Predicting the Ballon D'Or Nominees
The FIFA Ballon d'Or is the most prestigious individual prize in the game, given to the greatest player in the world every calendar year.
On October 29, FIFA will release the official candidates for the 2013 edition of the award.
Here are the 23 nominees I expect to be named on the shortlist, ranked in the order I predict they will eventually finish in the voting.
It is important to remember this is not simply the best performers of the year, but rather who I believe that FIFA and their flawed voting system will rank as the top players.
For example, Juan Mata or Javi Martinez, who played crucial roles for their respective teams, would be selected ahead of several players on this list if it were up to me.
However, they have been ousted by some "bigger" names who, in my opinion, are more likely to be favoured by FIFA.
23. Arturo Vidal: Juventus & Chile
The most integral player for the Serie A champions last season, Arturo Vidal is a tenacious box-to-box midfielder who contributes as much defensively as he does in attack.
The combative Chilean demonstrated his attacking influence by netting an impressive 15 goals for the Bianconeri during the last campaign and has carried that form into this season.
He was instrumental in leading his country to an automatic qualification spot for the World Cup, scoring four times in eight appearances this year.
As far as central midfielders go, you don't get more complete than Il Guerriero (the Warrior).
22. Mario Gotze: Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich & Germany
Mario Gotze is the rising star of German football. He possesses wonderful technical abilities and an understanding of the game very rarely seen at his tender age.
The youngster was in inspirational form for Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League, helping lead them to the final but was unfortunately injured for the showpiece event at Wembley.
He controversially sealed a €37 million transfer to arch-enemies Bayern Munich, where we can expect him to take his game to an even higher level.
At international level, he has already broken into the German starting line-up, contributing to their qualification for the World Cup.
21. Xavi: Barcelona & Spain
Xavi has been pulling the strings for Barcelona for many years now. A master of his art, he keeps possession and sets the tempo of play with his precise passing like no other.
While not his most vintage year, he still played an important role for Barcelona as they matched a La Liga record of 100 points and reached the Champions League semi-finals.
It is widely recognised that Xavi is in somewhat of a decline; however, he is still a world-class performer and one of the best central midfielders in the world.
He also played a major role as Spain reached the final of the Confederations Cup and qualified for the World Cup.
20. Manuel Neuer: Bayern Munich & Germany
Manuel Neuer has been in great form this year, displaying his superb reflexes and excellent distribution as Bayern went on to win the treble.
He played a large part in his club's record-breaking season in the Bundesliga, where he played 31 games, kept 20 clean sheets and conceded just 18 goals.
In the Champions League, he was absolutely outstanding, keeping clean sheets in both legs against Juventus and Barcelona, and was arguably the best player in the final against Borussia Dortmund.
He was also a commanding presence for Germany as they sealed their place at the World Cup.
19. Edinson Cavani: Napoli, PSG & Uruguay
Edinson Cavani was in phenomenal form this year, terrorising the opposition and confirming his reputation as one of the world's elite strikers.
He was the top scorer in Serie A last season with Napoli, as he netted 29 goals in 34 league appearances, helping the Partenopei clinch the runners-up spot behind Juventus.
El Matador earned a mega €64 million move to French champions Paris Saint-Germain, where he can finally make an assault on the UEFA Champions League.
The Uruguayan also performed well for his country both at the FIFA Confederations Cup and FIFA World Cup qualification.
18. Andrea Pirlo: Juventus & Italy
Andrea Pirlo has that rare ability to dictate the tempo of a game almost single-handedly. He is already a true footballing great and he just keeps on producing.
L'architetto (the Architect) was a key component in another Scudetto-winning season for Juventus, orchestrating proceedings from the deep-lying midfield position.
Perhaps even more impressive was his international form for Italy, where he led them to the Confederations Cup semi-finals—only to lose on penalties to Spain—and was nominated on the shortlist for the Golden Ball.
He was also influential in the Azzurri's successful World Cup qualification.
17. Thiago Silva: PSG & Brazil
Displaying his unbelievable talent for both Paris Saint-Germain and the Selecao, Thiago Silva cemented his reputation as the leading centre-back in the world this year.
He combines remarkable physical qualities with a natural ability to read the game that is up there with the very best.
The Brazilian captained his club side to glory in Ligue 1 and put in some exceptional performances in the Champions League, none better than in the first leg of the quarter-finals against Barcelona.
He then went on to play a pivotal role in his country's victory at the Confederations Cup, where he was named in the team of the tournament.
16. Luis Suarez: Liverpool & Uruguay
Love him or hate him, Luis Suarez's quality is undeniable. He is a lethal finisher but has so much more to his game than just goals—his technical ability and workrate are what really sets him apart.
