Lionel Messi was awarded his fourth Ballon d’Or in January, edging out Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo with 41.6 percent of votes. Messi earned the illustrious award with a record-setting 2012 campaign, but he shouldn't repeat the feat this season.
At 28, Ronaldo has entered the prime of his career, and his contributions in Real Madrid’s push for Champions League glory haven’t gone unnoticed. Los Blancos are in the final eight with a chance to secure the title that has eluded them for more than a decade, and Ronaldo is the reason for that success.
While few will argue that Messi didn’t deserve to win the Ballon d’Or last year, there’s something to be said for what Ronaldo did in pushing his club to new heights with a Spanish League title last season. Statistics and goals are nice, but the ultimate measure of success in any sport is a championship, and Ronaldo bested his counterpart in that theater.
If Ronaldo can continue his impressive play in Champions League action and somehow propel his club to a championship—past Messi and Barcelona—it’s hard to believe he won’t have an edge when the votes are counted in 2014, especially after dethroning Barca in the Spanish League last season.
As it stands, Messi is already out to an impressive statistical start, well ahead of Ronaldo in both goals and assists. He’s tallied 42 scoring strikes in La Liga play this season and the 25-year-old is showing no signs of slowing down.
If Ronaldo is to overtake the Argentinian for his first Ballon d’Or since 2008, he’ll have to once again best Messi on a broader playing field.
The odds certainly aren’t in Ronaldo’s favor. At 25, Messi is already being heralded as perhaps the greatest footballer in history, and he has many impressive years ahead of him. Having won the award four times with history in his favor, Ronaldo can’t expect to crash Messi’s party with anything short of a Champions League title.
Who will win the Ballon d'Or this year?
Perhaps the biggest obstacle standing in the way of Ronaldo’s quest for the Ballon d’Or is repetition. After winning the award four times, Messi has solidified his position with voters as the clear-cut favorite, year in and year out. Barring a miraculous, record-setting year by one of Messi’s contemporaries, finding a reason to award anyone else with football’s highest individual honor is a tall order.
Still, one has to wonder how long it will take for voters to recognize the Ballon d’Or as more than a measure of goals scored and records broken. Football is a team sport and no one has ever played the game without the singular goal of winning. Without footballers like Ronaldo—who don’t benefit from Messi’s tremendous supporting cast—clubs like Real Madrid wouldn’t stand a chance of competing with the likes of Barca in any format.
A lot of matches separate Messi and Ronaldo from Ballon d’Or voting and a lot can happen between now and January. While Messi will likely continue dominating the game with impressive scoring totals and broken records, Ronaldo will continue playing his own special brand of football in pursuit of the only thing that could push him past the Argentinian in the voting—titles.