With the red carpet only just re-rolled following the glittering extravaganza that was the Ballon d’Or presentation night, attention is already focusing on just who the main contenders might be for the 2014 award.
The first thing to say about the event is that it is largely a glorified popularity contest. Even though the main criteria centres primarily on individual excellence, that gets forgotten in the voting.
To that end, the notion that Franck Ribery, great team player that he is, should receive 23.36 percent of the vote compared to Messi’s 24.72 percent and Ronaldo’s 27.99 percent leave me with the impression that some of the voters did not understand the principle.
There’s no doubt that Ronaldo had the better season overall. For me, however, the major surprise is that the final vote was so close—if Messi had had a normal year, he would probably have won it again. And certainly you have to say that the Portuguese should have won it quite clearly.
Away from Europe most people believe Messi to be the better player, so he will invariably get the nod when his stats are similar to those of Ronaldo. This is not merely about who had the better year.
We shouldn’t have had Sergio Ramos or Dani Alves in the best XI, perhaps not even Xavi, but their popularity overtakes the analysis.
In any case, Ronaldo and Messi have both benefited from rests over the Christmas break, something that augurs well for both of them in 2014.
In addition to a a well-publicised injury sustained on Nov. 11, Messi also had a two-week preparation (much like a pre-season) before making his comeback.
Ronaldo also suffered a "mystery" injury, which conveniently permitted him to take him to take a fortnight off. This saw him miss three of the less challenging fixtures of the season, in addition to the Christmas break.
You can then guarantee that, pending injuries, they will be at their best in time for the World Cup.
So who would be the third one in that podium in 2014?
A lot of course might depend on what happens in Brazil. But if you’re looking for a candidate to join Messi and Ronaldo, then it must be Liverpool’s Luis Suarez.
The stats for the Uruguayan are amazing and he is on course to become the best goalscorer in the history of the Premier League. So far this season he has scored 22 goals in 16 games. If he continues in the same vein, he can expect to finish the season with about 46 goals.
With 10 goals in one calendar month, he broke the previous record of eight goals set by Mark Viduka of Leeds in April 2003, and he is ahead of Ronaldo and Diego Costa on a goal-per-game ratio.
At the present rate he will become Europe’s highest goalscorer this season.
Liverpool’s swift style of play, switching from defence to attack, suits his game perfectly. Along with teammates Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge, he has created something from the training ground that works remarkably well.
That quick transition gets worked hard in the Brendan Rodgers sessions. A couple of better midfielders and Liverpool would have a place in the Champions League for sure.
A good World Cup will put Suarez right up there. But even if Uruguay don’t excel and Liverpool fail to make the Champions League, his performances should be more than enough to see him considered as one of the three best players in the world.
A new contract that contains a massive buyout clause thought to be in excess of £65 million (per Daily Mail) has given the player the peace of mind that he needed.
Now the club can plan, with Suarez at the forefront, on their main objective: qualifying for the Champions League.
That said, it would be naive not to imagine that Liverpool wouldn’t have a Plan B in place.
A huge buyout clause may provide security for all parties, but everyone is aware that Suarez is attracting admiring looks from all the top European sides.