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Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and observations on Fifa’s 23-man Ballon d’Or shortlist

[dropcap]D[/dropcap]espite two-and-a-half months of the year remaining, Fifa have gone through the formalities of releasing a 23-man shortlist of candidates in the running to be crowned the 2015 Ballon d’Or winner.

The list is the who’s who of the global game, with World Cup and Champions League winners galore in contention to lift the prestigious individual accolade.

In reality, the compilation of such an extensive list of candidates is probably unnecessary, with it difficult to look beyond two very familiar names when surmising who the next winner might be.

That said, there are a number of interesting assertions that can be taken from the list that gives an insight into just where the power lies in the global game currently.

Firstly, all 23 of the men included are currently employed by European clubs, with little-to-no consideration of the feats of players outside of the Uefa-controlled continent.

This reconfirms the fact that Europe remains the pinnacle of the sport, but there are certainly a number of players that operate outside the continent that should have potentially been in contention given their achievements, which are admittedly not in the same collective limelight as their European equivalents.

Breaking the club allegiances down further, La Liga’s mantle as the league of choice is also asserted again with 11 of the list players based in Spain.

Admittedly, five play for Real Madrid and six for Barcelona, again showing the gulf between the Clásico sides and the remainder of Spanish football.

The Bundesliga and Premier League both have five players apiece on the list, but Kevin De Bruyne’s exploits for Wolfsburg rather than Manchester City will be the reasoning behind his selection.

As in the case of Spain, the domestic dominance of Bayern Munich is typified as all five German-based players step out for the Allianz Arena outfit.

Paul Pogba and proven winner Zlatan Ibrahimović are the solitary inclusions from Serie A and Ligue 1 respectively.

In relation to origin, Europe tops the polls again with 14 players, while South America has eight hopefuls and Yaya Touré is the sole contender from Africa.

From a position perspective, the majority of the players are attack-minded but only five can be labelled as out-and-out number nines.

The majority are midfielders of some description, while Manuel Neuer flies the flag for goalkeepers.

However, a slightly disappointing facet is the complete lack of defenders, with the closest thing to a player operating at the back being Barcelona’s makeshift centre-half Javier Mascherano, who essentially is a midfielder.

The fact that marauding full-backs and stern centre-halves have been overlooked is slightly disheartening and does not give an accurate reflection of the importance of those players that are tasked with stopping goals rather than scoring them.

Cristiano RonaldoIn all reality, the accolade will be another straight shootout between perennial rivals and current best players on the planet Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The record-breaking pair have won the accolade between them over the last seven consecutive seasons, with 2010 being the only exception to the duo taking both the winner and runner-up berths.

This year it is set to be a three-man shortlist containing Messi, Ronaldo and AN other, with little hope for the third contender gaining much traction such is the gulf between these two superstars and the rest of the global game.

Messi’s exploits since the turn of the year have been nothing short of extraordinary, with the diminutive Argentine spearheading Barcelona’s momentous treble campaign in 2014-15 and raising his own personal bar in the process.

Ronaldo has continued to bludgeon his way through Spanish and European defences with just as much prolificacy as Messi, if not with as much guile, but will need to have an exception next ten weeks while the Barca man is injured if he is to retain the crown he has picked up for the last two years.

Looking at the contenders for third place, Neymar looks to be coming of age in Spain and is potentially a future winner of the award once he reaches his prime and the powers of others fade.

Robert Lewandowski’s evolution over the last year at Bayern will have him in the mix, while the potential for Chile duo Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal was increased by their nation’s first-ever Copa America triumph in the summer.

The race for the Ballon d’Or has lost its appeal to some degree given the continued dominance of Ronaldo and Messi, with clever money on the latter to claim a record fifth crown come January.

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