For the past few years, the race for the FIFA Ballon d’Or title has become something of an exclusive competition between Barcelona’s Argentine genius Lionel Messi and Real Madrid’s Portuguese phenomenon Cristiano Ronaldo.
In three of the past four final shortlists, two of the three names on the list have been those two.
The third name has more often than not been one of Messi’s Barcelona teammates; such has been their dominance in Spain and in Europe.
However, this year there is a new name on the list, and there is a new dominant force in European football.
Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribery was a vital part of a well-oiled machine that crushed all in their path in 2013.
The German giants not only won the Bundesliga title, but they also triumphed in the UEFA Champions League, the DFB Pokal (German Cup), the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup.
Bayern are, without doubt, the best team in the world at present. It is also somewhat fitting that the man who was in charge of the dominant Barcelona team for the best part of their years as undisputed kings of Europe, Pep Guardiola, is now in charge of the Bavarians.
But Ribery has been key to all of this Bayern success in 2013 and continues to be a crucial part of the German champion's side under the Spaniard’s command.
There will never be a better time for Ribery to prise the Ballon d’Or away from either Messi or Ronaldo.
Here are 25 reasons why the Frenchman deserves to win the title on Monday.
At the time that it was awarded in August, Franck Ribery was undoubtedly the best player in Europe and received the UEFA Best Player in Europe award.
What has actually changed since then?
Lionel Messi has barely played thanks to injury, and neither he nor Cristiano Ronaldo have won anything new of note.
So that means that the only way that the Real Madrid man or Messi can usurp Ribery for this award is to be based on international form.
Argentina qualified comfortably atop the South American standings, requiring no late drama to reach Brazil.
However, Portugal qualified for the World Cup by the skin of their teeth and solely because of Ronaldo. France also reached this summer’s tournament, although Ribery was less prominent despite a relatively similar level of drama.
Essentially, Ribery’s fine work over the course of 12 months could be undone by two of Ronaldo’s best performances in living memory.
Despite the incredible showmanship of the Portuguese, that hardly seems fair on the Frenchman.
The fact that Ribery had already won this award seems likely to be turned into the rationale behind giving it to one of the other two candidates.
When referring to both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, the phrase “otherworldly” is often used.
Arguably the greatest compliment that can be paid to Franck Ribery for his amazing feats with Bayern Munich in 2013 is that he has made the superlative pair seem less otherworldly than at any time before.
That may eventually be of little consolation to the Frenchman, but in doing so he has proved that Ronaldo and Messi are not as untouchable as many thought. They are human, they do suffer injuries from time to time, and that can affect their form.
Ribery’s all-round improvement over the past 12 months, and his efforts to ensure that he did enough to secure the Ballon d’Or, has not gone unnoticed.
Even in something as small as his enhanced ability to score headed goals, something that was almost unheard of prior to 2013, Ribery has made himself that little bit more otherworldly and deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as Ronaldo and Messi.
On the face of it, nobody can debate the logic of Cristiano Ronaldo winning the Ballon d’Or based on the fact that he scored 66 goals in the calendar year of 2013, with Lionel Messi in second with 42 and Franck Ribery in third with 22.
Between them, the trio have netted 130 times in the space of 12 months. However, the big point of debate in all of this is where those goals come from.
The majority of Ronaldo’s goals for Real Madrid have come in La Liga, while Messi’s have come for Barcelona in the league too.
In recent years, the strength of the Spanish top-flight has come under intense scrutiny, with questions asked of the real level of difficulty for Real and Barca, who are almost perennially unchallenged for the top two spots.
How much are Bundesliga goals worth in La Liga? The answer to that question may well provide a little more parity to those otherwise one-sided figures.
Many will point to a potential Franck Ribery victory as being the product of Bayern Munich’s success and not necessarily his own.
That is not completely true though as, despite boasting squads of a similar calibre, both Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid and Lionel Messi's Barcelona came nowhere near the same level of success enjoyed by Ribery and the German champions.