The controversial striker was in sparkling form for Liverpool and finished runner-up in the PFA Player of the Year award, despite an underwhelming campaign for the Merseyside club.
It was on the international stage where the Uruguayan cemented his place on this list, as he was nominated for the Golden Ball with impressive performances at the Confederations Cup.
He continued his fine form for La Celeste, finishing as the top goalscorer in the CONMEBOL World Cup qualification.
15. Marco Reus: Borussia Dortmund & Germany
Marco Reus is a direct winger who mixes blistering pace and fantastic technique with an impressive goalscoring return.
He was a key element in Borussia Dortmund's journey to the Champions League final this year, putting in some startling performances and tearing up some of the best defences in the game.
He is probably in even better form at the start of this season, with eight goals in his first 13 games.
The 24-year-old has firmly established himself in the national team and is one of the reasons why Germany head into next summer's World Cup as one of the favourites.
14. Philipp Lahm: Bayern Munich & Germany
Philipp Lahm has been nothing short of sensational this year, leading Bayern Munich to their greatest-ever season and proving himself to be the world's best full-back.
His main quality is being able to neutralise any winger that he is faced with, but he also contributes a great deal going forward.
Amazingly, he was second only to Franck Ribery in the Bundesliga assists charts for 2012/13.
In addition to winning the treble at club level, he skippered the German national team as they cruised to qualification for next summer's World Cup.
13. Radamel Falcao: Atletico Madrid, Monaco & Colombia
Arguably the best pure striker in the game, this Colombian predator simply guarantees goals.
He finished last season with 34 goals in 40 appearances for Atletico Madrid, as he carried them to third place in La Liga. He turned creator in a memorable victory against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey final.
He sealed a somewhat surprising €60 million move to AS Monaco, where he is already top of the Ligue 1 goalscoring charts.
Furthermore, El Tigre played the leading role for his country as they secured qualification for the World Cup for the first time since 1998.
12. Robin Van Persie: Manchester United & Netherlands
Robin Van Persie was the outstanding player for Premier League champions Manchester United, combining lethal finishing with marvellous skill and an ability to drop deep to create chances for his team-mates.
In his debut season for the Red Devils, he was not only the Premier League's top scorer—with 26 goals—but he also chipped in with an impressive 10 assists.
The Dutchman proved to be the difference from the previous season and won the first league title of his career, justifying his transfer from Arsenal.
He was also exceptional for the Netherlands, scoring more goals than any other player in the European section of FIFA World Cup qualification, as they comfortably booked their place in Brazil.
11. Thomas Muller: Bayern Munich & Germany
A hard-working and composed attacking midfielder who both creates and scores goals in abundance, Thomas Muller may not be the prettiest player on the eye, but he sure is effective.
He was instrumental for Bayern Munich as they conquered all before them.
The German can also play up front and has a penchant for the big occasion, netting a total of eight goals in last year's Champions League, ending the season with 23 goals in all competitions.
He is an important player for his national side, too, and if he continues his current form, he will surely play a vital role at the 2014 World Cup, despite intense competition for places.
10. Robert Lewandowski: Borussia Dortmund & Poland
Robert Lewandowski is a complete striker. He is not only devastating in front of goal, but he also links up well with his team-mates and exhibits supreme individual quality.
He was the outstanding player for Borussia Dortmund on their run to the Champions League final, contributing 10 goals—the second highest tally in the competition. His four-goal haul against Real Madrid in the first leg of the semi-final will live long in the memory.
The Polish hitman managed 36 goals for his club last season and he already has nine more in his first 10 games this time around.
Despite putting in some decent displays for his country, it wasn't enough for Poland to book a ticket for the World Cup.
9. Bastian Schweinsteiger: Bayern Munich & Germany
Perhaps the most influential player for Bayern Munich in their treble-winning campaign, dictating play for his club with some sensational and tireless displays.
Bastian Schweinsteiger is the ultimate dynamic midfielder. He is excellent at passing, tackling, dribbling and shooting, but it is his understanding of the game that sets him apart from the rest.
After an exceptional season, he deservedly won the Bundesliga Footballer of the Year award and was crucial in their Champions League triumph.
“Schweini" continues to play a pivotal role for the Germany, as they look set to challenge for World Cup glory in Brazil.
8. Gareth Bale: Tottenham, Real Madrid & Wales
Gareth Bale's electrifying pace, along with his fantastic dribbling and shooting ability, make him truly unplayable when he is on top form.
He was terrific for Tottenham last season, deservedly winning the PFA Player of the Year for the second time in his career. At times he seemed to carry the team all on his own, scoring 26 times in total, including numerous individual wonder goals.
