FIFA Ballon d'Or 2011: Top 8 Contenders for the Award
With another season gone, nominations for the 2011 FIFA Ballon d'Or have been revealed.
Some are perhaps a surprise to the football world—others are a mere expectation.
Will the cat fight between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi ever cease or will these two players have to surrender to an outsider?
I have chosen eight players out of the possible 23, based on realistic chances, to be named in the final three.
All competitions (European, domestic, cup and international) have been taken into consideration.
While some may disagree with the selections, these are the players I believe have the best chances to receive a medal.
Diego Forlan: Athletico Madrid, Uruguay
He's not the biggest scorer of the lot, but Forlan’s 2010-2011 season saw the 32-year-old lift the UEFA Super Cup with Athletico and the Copa America the following summer.
With only 10 goals in 42 appearances with his Spanish suitors, Forlan has enjoyed a better international than domestic career in the past 18 months.
He's scored 15 goals for Uruguay since October last year, six of them coming in his Copa America triumph.
His efforts earned him a move to Inter Milan in the summer.
Prediction: Unlikely to finish in the top three.
David Villa: Barcelona, Spain
50 international goals in 80 games—a rare phenomenon for a player to find equal club form for his country.
The €40 million man enjoyed a sensational start to his Barcelona career, as well as World Cup glory with Spain.
He racked up 23 goals and nine assists in his debut season at Camp Nou. This in addition to five other trophies throughout the 2010-2011 campaign, including the prestigious Champions League.
He is a clever, well-visioned player with electric pace and intelligent finishing.
It could be yet another all-Barcelona finish, but I feel CR7 might have something to say about that.
Andres Iniesta: Barcelona, Spain
A man who needs no introduction to this award, he currently holds the runner-up position and looks to do one better over teammate Lionel Messi this year.
Consider these stats to realize just how sensationally good this midfielder is.
In Barca's 2-0 home win over Viktoria Plzen, he had a 90.9 percent pass success rate (90/99 passes completed). 63 of those were classified as "attacking third passes."
And he can score, too.
Iniesta scored the winning goal to claim Spain's trophy in the 2010 World Cup and netted nine times in 50 appearances for Barca the following season.
Dubbed as "Spain's most complete midfielder" by teammate Xavi, the 27-year-old completes 2,075 passes per season compared to the average 658.
With a passing accuracy rate of 89.06 percent, there is no questioning the midfield master's technical ability.
He orchestrates the Barcelona midfield and sparks that effervescent flow of forward passes to Villa and Messi.
Prediction: second or third place
Wayne Rooney: Manchester United, England
Sand seemed to fill Wayne Rooney's boots following his early return from South Africa.
A series of self-inflicted problems contoured the former Everton hitman, as he declared his wish to leave the club early in the season.
With Dimitar Berbatov enjoying the thrills of scoring hat tricks against rival Liverpool, Rooney failed to find form and endured a torrid time up to the new year.
Pressure and a well-documented private life put the striker in all sorts of professional mess, leaving lead sponsors Coca-Cola no choice but to terminate his contract because of a bad reputation.
A two-match ban for swearing to the cameras during a midday fixture at Upton Park put the forward yet again in the limelight.
He had to sit out United's FA Cup semifinal against Manchester City as a result.
Finishing the season with 11 goals and as many assists in the league, Rooney experienced a heart-breaking Champions League final defeat to Barcelona at Wembley, despite equalising in the first half.
Nine goals and three assists in 10 games has already propelled the 25-year-old amongst the Premier League's top scorers.
Does Rooney deserve the Ballon d'Or?
If judged on technical ability and general football awareness, possibly.
If judged as a professional, most certainly not. He needs to clean up his act before he will ever win such a prestigious award.
He just notched an international three-match ban for his red card against Montenegro.
Maybe he'll learn. Someday.
Mesut Ozil: Real Madrid, Germany
A solid World Cup display earned Mesut Ozil a €15 million transfer to Real Madrid.
A string-pulling creative midfielder, the young German was handed the No. 10 shirt by manager Jose Mourinho, who was intent on making the 23-year-old his main play-maker.
Finishing the season in fine style with 10 goals and 26 assists in 53 games, Mesut has certainly made a cracking start to his Bernabeu career.
