With Kaka being the last player to claim the prestigious trophy before the Messi-Ronaldo reign, it’s hard to imagine another face pictured with the trophy. Yet, Messi and Ronaldo are ageing and although the Barca star recently claimed his fifth award, the two are edging closer to the dreaded 30s which may mean a decline in form, as Rooney has found out. Others are waiting in the wings, some literally, to claim the Ballon d’Or.
Starting with the man who finished 3rd in this year’s award, Neymar is the heir to Messi’s throne at Barcelona and is already a key man for the Catalans having bagged 15 goals so far this season to become Barcelona’s joint top scorer. The Brazilian is already a leader for his country as well at the age of 23, almost 6 years younger than Messi. Unlike many think, Neymar is also a brilliant team player having laid on 7 assists for teammates this season while having double the key chances created of any other Barca stars with a total of 61. He displays an element of world class in every game he plays in, either with a fancy touch or a stunning goal, with the most memorable of recent time being his flick and spin goal against Villarreal. After claiming a spot in the World XI, Neymar will be looking to go one better in the next few years.
Moving on to a Frenchman that has a superb bravery to wear audacious suits off the field and creative custom boots on it. Paul Pogba certainly caught the eye at the awards ceremony in his patterned gold and black suit. However, Pogba is also just as impressive on the pitch. His loyalty to Juve, claiming they were the only team that wanted him when he was young, is set to be tested in the summer and he must be thinking of a move if he’s to claim football’s most prestigious prize. The towering midfielder is the main asset for the Bianconeri and while only having 4 goals this season, it’s not what he’s in the Juve side to do. Pogba has a presence, his ability to go past men with his long strides allows the team to quickly turn pressure into attack, or penetrate a ‘parked bus’ of a defence.
Back across to Spain to the capital city of Madrid. Like Neymar is dubbed to take Messi’s throne, more and more people are starting to feel Gareth Bale is Real’s long term replacement for Ronaldo. The Welsh wizard, to use the cliche, is often linked back to the Premier League, particularly with Manchester United. After Benitez’s sacking Bale was said to be unsettled yet he bagged a hat-trick in Zidane’s managerial initiation. The 3 goals took his tally to 12 for the season, 2 behind his Portuguese teammate Ronaldo. With an inspiration from a Ballon d’Or winner himself in Zidane urging him to perform from the touchline, it’s up to Bale as to how far he goes. It may be far-fetched to say he’ll claim the award, maybe he’s established himself as world class a few years too late with Ronaldo and Messi likely to shadow over his career until he’s around 29 which may be past his peak. But if he impresses as much as he did at Spurs and gets the Bernabeu crowd on his side, confidence will flow and the highest heights could be reached.
World Cup winners often are close to the prize so it was pretty odd this year to have a total of zero World Cups between the three contestants. Rewind a year and giant German Manuel Neuer was competing for the prize. He didn’t win, much to the dismay of many as they argued the award favours attackers, Phillip Lahm at the forefront of the argument. Neuer is a certified, world class goalkeeper and although he benefits from a strong outfield unit, he stops vital shots in crucial games. The 29-year-old has conceded 0.47 goals per game this season with 11 league clean sheets. Without a doubt, he’s the world’s best goalkeeper and if there was an award for each position, he would have certainly had a reign like Ronaldo and Messi have had over the years.
As for the Premier League’s hope? Last year it was all pinned on Eden Hazard to kick on from his stellar 2014/15 season, however, his shooting boots have gone missing and all confidence seems lost. Mesut Ozil is imitating Hazard and having a super season, only difference is it’s come a year later. Let’s hope that he doesn’t fall off next campaign and can be amongst the world’s best. Alexis Sanchez is a world beater on his day yet is struggling with injury. Can he impress and make the cut? Finally, a controversial claim with a young man that divides opinion. Another strong talent on his day, Anthony Martial, who is only 20, can go round players as if they’re not there while also having an air of confidence and touch of class in his game. Can he progress into one of the world’s best? Or will he fall off like Adnan Januzaj did when Ballon d’Or claims became linked with his name?
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