The 30-year-old was an indispensable member of Bayern’s all conquering and without him, arguably, they might not have secured all five trophies in 2013.
Certainly none of his teammates seem to think they could have done it without him according to Bundesliga.com.
In the past few years, there has been a noticeable change in the strength of the Bundesliga when compared with La Liga.
One of the two leagues will produce the eventual winner of the 2013 Ballon d’Or.
The recent continental shift in momentum was no more evident than in the Champions League semi-finals last year.
Franck Ribery’s Bayern Munich and fellow German side Borussia Dortmund knocked out Spain’s two best sides, Lionel Messi’s Barcelona and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid, respectively.
Dortmund also knocked out surprise package Malaga CF, another Spanish representative in the quarterfinals.
Call it a “power shift” or a “changing of the guard,” but there is no doubt that the Bundesliga is the in-vogue European league at this moment in time. Meanwhile, La Liga continues to hemorrhage talent from all corners.
Ribery winning the Ballon d’Or would accurately reflect that shift in strength.
Another factor that should be considered in Franck Ribery’s case is his impressive level of consistency throughout the year.
Although he was one important part of a star-studded Bayern Munich side, he still managed to stand out.
That was largely thanks to his unerring consistency. Ribery’s performances did not dip across all club competitions. He was in superlative form in the Bundesliga, Champions League and DFB Pokal.
If there is to be any weakness in his bid for the Ballon d’Or, it would be because of his representation of a troubled France side at international level.
But even then, Les Bleus did eventually qualify for the World Cup in Brazil, as did Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and Lionel Messi’s Argentina, despite the dramatic circumstances.
One factor that is not mentioned that often when looking ahead to the award is that, while Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi’s claims are trumpeted from all corners, Franck Ribery is not subject to the same hype.
The Frenchman could pull off a surprise victory because everybody expects the other two to win the award.
Not being subject to the same media frenzy that follows Ronaldo and Messi could work in Ribery’s favour because it makes him more unheralded in the run-in to the award, but it also means he will not be subjected to the same scrutiny should he lose.
If the voters ignore the hype and simply focus on performances, the Frenchman has a much better chance of taking home the award.
Franck Ribery boasted 61 percent shooting accuracy in 2013, compared to Cristiano Ronaldo’s 54 percent and Lionel Messi’s 60 percent.
Only 36 of the Bayern Munich man's shots were off target all year, whereas Ronaldo skewed 136 away from the goal and Messi was off target 59 times.
This proves that, while the Portuguese and Argentine phenomenons have more chances to score on average for club and country, that Ribery has actually been more clinical with the chances that he receives and creates for himself.
Ronaldo and Messi’s superior number of shots are not surprising considering how they dominate Real Madrid and Barcelona, respectively, but the Frenchman does not at Bayern, which makes his efficiency all the more impressive.
Looking a little deeper into the statistics, Franck Ribery was on the losing team just three times in 2013.
One of those occasions came with France, a 1-0 home defeat in World Cup qualifying; so only two actually came with club side Bayern Munich.
Cristiano Ronaldo suffered defeat six times and Lionel Messi five. All three players are crucial to their respective clubs and national teams, and more often than not, the fortunes of those teams rest on the performances of the three players in question.
Ribery won more games (45) than either Ronaldo (40) or Messi (26). But perhaps more tellingly, Ribery only drew four games in 2013, compared to Ronaldo’s 10 and Messi’s 14.
Franck Ribery is not only superior to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in terms of his unbeaten achievements.
The Frenchman attempted 1084 dribbles over the course of 2013, dwarfing Ronaldo on 252 and Messi on 331 at two asepcts that are key to both stars’ games.
Barcelona are famed for their tiki-taka style of play, yet so many of their goals come from individual moments of Messi's brilliance when he is fit.
Ronaldo, too, is often seen going solo to much success for club and country. Considering how much more creative than his two rivals Ribery was, he evidently used these forays forward far more wisely and unselfishly.