A fantastic pair of feet complimented by a brilliant football brain, Ozil is a pleasure to watch and will dominate the Jose Mourinho era at Real Madrid.
Prediction: Wild card— maybe third place
"We in Germany are prone to rave about foreign players. We praise Wayne Rooney to the heavens, likewise (Cristiano) Ronaldo or Messi. But we have our own Messi. Our Messi is Özil," claimed U-21 National Coach Horst Hrubesch, according to the Daily Mail.
Luis Suarez: Liverpool, Uruguay
As Kenny Dalglish said the other week, "I am running out of words to describe Luis."
To be honest, I'm really not much different.
His £22.8 million January arrival from Ajax has made the biggest impact on Anfield since Fernando Torres.
Here's a kid who whines, moans, jumps, dives, cries, waves, dribbles, assists and scores. He's Liverpool's new No. 7.
Doesn't King Kenny just know it?
Suarez used Manchester United defenders as training cones in an absolutely exquisite piece of football, which will haunt Red Devil fans for years to come.
Movement, footwork and vision are the Uruguayan's strong points, and he can turn a game on its head within minutes.
With a hint of South American in him with his illustrious facial expressions and fake injuries, he's still a player every team in the world would like to have.
Winning free kicks and getting players booked are what El Pistolero is all about.
And since Anfield welcomed him last winter, Suarez has led the goal-scoring front all by himself.
We could be in for a shock result with this one. Third place is up for grabs!
And I forgot to mention—Copa America Winner and Player of the Tournament. Not too shabby.
Cristiano Ronaldo: Real Madrid, Portugal
The 2008 FIFA World Player of the Year is right up there looking to reclaim the title he had to give back a year later to rival Lionel Messi.
Ronaldo scored 40 goals and set up 10 others in his 2010-2011 La Liga season, the highest tally ever scored by one player in domestic competition.
He also scored seven goals in eight games to help Real Madrid beat Josep Guardiola’s men and claim their 18th Copa del Rey.
CR7 struck six times in twice as many appearances for Los Blancos in the Champions League but crashed out in a 3-1 aggregate defeat to the Catalan giants.
The 26-year-old added to his international account seven times in as many games for Portugal, scoring a mammoth 53 goals in just 54 games last season.
Or a strike rate of 98.1 percent.
Take a look, Lionel, because Ronaldo really outdid himself in 2010-2011. He has set the bar at a rather astonishing standard.
And he also had the time to prove he is more agile than an Olympic sprinter, can score in the dark with his shoulder and beat a random laser sniper with his snake-like footwork (seen here).
He's a mouth-watering statistic machine.
Lionel Messi: Barcelona, Argentina
Two-time winner and one-time runner up, the 5'6" attacking magician is everything the modern player aspires to be.
Awareness, ball control, movement and a set of incredibly talented and like-minded teammates is a skill set which Diego Maradona’s “successor” drastically boasts.
The 24-year-old hitman struck his 200th, 201st and 202nd goals against Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League this week, his second successive hat trick.
More impressively, he did it without Xavi or Iniesta on the field.
The threat to take away football’s most prestigious award from the striking maestro lies under threat from one other footballer, and we all know who that is.
La Liga, Champions League, UEFA Supercup and the Supercopa de Espana are the three trophies Messi helped lift last season for his club.
But he didn’t enjoy as much success as many of his teammates, who lifted the World Cup just before the preseason began.
He scored 53 goals in 55 appearances, along with 24 assists throughout the season and a 96.4 percent strike rate—1.7 percent less than CR7.
If Messi wins the Ballon d'Or this year, he will be the first player since Michel Platini to take three Ballon d'Or trophies in succession.
Its name has changed and merged, but the significance is still the same.
It all comes down to the judges.
Doubt over whether it will be anyone but Ronaldo or Messi is simply ludicrous. They are both the world's best players and have been for the past three years.
The stats speak for themselves, and despite playing in the second best league in the world, Ronaldo has already dominated the EPL.
Messi would fit into any team, regardless if you're playing away at the Britannia.
Iniesta and Ozil are the most likely to take third place, but Suarez has my vote for a sneaky inside tip.
Tell me what you think in the comment box below or add me on twitter @mwoodward90.