With Messi just awarded the Ballon d'Or, I look around for any Italian players of his caliber, and sadly there are few who come close to his brilliance. While it will take time to have two Italians out of the top three nominees for the award (like Spain did with Xavi and Iniesta), we could see an Italian win it within the next five or 10 years.
The following five Italians are all young, talented and determined. They will all go on to accomplish great things at club level, and maybe together they will win something at international level. There were no Italians on this year's 23-man shortlist, but maybe one day we will see one of these five win the historic award.
Although he's fifth on this list, Andrea Poli is full of potential. He's a central midfielder, with a similar style to the languid Xavi Hernandez. His passing is precise, his ideas intricate and his movement intelligent. At 21 years old he looks to be a gem in the Italian midfield for years to come.
Andrea Poli might not be on everybody's radar, but in my opinion he is a very underrated (similarly to Xavi). Poli has already attracted interest from top Italian clubs: if he can finish this season well with Sampdoria and then move on to a bigger club, his potential could earn him the Ballon d'Or.
At 20 years old Davide Santon already has a European reputation as one of the most promising defenders around. His development stalled when he suffered a meniscus injury last season, an annoying problem which returned in the latter part of the season. But what Santon showed in his appearances for Internazionale and the Italian national team was excellent.
His quick movement accompanied with his technical abilities allowed him to combine with the midfield and the forwards as he glided up the right wing. And Santon isn't limited to crossing, he's not afraid to play his teammates through with penetrating passes towards the goal. Along with his attacking abilities, Santon is a complete defender. He is experienced, intelligent and versatile, especially after his season under Jose Mourinho, where he was often played at left-fullback.
Davide Santon is loved by Italians. His hard work and humility have earned him recognition from Marcello Lippi, Jose Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo. Many Inter fans see him as a reincarnation of the legendary fullback Giacinto Facchetti, and they hope that Santon will have the illustrious career which the legendary Facchetti had. Whether he'll win a Ballon d'Or during it is a possibility which shouldn't be overlooked.
Giuseppe Rossi is the oldest player on this list. At 23 years old Rossi has played for Manchester United, Parma and now Villarreal for almost four years. His time spent in La Liga is seen in his playing style: Tight dribbling, smart passing and quick movement are all qualities which make him an internationally-known forward.
Rossi's scoring record is excellent at Villarreal; he has 42 goals in 108 appearances for the Yellow Submarine in La Liga. Cesare Prandelli has already made him a part of his plans on the Italian national team, and he seems to be a perfect shoe-in to be in the Azzurri forward line for the 2012 European Championships. Whether he will be able to step up to the international level will remain to be seen, but if he does, then he could win the Ballon d'Or.
In second we have 19-year-old forward Federico Macheda. At just 16 years of age, Macheda was snapped up by Manchester United, and he's played there ever since this January transfer window, where he went on loan to Sampdoria.
Some might remember Macheda's legendary debut against Aston Villa. Manchester United and Aston Villa were tied at two, and Sir Alex Ferguson put Macheda on as a substitute. Macheda scored the winner with a beautiful curling goal in the third minute of injury time, helping Manchester United win 3-2. Since then Federico Macheda has scored three more goals for Manchester United in 16 appearances.
His loan move to Sampdoria will fill the place left by Antonio Cassano, and give him plenty of playing time to improve. Federico Macheda is tall, fast and technically gifted, and I think he will succeed and improve at Sampdoria. The talent is there, and if Macheda continues to improve, a Ballon d'Or could be in his future.
Ever since Mario Balotelli began playing for Inter Milan, he was destined for great things. He is a complete forward with strength, speed, technique and the desire to succeed. At Inter Milan he felt like he had to be the best: He requested the number 10 shirt, complained when he wasn't given a chance to play and in the end left for Manchester City, where he could blaze his own trail.
At Manchester City Mario Balotelli has had 11 appearances, eight goals and one assist in all competitions. While people complain that he is petty or a drama queen, his talent is undeniable. I have few doubts that Mario Balotelli will win a Ballon d'Or in his career. He has already made his debut with the Italian national team, and manager Cesare Prandelli wants to make the side work through him.
Balotelli's most defining characteristic is his confidence. He's not afraid to dribble, shoot or take chances, and that is what has made him such a great player already at just 20 years old. His confidence to take penalties is impressive, and the way he slots them away coolly is even more impressive. As long as Mario Balotelli keeps his head on the right way, he is Italy's best prospect to have recognition on the world stage. The Ballon d'Or is waiting for him; he just needs to reach out and grab it with both hands.