Just because they did not necessarily end with a goal does not make it any less of an individual achievement, as the Frenchman was the main architect of many Bayern goals in 2013.
Following on from Franck Ribery’s superior number of dribbles, he also crossed the ball in 261 times over the course of 2013.
In addition to that, he was far superior to both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in terms of how often he passed the ball to his Bayern Munich and France teammates (2903).
Portugal and Real Madrid’s Ronaldo only did so on 1901 occasions, while Messi did so 2136 times, denoting that Ribery was far more of a team player than the other two in 2013, seeking to create goals for his team as often, if not more, than actually scoring himself.
The Ballon d’Or is an individual prize, but football is a team sport. Where is the sense in not being able to reward a far more team-oriented player for his unselfishness?
Franck Ribery has provided 18 assists in 2013, three more than both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The Frenchman has also created 149 chances, 55 more than Ronaldo’s 94 and 79 more than Messi’s 70.
Ribery has been able to challenge for the Ballon d’Or while still being more unselfish than Ronaldo or Messi, an impressive achievement.
Adding his 18 assists to his 22 goals means that the Bayern Munich man has been responsible for 40 of the German champion's goals in 2013.
Putting aside Lionel Messi for this one because of his recent injury, Franck Ribery has featured in fewer games than Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Frenchman has 52 appearances to his name, while Ronaldo boasts four more with 56.
Considering Ribery’s overall contribution for Bayern Munich and France, there is little doubt that he has done more on a regular basis in those fewer appearances than the Portuguese.
Franck Ribery is yet to lose a game for Bayern Munich in a match that he has scored in and that run spans 51 Bundesliga games at present.
At the start of the season, he had already overtaken Alexander Zickler’s previous club record of 45 games without defeat when he was on the scoresheet.
When Ribery plays, Bayern inevitably win.
The 30-year-old has not been on the losing side in the Bundesliga since a 1-0 away defeat to Borussia Dortmund back in 2012, beating Holger Hieronymus’ previous record set in the 1980’s.
It is not to say that Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi should be made to pay for being close to perfect players already, but Franck Ribery has arguably made greater obvious strides over the past 12 months than either of his rivals.
For example, the French international has scored a surprising number of headed goals over the course of 2013, demonstrating a considerable improvement on what was previously a weak area.
Ribery’s start to the 2013-2014 season has also been impressive.
He has helped Bayern open up a commanding lead at the top of the Bundesliga, while Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo struggle behind Messi’s league-leading Barcelona and bitter rivals Atletico Madrid in La Liga.
Barca top the table in Spain despite Messi’s prolonged absence through injury.
The impact that certain players have on their teams is not totally quantifiable by statistics, though, and that counts for Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi as much as it does Franck Ribery.
The Bayern Munich man’s contributions going forward and defensively are mightily impressive and were a key factor in some of the German champion’s most important performances, such as the 7-0 aggregate trouncing of Barcelona in the Champions League.
As B/R’s own Andy Brassell explains, Ribery contributes all over the pitch despite his deployment further upfield. In some of the big games, it proves to be a key feature.
The Frenchman arguably invests more into the team aspect of Bayern’s success than Ronaldo does with Real or Messi for Barcelona.
The Champions League triumph was arguably Bayern Munich’s most crucial of 2013.
Cast your mind back to both goals in the final, and you will find that on the biggest stage, Ribery was the architect for both of his side’s goals that secured an eventual 2-1 win over domestic rivals Borussia Dortmund.
In the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco, Ribery was voted Most Valuable Player of the competition and only played in two games, scoring once.
When his side needed him most, the Frenchman delivered in 2013.
While Franck Ribery and Cristiano Ronaldo did not come face to face in 2013, the Frenchman did come up against Lionel Messi and Barcelona in the Champions League.
If the Argentine is to eventually take the award, then Ribery can feel aggrieved at having convincingly beaten the four-time Ballon d’Or winner’s Barcelona team twice en route to his side’s eventual European success.
