[dropcap]A[/dropcap]fter a frantic year of football in 2014, the annual Ballon d’Or award is set to be decided in Zurich on January 15, with two usual suspects and a new face in the running.
The perennial battle between the world’s two best players continues as four-times winner Lionel Messi and current incumbent Cristiano Ronaldo are up for consideration once more.
The general consensus is that the Real Madrid and Portugal superstar is the frontrunner to retain the prized individual accolade, predominantly down to his stellar goalscoring form for his club.
The former Manchester United attacker was the figurehead of a Madrid attack to claim La Decima, while Ronaldo outscored Messi in the 2013-14 La Liga campaign, 31 strikes to 28.
With the Portuguese incredibly already netting 26 goals in 15 league games this term, Ronaldo’s case starts to add up.
Those campaigning in Messi’s favour are quick to point out Ronaldo’s lack of influence on proceedings at the World Cup, with Portugal and their captain disappointing in group stage elimination.
Messi, by his sky-high standards, did not have as fruitful or impressive a 2014 as in previous years, resulting in Barcelona finishing last season without silverware.
The Argentine’s individual achievements continued however, with his incessant record-breaking hard to fathom.
The La Masia graduate is now Barcelona’s all-time top goalscorer, La Liga’s all-time top-goalscorer and has netted the most strikes in Champions League history. He also has scored the most hat-tricks in the history of both the major domestic and European tournaments.
At the World Cup in Brazil, Messi was eventually awarded the Golden Ball as the best player for the tournament, despite Argentina’s defeat in the final to Germany.
Although many disputed this award given Messi’s limited influence in the latter stages of the tournament, the Barcelona man did score four goals, including dramatic winning strikes against Iran and Bosnia in the group stage.
The player’s father revealed that Messi was on his last legs come the World Cup final simply due to an exhausting year of football and the incredible level of responsibility placed on him from club and country every time he walks onto the pitch.
Since 2008, either Messi or Ronaldo have won the award, with the other in second place apart from in 2010 when Andres Iniesta followed his club team-mate as runner-up.
The likes of Iniesta, Xavi, Fernando Torres and Franck Ribéry have made up the numbers on the Ballon d’Or shortlist over the last six years, finishing third behind the world-beating duo.
This year Manuel Neuer completes the triumvirate and has the unenviable task of being viewed in higher regard than Messi and Ronaldo.
The last goalkeeper to make the shortlist was Gianluigi Buffon, who finished second to compatriot Fabio Cannavaro in 2006.
Oliver Kahn came third in 2001 and 2002; the only goalkeeper to have ever actually won the accolade is Russia’s Lev Yashin back in 1963.
Despite Messi and Ronaldo’s captivating performances in 2014, many are campaigning in Neuer’s favour, with the likes of Diego Maradona, Arjen Robben and other key figures in the game publicly backing the German.
There is no doubting that the Bayern Munich stopper is the best goalkeeper in world football currently, with not only his shot-stopping ability and presence impressive, but his ability to act as a bespoke sweeper for his team due to being more-than comfortable with the ball at his feet.
In a World Cup year, the most prestigious of competitions should clearly have a bearing on the eventual Ballon d’Or winner; Neuer was a cornerstone of Germany’s successful campaign, winning the tournament’s Golden Glove in the process.
At club level Neuer has been equally as impressive, with Bayern recording a momentous domestic league and cup double in 2013-14.
Despite the attacking array at Pep Guardiola’s disposal, the Allianz Arena’s rearguard is frighteningly stringent, with their goalkeeper at times seemingly impossible to beat.
During the successful 2013-14 Bundesliga campaign, Neuer and Bayern conceded a measly 23 goals in 34 games. This term the Bavarian goal has only been breached on four occasions in 17 matches and never more than once in a game. Four times.
The likelihood is that Ronaldo will retain his crown through the sheer bludgeoning of opposition at club level, with the Portuguese’s achievements there for all to see.
However, with football being a team game, shouldn’t the world’s best goalkeeper, who has led his nation to the World Cup, be considered as a worthy winner?
Messi and Ronaldo have already started their personal duel for 2015 and are likely to be two of the three names on the Ballon d’Or shortlist for many years to come.
Neuer’s achievements and performances makes him more than a valid candidate for the 2014 award and if the German goalkeeper doesn’t win it this year it is hard to imagine who the next winner other than Messi or Ronaldo will be.
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