battling for the number one and two spots in the world. However, their international form has constantly undermined their claim to be considered amongst the "greatest" to ever play the game.
Whilst Messi and Ronaldo's international form has been underwhelming for sometime, it could be entirely possible for a star player from a real contender for the World Cup to emerge as a real, Ballon D'Or contender for 2014, and break the norm of Ronaldo and Messi being the only considerations for the award.
Bastian Schweinsteiger- Germany, Bayern Munich:
What else is there to say about the Bayern Munich and German central midfielder that hasn't been said before? He has been the heart and soul of these sides for so long that he has really established himself amongst the greatest midfielders in the game today. If Schweinsteiger can keep up his great form for his club up until the World Cup, he will be a vital part to any German success in Brazil. Whether he is adding goals or being a rock in defence, he has the chance to be the key leader for a very talented German side.
Andrea Pirlo- Italy, Juventus:
Even when Italy have looked at their worse, there has always been the never ending genius of the Italian maestro, Andrea Pirlo. If Euro 2012 wasn't enough proof for you that Pirlo still is the best deep-lying playmaker in world football today, then I'm sure he will have no problem proving the world wrong again in 2014.
Capable at any moment of finding a forward from fifty yards away, carving a defence with the final ball, or taking our breath away with one of his magical free-kicks, Pirlo is overdue for recognition as the world's best.
Italy are always a threat no matter how out of form they may seem and with Pirlo leading the team, 2014 could lead to success in personal and team achievements.
Robin Van Persie- Netherlands, Manchester United:
While the Dutch have never lacked at producing world-class players at every position, they have had trouble winning that elusive World Cup trophy. Making three appearances in the World Cup finals (including the 2010 World Cup) shows that they're more than capable of being a force to reckon with in Brazil. Led by Holland's all time goal scorer, this may be Van Persie's last chance to make a huge impact on the Holland squad.
On form, Van Persie is one of, if not the most lethal striker in the world, and with plenty of creative players around him, he could have a huge impact and lead Holland deep into the World Cup. If he can find the form that led United to the Premier League title last season, he will be a serious contender for the Ballon D'or next year.
Neymar- FC Barcelona, Brazil:
The new Barcelona and Brazil prodigy will be the most watched player (other than Messi) come 2014 in Brazil. Expectations to lead Brazil to a World Cup have never weighed so much on one player before and while Neymar's documented inconsistencies against top level teams are well observed, he is a player well worth watching.
He has recently been looked at to replace Messi while he was injured, and while he may not have succeeded as much as people hoped, this is still a player an unlimited amount of talent. Capable of performing a piece of magic at any time during the match, he can be the influence that leads Brazil to a successful, if not winning World Cup. If there is one player who will make the difference to Brazil winning the World Cup, it is Neymar, and if he is lifting the trophy in his home country in July, you can almost guarantee he will be a huge part of it.
Sergio Aguero- Manchester City, Argentina:
What better story would there be if the son-in-law of Argentina's great Diego Maradona would be a part of Argentina winning a World Cup in their biggest rivals home territory. Aguero has been in absolute scintillating form this season and while Lionel Messi is always a huge reason as to how Argentina perform, Aguero is more than capable of being the star of this team.
It is well known that Messi has been asked to take the play-making role whilst playing for Argentina and this could actually limit the contributions he has for the team. You can always count on Sergio to make just as many magical moments as Messi and if he has able to be the leading goal scorer, while simultaneously leading to Argentina to glory in the World Cup, it would be hard to ignore this incredible player.
It's almost too easy to chose Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to be the Ballon D'Or winner for the next couple of years! Let the debate begin on who could possibly overtake the prestigious award!
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