I know there’s still more than five months left till the end of the year, but now that both the club season and the World Cup are over, some players have established themselves as candidates to the most prestigious individual award in football and it’s safe to say that there will be no surprises and, come December, one of them will take the FIFA Ballon D’Or Award.
Lionel Messi was the 2009 winner, and he is a candidate to retain his title. But some other players also had great seasons and are looking to dethrone the Argentinean star.
Who will be crowned the new king of football? It’s up to the coaches and captains of all the national teams in the world to decide it in the end of the year.
For now, let’s take a look at all the candidates and analyze their chances:
Messi was the undisputed winner in 2009, winning by a very large margin over Cristiano Ronaldo and teammate Xavi Hernandez.
In 2010, he had yet another fantastic season: he scored 47 goals in 53 matches for Barcelona and was the top scorer of both the Spanish League and the Champions League. His performances continued to amaze football fans all over the world and comparisons to Maradona are becoming more and more frequent.
Given these numbers, Messi should have no problem getting this award for the second year in a row.
However, Barcelona’s failure to retain their Champions League title and Argentina’s shortcomings in the World Cup have hurt his chances a bit, especially as he was unable to score in the World Cup, even though he was selected as one of the tournament’s top ten players. In addition, unlike 2009, there are more players who had sensational seasons (and that have won more trophies), so Messi will have trouble winning back-to-back player of the year awards.
In my opinion, top-5 is guaranteed for Messi and a fourth straight appearance in the top-3 is very likely. As for actually retaining his title, it’ll be much more difficult. He has a chance, but I wouldn’t put my money on him.
Highlight of the year: Among his many otherworldly performances, I’d choose his 4 goals against Arsenal in Nou Camp as his finest moment this year.
Real Madrid fans must still be crying over their club’s decision to sell Sneijder to Inter. The Dutchmen finally showed the world his true potential and played a fundamental role as the playmaker of a team that won everything this season (Italian League, Italian Cup and Champions League).
Working against him is the fact that he only scored 8 goals in 41 matches for his club. Still, his season was fantastic and he assisted his teammates several times (including a crucial assist for Diego Milito in Inter’s opening goal in the Champions League final). Besides, he compensated for his lack of goals in the World Cup, where he scored 5 goals in 7 matches and led his team to the final, showing once and for all that he’s one of the game’s elite players.
Had Holland actually won the World Cup, Sneijder would have an even stronger case. Still, he’s one of the front-runners and, honestly, I can’t see him out of the top-3 and he has a good chance of actually winning this award.
Highlight of the year: His two goals against Brazil in the quarters of the World Cup.
Another player incomprehensibly ditched by Real Madrid who had a great season. Robben showed that, with no injuries troubling him, he can consistently perform at a high level.
He scored 23 goals in 37 matches for Bayern (pretty good numbers for a winger), including absolutely decisive goals against Fiorentina and Manchester United, and was the undisputed leader of a team that swept the German titles and made an unexpected run to the final of the Champions League. After that, he was sidelined for the group phase of the world cup due to injury, but came back in great shape for the knockout phase, scoring two goals and playing a vital role in Holland’s run to the final.
Just like Sneijder, Robben would have a much stronger case if Holland had won the World Cup. Still, I see him as a guaranteed top-5 and a potential top-3. I don’t see him winning, but he has a (small, in my opinion) chance.
Highlight of the year: His decisive goal in Old Trafford.
Xavi was third in 2009 and he did yet another fantastic season.
When asked about it before the World Cup final, Xavi showed his modesty, saying Messi is the best. This is a player whose main focus is to help his team win. Xavi never really worried about individual titles. But he has made a good enough season to be a contender for this one.
He only scored 7 goals in 51 matches for his club and none in the World Cup, but we all know Xavi was never a big scorer.
Providing passing lines and setting up chances for his teammates is what Xavi does, actually better than anyone else in the world. He always manages to find the open man and, for the last 2 years, he has been the key player in Barcelona’s game style, as he’s the one behind most of Messi’s goals for instance. He concluded his fantastic season in a glorious way, by leading Spain to the World Cup title and proving once again that’s he’s the most complete midfielder in modern football.
If Barcelona had won the Champions League, I’d say Xavi was the favorite to win this award. But they didn’t. And Xavi, being one of the most underrated players in world football, will probably have to settle for another top-3 position. But, then again, who knows?
Xavi’s teammate and fellow countryman Andrés Iniesta, fourth in 2009, was injured for the last part of the season, which ruined his chances. Still, he’ll be a top-10 for sure with some chances of getting a spot in the top-5.
Highlight of the year: Consistency is one of Xavi’s main attributes, but I’ll pick the Bernabeu match, where Xavi assisted for both Barcelona’s goals in a 2-0 victory.
If you had asked me in February or March, I’d have said that the Player of the Year award was Rooney’s for the taking.
Having scored 34 goals in 44 appearances and also assisting his teammates quite often, 2010 seemed to be Rooney’s year.
But an injury sidelined him for the late part of the season and, when he returned for the World Cup, he was far from his best shape and couldn’t perform at his usual level.
Unfortunately, Rooney will probably not even make it to the top-5. If he’s injury-free, maybe 2011 will be Rooney’s year.
Highlight of the year: the two matches against Milan in the first knockout phase of the Champions League. He scored 4 of United’s 7 goals.
Third in 2007, winner in 2008 and second in 2009, this year Ronaldo isn’t even a contender for the award.
Much was expected after Real Madrid paid 80 millions for his signing. He did score 33 goals in 35 matches, some of which amazing.
However, he failed to lead Real Madrid to titles as he choked against Barcelona in La Liga and against Lyon in the Champions League.
In the World Cup, not only did he underperform, but he showed an unbelievable lack of sportsmanship after Portugal was sent packing by a much stronger Spanish side.
That said, Ronaldo will be a top-10, but he won’t make it to the top-5 and he has absolutely no chance of a fourth top-3 spot in a row.
Highlight of the year: His two free-kick goals against Zurich in the Champions League group phase.
Diego Forlán had arguably his best season ever.
He scored 30 goals in 55 matches to lead, among with teammate Kun Aguero, Atletico Madrid to the Europa League title and the final of the Spanish Cup.
Then, in the World Cup, he led Uruguay to an unexpected fourth place, being one of the tournament’s top scorers with 5 goals and being considered the best player of the tournament by FIFA.
However, he can’t aspire to more than top-5 (and probably he’ll have to settle for top-10), as Atletico disappointed in La Liga and Europa League isn’t exactly the same as Champions League. Still, an amazing season for Forlán.
Highlight of the year: His two goals in the Europa League final, giving Atletico the title.
Another player who had arguably is best season ever.
Milito scored 30 goals in 51 matches, scoring the decisive goals in every competition Inter won (Italian League, Italian Cup and Champions League).
However, he barely played for Argentina in the World Cup, in a controversial decision by coach Maradona, and that has hurt his chances.
That said, just like Forlán, Milito will probably have to settle for a spot in the top-10.
Highlight of the year: His two decisive goals in the Champions League final.
To sum up, we have 4 candidates (Messi, Sneijder, Robben and Xavi) and 5 outsiders (Iniesta, Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Forlán, Diego Milito).
Who out of these 9 do you think will be Player of the Year? Or will it be someone else?
The first part of the 2010/2011 season might clarify things a little more.