Lets Assume For a Moment that Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi Never Came This Way, How Would the Last Decade of Ballon d’Or Have Turned Out?
Even a toddler in in the burning temperatures of Mogadishu is already familiar with shouts of ‘Messiiiiiiiiiiiiiii…… Yes!!!!!!’ ‘Goal! Goal! Goal!’ Cristiano Ronaldo! Hala Madrid!! Cristiano Cristiano, Goooaaaaaal!’
Through no fault of their own, and much to their delight, the younger generation of football die-hards have been seduced by the breathtaking timeline of Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi’s unrivaled dominance in the last decade
Two Skinny kids whose mad obsession with kicking the ball, and the eternal hunger to reach the very top, was no doubt responsible for their exit(s) from the shores of Rosario and Madeira: One to Barcelona, the other, to Lisbon, Manchester, and eventually, Madrid.
But what if they didn’t exist, or to simply rephrase, what if they had come into this planet caring very little about the beautiful game, or deciding instead to pursue academic careers? Would we have had the right to take the gods to court? I very much doubt it
Football would still be the most popular sport right? The Ballon d’Or and FIFA Player of the year awards would still be given out annually right?
Although Ronaldo and Messi’s Ballon d’Or fiesta commenced at a time when football was in need of something more refreshing and fascinating, the GOATS committed the irreparable atrocity of denying a host of insanely gifted footballers the opportunity to be officially crowned the best among their peers
Seriously, have you thought about how the Ballon d’Or timeline would have shaped up going back to 2008 when Cristiano Ronaldo drew first blood?
It is in fact, arguable, that Ronaldinho would have probably been the last to be crowned footballer of the year twice in two years.
Let’s take a look at some of those footballers who would have boasted at least one Ballon d’Or had Messi and Ronaldo not been in existence
Wesley Sneijder (2010)
If there’s one footballer who didn’t have to compete in the La Liga, who, for the first time in Messi and Ronaldo’s illustrious careers, outplayed everyone on the Ballon d’Or shortlist, across Europe’s top five leagues, the World Cup and the Champions League; That man has got to be Wesley Sneijder.
The Catalyst at the center of Inter Milan’s treble-winning season and the Netherland’s incredible World Cup campaign in South Africa, the energetic midfielder succeeded in seducing even the most difficult of critics and judges.
You know what surprises most people till date? It is the fact that the Dutch maestro didn’t even make the final three on the podium, exactly!! The powers that be at FIFA managed to convince themselves that Sneijder hadn’t done enough, despite a treble with the Nerazzurri and a Silver Medal at the FIFA World Cup that summer.
Sneijder may not have had too many spectacular seasons, but his 2009/10 season was arguably more spectacular than anyone else’s on that list.
Here’s a midfielder who scored five instrumental goals at the World Cup, received four man of the match awards, was named second best player in the same tournament, and was awarded the honors of UEFA best midfielder that year.. What else could he have done? Harvest his balls and sent them to Zurich?
In a nutshell, Inter Milan’s chief orchestrator had a more consistent and effective season in his position than Xavi and Iniesta; The Spaniards are no doubt more gifted, more skillful, more talented, but that very season, The Sniper outplayed them.
Truth be told, Lionel Messi on the flip-side, had a fantastic season ….. DOMESTICALLY, picking up the European golden shoe with 34 league goals as Barcelona won the La Liga.
Zhat zwas zall, Sneijder was so good at his job, Pep Guardiola’s side suffered a painful Champions League Semi-Final exit to an Inter Milan side that had the Dutch maestro administrating it’s affairs in the middle of the park, shouldn’t that have counted for something too?
So, how on god’s green earth did Wesley Sneijder not even make the shortlist?
Little wonder the 2010 Ballon d’Or is still referred to in many quarters as the greatest heist in the history of the award.
Xavi Hernandez (2009, 2010, 2011)
Enough of Wesley Sneijder, he deserved the 2010 Ballon d’Or yes, but let’s talk about a more distinguished maestro.
You are tempted to say Xavi is arguably the best central midfielder of all time, but then you take a trip down memory lane and you find out there’s actually nothing to be argued, no matter who you support, you can’t help but rank Xavier Hernández Creus as the best in his position.
In his day, the Supreme maestro wasn’t just unplayable, he was a torn in the flesh of the opposition, no matter how well you set up your defensive walls, Xavi always found space, think we’re exaggerating? Ask the almighty Real Madrid, against whom the Catalan assisted four of Barcelona’s six goals in the 2008-09 Clasico blockbuster [6-2 to Pep Guardiola’s boys]
The 37-year-old wasn’t just part of the system at Barcelona and Spain’s multiple trophy-winning sides, he was the heart-beat, the shepherd. Get a hold of him and the sheep were drowned in confusion, but could you? He never lost the ball, he never gave it away.
If the Barcelona legend had $100 dollars for every assist provided, every clear-cut chance designed, he’d definitely be doing more for Charity, but that’s a conversation for another day.
Between 2009 and 2011, Xavi made the Ballon d’Or three-man shortlist, and even though Sneijder deserved more recognition in 2010, the Terrassa native no doubt earned his place in all three short-lists.
For every appearance he made, the Barcelona midfielder always came in third, twice behind Cristiano Ronaldo and once behind compatriot Andres Iniesta (2010).
Perhaps in the absence of Real Madrid’s weapon of mass destruction and Barcelona’s demon of a number 10, Xavi could have had better luck with the Ballon d’Or.
