There has been much discussion surrounding the best players in the world recently, with Messi and Ronaldo sadly both nearing the ends of their magnificent careers. Who is going to step up and replace them? The Ballon d’Or winner announced on 2nd December, and with the Messi and Ronaldo trend ending last year with Luka Modric’s victory, it wouldn’t be a surprise that we see a new winner come December once again. Virgil Van Dijk is odds on to be the winner, and it would be the first time a defender has won the award since Fabio Cannavaro in 2006. However, with a defender almost nailed on to win it, which attackers should we expect to step up for the next award?
Despite Messi and Ronaldo’s exceptional 2019 respectively, it has been below their best standards. Messi’s best calendar year in terms of goals was 91 in 2012, which is a record in European football. Ronaldo’s best was 69 goals in 2013. Both have amassed hundreds of goals and are heroes for club and country. However, so far in 2019 Messi has 39 goals and Ronaldo has 29, by their high standards, these tallies are average.
There is a need for attackers to replace the depleting pair and there are a few who have the potential. Sadio Mane of Liverpool has had a remarkable last few seasons. In 2019 alone, he has scored 31 goals and 7 assists for club and country, which is more than Ronaldo. Liverpool could potentially play another 14 games this year, which could take Mane’s total goal contributions (goals and assists) to past 50, which would be an outstanding year.
Raheem Sterling has to be mentioned as well as he has had much praise in the media recently and it is much deserved. The City forward has 36 goals and 10 assists for club and country in 2019. This is very close to Messi, who has 39 goals and 14 assists, and seeing Sterling so close to the Argentine is remarkable. Admittedly, Sterling’s tally isn’t quite up to the scratch of Messi and Ronaldo’s peak years.
However, he is still only 24, with his prime very much ahead of him, meaning there is still potential for even more improvement which would put him close to the high standards Messi and Ronaldo have set. With the stats mentioned so far, this puts Sterling as the second-best attacking player in the world, behind Messi, with Mane third and Ronaldo fourth.
There are a couple of honourable mentions, in Kylian Mbappe and Robert Lewandowski. Mbappe is still only 20 and has already been tipped to be the heir to the Messi/Ronaldo throne. So far in 2019, he scored 31 goals in 32 games for PSG, astonishing stats for such a young player. Mbappe is expected to be up there in the coming seasons, and if he builds on his already brilliant tallies, he will certainly be challenging to be the best. Lewandowski is also in with a shout scoring 38 in 38 games in 2019 as this puts him past Messi as the highest-scoring attacker this year.
It would be expected that Messi and Ronaldo will both continue with their lower than average scoring seasons (by their standards). Lewandowski could have one more good year in him, with a prolific record, and he will certainly carry on scoring goals. However, the Bayern striker is also ageing, currently 31, and he is in the latter stages of his career too, but certainly possesses the goal-scoring ability to be in with a mention. Mbappe will be there, with the talent he possesses clear to see, even at the young age of 20. If Mbappe can take another step up in level, he could well have the ability to be the best player in 2020.
Mane has been excellent for Liverpool recently, stepping up to the mark on several occasions, with 10 goals in 16 games this season he has been Liverpool’s go-to man this season. He definitely has an opportunity to improve further and has a good few more years left to establish himself as one of the best attackers. Raheem Sterling is expected to be at the top and at 24, he has room for further improvement, which could well put him on a Ronaldo/Messi level.
As shown previously, Sterling is currently second to Messi in terms of total goal contributions and within touching distance of overtaking him in total goal contributions. Sterling certainly seems to have an edge, if he continues his scoring form, it would make him a strong contender for the 2020 award. It will be exciting to see what unfolds in the next year- with all the players mentioned certainly expected to continue in such prolific form. However, it would not be surprising to see Raheem Sterling come out on top to claim the award.