What’s more, the Frenchman and Messi were on the pitch at the same time in the first leg of the clash that finished 4-0 in Munich.
Since the 1998 World Cup, held by France, nine winners of the Ballon d’Or in the past 15 seasons either claimed the Champions League title or the World Cup.
Of course, Inter Milan’s Wesley Sneijder is an exception to that general rule. He did not win the award despite winning Serie A, the Champions League, the Italian Cup and reaching the World Cup final with the Netherlands.
Instead, the award went to Lionel Messi, who only won La Liga that year. Could the same thing happen again? Possibly.
However, with the World Cup out of the equation until next year’s award, Ribery has the key trophy win to give him the edge.
He could also make further history by becoming the first-ever Bayern player to win the award.
Although the way that this year’s event has been handled by FIFA would suggest otherwise, the Ballon d’Or is not a popularity contest.
The award is supposed to be given to the best footballer of 2013 and for anyone to say that Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi are miles ahead of Ribery is doing the Bayern Munich man a massive disservice.
He is at a major disadvantage in that his reputation is less than that of the global appeal and loyalty that Ronaldo or Messi command. He also plays in a position where he gets less opportunities to score, but that will likely be given little thought.
Having scored six league goals and nine assists already this season, Ribery is actually faring even better than he was at the same stage last year.
Should he not win this year’s award, bettering last season’s tally with his reputation enhanced by going close this time may be his only chance of ever sweeping the gong.
However, he, Bayern and France will have to ensure that Ronaldo and Messi remain unsuccessful outside of the domestic front in Spain for another year if he is to finally reign supreme.
It is no coincidence that Franck Ribery has found himself pushed forward for the award ahead of a number of other deserving Bayern Munich teammates such as Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller and Philipp Lahm.
Ribery has been recognised in the majority of the German champions’ 2013 triumphs as the key figure to the Bavarians’ successes.
In the Bundesliga, Ribery was named the best player of 2013; he also received the same accolade in the Champions League.
On top of that, he was crowned the Most Valuable Player in Bayern’s FIFA Club World Cup triumph and was even voted man of the match in the UEFA Super Cup, one of the club’s more minor triumphs of the past calendar year.
A lack of specific player-related trophies in the DFB Pokal prevents him from having been recognised for his key role in Bayern’s 2013 domestic cup triumph.
However, Kicker magazine voted him their man of the year for 2013, a prestigious award that illustrates the esteem he is currently held in for his recent exploits. He was also voted best French player of the year.
Combining individual and team awards over the course of the last calendar year, Ribery has 10 different awards to his name. That is more than Ronaldo and Messi put together.
In short, Ribery has shone on every stage possible for Bayern in 2013 and earned fitting individual recognition. Why should he not be recognised for the accumulative value of all of these awards and what more could he possibly have done (apart from scoring more goals) to be more thoroughly outstanding?
At the start of 2013, the most that Franck Ribery could have done with France was to help them reach the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Following Les Bleus' 3-2 aggregate play-off victory over Ukraine, the 30-year-old achieved that.
Like Cristiano Ronaldo with Portugal and Lionel Messi with Argentina, all three helped their nations to reach this summer’s tournament. Qualification will have been the trio's international objective at the start of 2013 as there is nothing more that they could have done with their countries..
That Ribery was not as decisive as Ronaldo in the play-offs, purely in terms of goals scored, is the only possible difference between the two and their international achievements in 2013.
The Real Madrid man was the difference between Portuguese qualification and non-qualification with four goals, that part is beyond debate. But without Ribery, who provided two assists in France's 3-0 win over the Ukraine, Les Bleus would not be going to the World Cup.
Both of Mamadou Sakho's goals in that 3-2 aggregate win came from parried Ribery shots. If Ronaldo was Portugal's qualifying factor, then Ribery was France's. Despite the difference in goals scored, both served the same purpose and this have equal international value.
Messi and Argentina’s qualification process was not as prolonged as France or Portugal’s so he does not even enter into the equation here.
