As Cristiano Ronaldo secured his third Ballon d’Or the big question on everybody’s lips is can he match Messi’s record by picking up a fourth in 2014.
Well if he continues in his current form - and let’s be honest, he’s showing no sign of letting up - he will not find it hard to do that. Lionel Messi will undoubtedly be the only one who could stop him from winning the award again next year as the gods of football look set to do battle with each other for years to come yet.
But we take a look at who could secure that all important third spot as a Ballon d’Or nominee. Obviously nobody will come close to Ronaldo and Messi but making it into the final three proves you were the best of the rest. So who stands the best chance of doing that in 2015?
Alexis Sanchez - Chile / Arsenal
Given that 2015 does not feature any major tournament opportunities for the big European players it is the South Americans who will have the best chance to light up the international scene this year.
And after Chile’s impressive display in Brazil they are certainly going to be favourites to win a home Copa America - and if they do Alexis Sanchez will have been the key man, guaranteed.
His change from Barcelona squad player to key man at Arsenal has demonstrated just how talented this man is and if he continues his superhuman form in 2015 he could be odds on to make the Ballon d’Or final three.
Neymar - Brazil / Barcelona
2015 will be a year of re-building for Brazil and Barcelona, neither of which enjoyed the best of times in 2014 - and Neymar will be an important player for both teams. Brazil have the opportunity to atone for the embarrassment of their home World Cup annihilation against Germany with the Copa America.
Neymar has already showed that he can drag an average Brazil side through the rounds in tournament football and will be hoping to do that again in Chile.
As for Barcelona they have had so many off-the-field problems but he has not let that become an excuse as he’s already netted 12 times in 11 league appearances and provided three assists.
And should Messi leave Barcelona (however unlikely) he has the opportunity and the skills to become the next darling of the Nou Camp. And establishing himself in that role could be enough to secure a Ballon d’Or nomination.
Diego Costa - Spain / Chelsea
As 2015 gets underway Chelsea are still fighting on four fronts and stand a decent chance of success in all competitions.
The Spaniard has demonstrated in 2014 that he can score goals against any opposition and in any number of different scenarios so his natural eye for goal will be central to Chelsea’s hopes of an unprecedented quadruple.
If they do achieve the historic feat then Diego Costa will have been unplayable on a consistent basis and FIFA would have no choice to nominate him for the Ballon d’Or.
David de Gea - Spain / Manchester United
The Spanish shot stopper has already cemented his place amongst the best goalkeepers in the world despite still playing second fiddle to Iker Casillas internationally and not playing in the Champions League this year.
If the 24-year-old does make the switch to Real Madrid that all Red Devils’ fans fear it would provide him with the opportunity to become the undisputed best goalkeeper in the world.
Paul Pogba - France / Juventus
The French midfielder has now cemented his place as a first-team regular at Juventus and is proving vital to their campaign to dominate Italian football for a fourth consecutive season.
He’s been a promising talent for some time now and 2015 could very well be his breakout year - his performances at last summer’s World Cup certainly suggested it. His only downside may be that France’s fixture list between now and June 2016 consists of friendlies and will not draw all that much attention to what he can do on the international scene.
Eden Hazard - Belgium / Chelsea
Most people consider the Chelsea midfielder as the only player skilful enough to challenge Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi’s domination of the award.
He’s capable on either foot and is equally adept at both scoring and creating goals. As with Diego Costa, he has the opportunity to inspire an unprecedented quadruple and an opportunity to impress for Belgium in Euro 2016 qualification games.
Gareth Bale - Wales / Real Madrid
Bale has begun to settle into life in Spain and has become both a goal threat and creative catalyst in Real Madrid’s impressive ranks.
If he continues to improve at the same rate he has done over the last three years he could come very close to the Ballon d’Or final three. And if Wales manage to qualify for their first major tournament since 1976 then Bale will have been the driving force behind that.
James Rodriguez - Colombia / Real Madrid
James Rodriguez is another South American with the opportunity to get one over his European opponents by lighting up this year’s Copa America. Colombia showed at the World Cup that they could be the next big thing in international football and will take encouragement from the Uruguay side that won the 2011 Copa America after a break out World Cup in 2010.
Should Colombia deliver on that promise in Chile, James Rodriguez will have worked his magic. He’s also starting to make more progress at Real Madrid and has been involved in 11 goals in 16 league appearances so far for Los Blancos. If he can become more consistent then he’ll have a great year at club level too.
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