In what many are calling the tightest race for the Ballon d'Or the award has seen, the world will finally learn the official winner of the coveted prize on Monday, Jan. 13. That is when one of the three finalists, Lionel Mess, Cristiano Ronaldo and Franck Ribery, will hear their name called at the Kongresshaus in Zurich, Switzerland.
Lionel Messi is no stranger to the proceedings. The Argentinian is the four-time defending winner of this award. With some injury issues nagging the star over the past year, however, this hasn't been Messi's most dominant year.
Combine that with the fact that Ronaldo continues to dump in goals, for both club and country, at a mind-numbing rate and the fact that Ribery is the heart and soul of a dominant Bayern Munich side, and we have a tight battle for this coveted award.
When: Monday, Jan. 13
Where: Kongresshaus, Zurich, Switzerland
As I mentioned, this was not Messi's most dominant season. Especially toward the end of the year, he struggled with fitness.
Although that meant Messi doesn't have quite as many accomplishments to boast of as he has in years past, he's still had what would be a career year for just about any other player.
Messi led La Liga in scoring en route to guiding Barcelona to the 2012-13 league title. Also, Messi helped Argentina qualify for the 2014 World Cup by dumping in the second-most goals of any player in qualifiers.
In all, Messi scored 45 goals in 46 competitions this past year. He had the smaller workload due to his injuries, which was enough for even countryman Diego Maradona to back Ronaldo for the award.
Here is Maradona on the subject, as quoted by Paul Hayward of the Telegraph: "Messi has had a lot of injuries over the past year, which is why I think Cristiano should win the Ballon d’Or.”
Since were just talking about Messi's goal scoring, I might as well mention that Ronaldo scored 69 times in 60 games this past year.
Ronaldo was equally amazing for club and country. His hat trick, to help lift Portugal to a 3-2 victory over Sweden in a World Cup playoff, is the stuff of absolute legend.
Playing with Real Madrid and Portugal, Ronaldo is not surrounded by the kind of talent Messi enjoys. This is especially true with his club.
Ronaldo is often forced to play creator and finisher while Messi is surrounded by gifted playmakers and scorers.
In the end, I'm not sure how much that fact will help Ronaldo. Although it speaks to his ability to be a one-man wrecking crew, Messi has shown he can thrive as a creator or finisher while sharing the pitch with his talented teammates.
I've been comparing Messi and Ronaldo, but that is not to suggest that Ribery isn't a serious contender. It's just that comparing Messi and Ronaldo is fun and easy to do. Ribery's merits are tougher to compare.
There are those who think the award comes down to those two:
Of course, there are also plenty who support Ribery's chances at the award:
His best case for this award does not come from his personal stats, but his team's accomplishments. Bayern Munich cleaned house in 2012-13. They won the Champions League, Bundesliga, German Cup and UEFA Super Cup.
Ribery has also been flashing his elite wing play for France in World Cup play, but it is far more his accomplishments with Bayern that earned him the trip to Zurich. That is the only way it should be for a player as unselfish as Ribery:
As the best player on the world's best team, Ribery deserves serious consideration.
Prediction: Cristiano Ronaldo
Those team accomplishments I was just referring to with Ribery? They won't be enough to surpass the sheer volume of Ronaldo's stats. It's not just stats, either.
These are not all hollow goals for Ronaldo. He has matured into a clutch player who can be counted on in the biggest moments.
Given that voting was extended, due to low turnout, to move beyond Ronaldo's hat trick to lift Portugal past Sweden, I can't see this award going to anyone else.