Andrés Iniesta Luján (2010, 2012)
Scoring the winning goal that handed La Roja the World Cup in 2010 probably wasn’t enough to get the Fuentealbilla native a spot in the 2010 Ballon d’Or shortlist, but that’s about the 2010 Ballon d’Or.
In 2012, Iniesta was voted third behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi who was receiving the award for a record fourth time.
Between 2010 and 2012, the Pale knight was at the peak of his powers;
With the ball glued to his toes, Iniesta became every woman’s desire, not because he was more gorgeous than David Beckham or had a better build than Cristiano Ronaldo, but because he romanced the ball so well millions of spectators experienced irreparable hard-ons as he twisted, turned and penetrated defenses, again and again …………………….. and AGAIN!
Take Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo out of the 2012 Ballon d’Or equation and the only constant left is Lujan, popularly known as Andres Iniesta.
El Ilusionista has won every trophy available for the taking, except of course, the prestigious FIFA Ballon d’Or. Had the award been honorary, there’s no doubt the Blaugrana catalyst would have been a worthy recipient.
Antoine Griezmann (2016)
An unlikely candidate.
Unlike Xavi and Iniesta, Griezmann wasn’t really promising from the start. Skinny, petite and technically rusty, the diminutive French forward had enough doubters to last two lifetimes in his early days.
However, what he lacked in size, he made up for in technique, versatility, and superb finishing. Real Sociedad, Aletico Madrid and the France National team have all enjoyed Antoine Griezmann at the peak of his powers, but hey, he’s 26 and still has a lot more to offer.
Two years ago, Griezmann had arguably the best paragraph in his career till date, scoring vital goals to help Atletico eliminate Barcelona and Bayern en route the Champions league final where, unfortunately, they lost again to City rivals Real Madrid.
With six goals and two assists in seven games, Antoine Griezmann was voted best player of Euro 2016, but subsequently finished third behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the Ballon d’Or and the best FIFA awards for that year.
Through no fault of his own, the Frenchman missed out on what could have been the icing on the cake for a truly incredible football year, and the major culprit? Cristiano Ronaldo, who won the Champions League and European Championship as well as the Ballon d’Or and Best FIFA accolades.
Had France won the Euro 2016 and Los Rojiblancos triumphed against their rivals in Lisbon? Then Griezmann could have walked away with Ballon d’Or two years ago.
Franck Ribery and Manuel Neuer (2013, 2014)
Both Bayern stars came agonizingly close to walking home with the Ballon d’Or in 2013 and 2014 respectively.
For Franck Ribery, it was even more heart-breaking as the French media who should have been proud of their very own, busied themselves with fuelling the fanfare that landed Ronaldo his second Ballon d’OR.
That year, the Bayern forward was in cloud ten as he helped Die Roten win the quadruple of the DFL Super cup, the Bundesliga, the Champions League, and the DFB-Pokal. Ribery was also voted UEFA footballer of the year in what remains his best season till date.
After the great Lev Yashin won the coveted award in 1963, the closest any goalkeeper has come was Oliver Kahn in 2001, and 2002… But in 2014, Manuel Neuer, after a fascinating World Cup triumph with Germany, was voted third behind Lionel Messi as Cristiano Ronaldo picked up his second successive Ballon d’OR.
Two years in a row, two of Die Roten’s finest were within touching distance of winning the Ballon d’Or, but the almighty Cristiano stood in their way… While Lionel Messi took whatever was left on the pan before pushing off the crumbs to the boys from Bavaria.
Neymar JR (2015, 2017, 20??)
The only footballer who has finally succeeded in getting as much attention and fanfare as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. It’s not because he’s Brazilian or his name Neymar, but because has actually dazzled his way to the top of the pyramid.
In 2013, the summer before he left Santos for Barcelona, the PSG playmaker was a catalyst in the Brazilian side that thrashed World Champions Spain at the Confederations cup in Rio de Janeiro.
As a result, he was voted player of the tournament, no arguments there, he deserved it.
That was four-and-a-half years ago, and the youngster was only giving us a sign of things to come.
Neymar junior was voted third in 2015 and 2017, behind, again –Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Andres Messi, but then, he remains the only footballer with the highest odds of winning the Ballon d’Or before the iconic duo hang their boots in the near future.
His record transfer to PSG has brought more attention to the league often ridiculed as a division full of mechanized farmers and professional fisherman, but it’s not about the league, it’s about NEYMAR.
Asides being part and parcel of the deadly MSN trio that raped numerous defenses, the Brazil international has always managed to live up to the hype since bursting onto the scene over a decade ago.
Since joining Les Parisiens in the summer of 2017, Neymar has bossed it all the way, becoming the first player in Europe’s top five leagues to record more than 10 assists this season, as I type, and as you read, he’s still bossing it, and will probably keep doing so until he picks up the Ballon d’Or one of these days, perhaps this December?
However, While Neymar’s escape from Messi’s shadow remains significant in his quest for the prestigious award, the competitive nature of the French top tier makes it almost mandatory for the Brazilian to win either the Champions League, or the World Cup if he’s ever going to have a proper shot at it.
The Champions League final and the World Cup in Russia are just a couple of months down the road, PSG and Brazil are favorites in both competition, Neymar wears the no.10 shirt for both teams.. the undisputed game changer as well, but we will have to keep our fingers crossed on this one.