The end result is the same though; each helped their country to qualify for the World Cup.
That Ronaldo’s Portugal even had to qualify via the play-offs, after finishing second in Group F to Russia, says more about the poor campaign endured by Paulo Bento’s side and Ronaldo's inability to lead the team to top spot in their qualification group.
Ribery also played two less competitive games with France in 2013, another factor that should not be overlooked.
Didier Deschamps’ side were placed in Group I, which had one less team than all the other groups, putting Ribery at a disadvantage.
The controversial decision to extend the voting deadline for the Ballon d’Or, as reported by ESPN FC, came just before Cristiano Ronaldo single-handedly qualified Portugal for the World Cup in Brazil.
At that time, Ribery was struggling to help an ailing France team to eventually overcome Ukraine and also seal their place. Prior to the extended deadline, there can be little doubt that the Bayern Munich man had been the best player of 2013.
Ronaldo went on to produce two indescribable performances, such was the quality displayed, to ensure Portugal’s progress. On the basis of those two isolated games, the advantage was cruelly snatched away from Ribery and handed to the Real Madrid man.
This should not prevent the Frenchman from picking up the award however.
Looking at each player’s case in the cold light of day, it is impossible to see any obvious weakness in Franck Ribery’s argument.
National team performances cannot be considered enough to tarnish his chances in the same way they cannot be considered enough to enhance Cristiano Ronaldo’s.
At the end of the day, both France and Portugal qualified for the World Cup in Brazil, so neither one fared better or worse in terms of their goal to reach this summer’s tournament.
At no point in 2013 did Ribery fail.
Whereas, Ronaldo and Real Madrid failed to capture the Spanish title, lost the Copa del Rey final to bitter rivals Atletico and did not succeed in their bid to win a much-coveted 10th Champions League title.
Messi succeeded in winning La Liga with Barcelona but failed in the Champions League and in the Copa del Rey. He also succeeded in helping his country qualify for the World Cup, though.
Ribery achieved the most over 2013, despite the other two being expected to dominate the global scene at the start of the year.
Football is a team game, but the Ballon d’Or is an award for the best individual player.
Franck Ribery has arguably excelled the most in both aspects, partnering individual brilliance with team success better than Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi in 2013.
Ribery won five major trophies last year: the Bundesliga title, the UEFA Champions League, the DFB Pokal, the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup.
The Frenchman, hands down, beats both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in this category as the pair can only muster the Argentine’s La Liga title with Barcelona between them.
The 30-year-old also made history as a vital part of an indestructible Bayern Munich team that became the first-ever German side to win the treble and also eventually became world champions.
The Frenchman is a rare example of a player who puts himself at the full disposal of his team yet diminishes none of his individual excellence.
While he might not have scored the same number of goals as Ronaldo or Messi, it is where those goals and his superior number of assists have gone that should count considering the circumstances.
Ballon d’Or or no Ballon d’Or 2013 will not be remembered as Ronaldo or Messi’s finest year because neither of them claimed any significant silverware. The Argentine helped Barcelona to their 22nd La Liga title, his sixth, but that pales in comparison to Ribery’s achievements.
In time, the statistics that Monday’s award will likely be based on will fade, but Bayern Munich and Ribery’s incredible achievements will not.
The big question, and the only one that now remains to be answered, is whether or not Franck Ribery has done enough to justify winning the 2013 FIFA Ballon d’Or.
Rightly or wrongly, the French international should be prepared for the worst despite the fact that he has enjoyed an incredible 2013 along with his Bayern Munich teammates.
There will never be a better opportunity for the 30-year-old Ribery to earn the prestigious accolade.
However, considering the many talented players that have gone close in the running before him, he would not be the first to fall victim to the brilliance of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Failing to secure the Ballon d’Or would be a shame, but not a tragedy for Ribery.
Even just to have broken the Barcelona-Real Madrid stranglehold over the event since its inception in 2010 is an impressive achievement.