The FIFA Ballon d’Or is an annual award that recognises the world’s best football player. Voted for by football journalists, it honours the player deemed to have performed the best over the previous year. The first Ballon d’Or was won in 1956 by England and Blackpool legend, Sir Stanley Matthews. Various winners have taken the award since then. Yet, the Ballon d’Or has been dominated by two players for over a decade, as all football fans know. Namely, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Everyone has their preference—some love Messi; some adore Ronaldo—and no one can argue with what they’ve achieved. The records broken, trophies won and people’s hearts captured by their performances easily make them two of the greatest ever players to play the game. They will, no doubt, carry on sharing the award for a few more years yet. But, of course, that will at some point come to an end. They will both retire, and their careers will be a fond memory to those lucky enough to have been alive in the era of them both.
So what happens then? Who will take over the domination of world football like these two have for such a sustained period of time? Will anyone reach the record numbers of goals and assists that Messi and Ronaldo produced (and continue to produce) consistently every single season? It’s an almighty ask. We may not see another two players battle to be the best like these two have for a (very) long time. However, here are three players who are perhaps capable of taking the crown of the “Best Player in the World” when Leo and CR7 are finished completing the game of football as we know it.
Currently, Neymar is widely regarded as the third best player in the world behind Messi and Ronaldo. At 26, he is nearing the peak of his career and could be the one to stop the Messi-Ronaldo pattern. After coming through at Santos and then excelling alongside Messi at Barcelona, the Brazilian managed 28 goals in 30 matches in all competitions for Paris St. Germain last season. Neymar’s move to the French capital and his quest for the Ballon d’Or split opinions, as Ligue 1 is not quite as competitive as La Liga. The world’s most expensive player is also Brazil’s third all-time top goalscorer behind Pele and Ronaldo. He is surely certain to beat them both by the time he hangs up his boots. If he manages to help Brazil lift the World Cup this summer, Neymar could be in line to pip the award in the near future.
Another player at Paris St. Germain—albeit currently ‘officially’ on loan from Monaco—is young superstar, Kylian Mbappe. At just 19 years of age, the potential for the Frenchman is frightening. He will in all likelihood complete a move to Paris permanently soon to make him the most expensive teenager ever and second most expensive player in the world. His meteoric rise to fame was in the 2016/17 season as he helped Monaco win Ligue 1 for the first time in 17 years, in the process scoring 26 goals. Last season, he scored 21 goals as he picked up two league titles in consecutive seasons with different clubs. A Ballon d’Or award may come too soon for him for now though. He may have to wait his turn to others like Neymar. But, if he continues the way he is going, there is no reason why he can’t get there in years to come.
With pace, trickery and bundles of assists, Ousmane Dembele may be the next player to win the Ballon d’Or. He began his career in France with Rennes and joined Borussia Dortmund in 2016. After just one season in Germany, he is now at Barcelona—moving for a record fee in 2017 that saw him become the joint second most expensive player at the time. He is one of a number of young French stars that have come through onto the world stage recently and could have a big future ahead of him. It will only benefit Dembele to work with Messi at club level and try and learn things to help him improve his game, not to mention the abundance of French talent he has around him in the national team. Again, Dembele might have to wait a few more years until he reaches the top.
Of course, there are lots more players that are more than capable of winning the Ballon d’Or in the future. There is a variation of other young talent, such as Paulo Dybala of Juventus, Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus of Manchester City, and Marcus Rashford of Manchester United. There are players who have already been talked about for a few years and have been at the top of their game in that time: Eden Hazard of Chelsea, Antoine Griezmann of Atletico Madrid, Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City, and Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur. Even the incredible season of Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah may force him into the top 3 shortlist at the next awards.
The point is, with all these great players emerging or continuing to perform at the highest level, it may create an even harder decision for journalists to choose between simply Messi or Ronaldo. If all the players mentioned above go on to achieve greatness and put themselves in the frame to win the Ballon d’Or, there is a chance that the world of football will see around ten players all competing for one prize.
For now though, as we all have done for some time, let’s enjoy the greatness of Messi and Ronaldo while they’re still around. Meanwhile, we can all look forward to the future, knowing that there are some amazing young players trying to follow in their footsteps. Who knows, maybe there will emerge another wunderkind to surprise us all.