However, Tottenham still missed out—if only just—on a Champions League berth.
A player of his calibre is too good for another season in the Europa League and Real Madrid purchased him for a world record €100 million in the summer.
Unfortunately, there was not much he could do for his country as Wales endured another dismal World Cup qualifying campaign.
7. Arjen Robben: Bayern Munich & Netherlands
Arjen Robben is one of the most feared wingers in the world; his principal attributes are his pace, dribbling and deadly left foot.
The flying Dutchman finally shook off his "loser" tag after his decisive play for Bayern Munich in the latter stages of Champions League, culminating in a last-minute winner in the final.
What was most impressive about his season was the way in which he was converted, after initially being dropped in favour of Toni Kroos, into a true team player. He was more selfless than ever and even started tracking back for the overall benefit of the team.
Robben also played a major role as the Netherlands secured their place at next year's World Cup.
6. Andres Iniesta: Barcelona & Spain
Andres Iniesta is one of the finest players of his generation and possibly of all time. The last player who displayed his level of skill and finesse in midfield was Zinedine Zidane.
He played a vital role in Barcelona's greatest La Liga triumph, racking up more assists than anybody else in the division, and also helped the Blaugrana reach the Champions League semi-final for the sixth consecutive season.
El Ilusionista (the Illusionist) was his majestic self for Spain at the Confederations Cup, picking up the Silver Ball as they lost in the final to Brazil.
Don Andres additionally guided La Furia Roja to qualification for the World Cup.
5. Neymar: Santos, Barcelona & Brazil
Neymar is a player of unbelievable technical ability—Brazil haven't seen someone of his prodigious talent since Ronaldinho emerged on the scene.
The highlight of his year was his spectacular performances for the Selecao at the Confederations Cup, where he inspired his team to victory and was rewarded with the Golden Ball.
In particular it was his display against Spain in the final that showed his doubters exactly what he is capable of. At the tender age of 21, the sky is the limit for the Brazilian icon.
Neymar started the year at Santos where he continued to prove his value for his hometown club. In the summer, he earned a €57 million transfer to Barcelona, where has settled fantastically in a more creative role.
4. Zlatan Ibrahimovic: PSG & Sweden
The super-talented striker led Paris Saint-Germain to their first title glory in 19 years, scoring more goals than anybody else and picking up the Ligue 1 Player of the Year award along the way.
He registered a magnificent 35 goals in 44 appearances in his first season in Paris, whilst also showing that he is much more than just a goal-poacher by topping the Champions League in assists.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has extraordinary technical abilities and a robust physical stature, making him one of the world's toughest players to mark.
At international level, he put in some admirable performances for Sweden, although ultimately it wasn't enough to secure a definite place at the 2014 World Cup with Sweden facing a play-off.
3. Franck Ribery: Bayern Munich & France
The star man in Bayern Munich's historic campaign, the Frenchman was appropriately handed the UEFA Best Player in Europe award.
Franck Ribery has been in the form of his life over the past year, displaying his sublime creativity and dribbling skills.
The winger performed wonderfully in both the Bundesliga, where he topped the assist charts, and in his club's Champions League victory. He seems to keep on improving, scoring on a more regular basis than ever this season.
Ribery has also been the shining light for France in their attempt to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, but still has some more work to do as a play-off tie awaits Les Bleus in November.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo: Real Madrid & Portugal
One of the greatest ever to play the game, there is no limit to this man's capabilities. Combining incomparable athleticism with astonishing power and skill, Cristiano Ronaldo is simply unstoppable.
He was in scintillating form again this year, continuing his goal per game ratio for Real Madrid and scoring more times than anyone else in the Champions League.
Individually the Portuguese international has been as astounding as ever; however, a lack of silverware holds him back slightly in the running for the FIFA Ballon d'Or.
He has maintained his marvellous form at international level, but as ever Portugal will do things the hard way and will need to win a play-off tie next month in order to qualify for the World Cup.
1. Lionel Messi: Barcelona & Argentina
Some people might be getting tired of seeing Lionel Messi take home the FIFA Ballon D'Or each year, but let's not forget that we are witnessing possibly the greatest player the game has ever seen.
No player on the planet can match his level of finishing, dribbling or vision. He has been so transcendental in recent years that his heroics have become the norm, but he shouldn't be punished for that.
After all, this is an individual prize and nobody has been better in that sense than the diminutive Argentine.
He led Barcelona to La Liga title, scoring 46 times—including in 21 consecutive games—and assisting 12 times in 32 league games. He ended last season with another ridiculous total of 60 goals in just 50 games for his club and has continued scoring at the same rate this campaign.
He was also in superb form as Argentina secured top spot in World Cup qualifying.