Ballon d’Or 2016: Two more months of speculation

This award was dominated by Messi, who won in the first three years in addition to last year, and Ronaldo, who won the two years in between

Krikor Yeretzian

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Every year, one player is chosen to rise above all others and is awarded the Ballon d’Or. For the past six years, FIFA and France Football joined their awards, FIFA World Player of the Year and the Ballon d’Or, respectively, to create the FIFA Ballon d’Or. This award was dominated by Messi, who won in the first three years in addition to last year, and Ronaldo, who won the two years in between.

The winner is voted on by international journalists, national team coaches and captains. The 30-player shortlist was released earlier this week, dominated by La Liga, which was represented by 13 players from three teams. The Premier League was next best, with eight players from five teams, although I doubt anyone from the EPL will make the top three.

Before the Ronaldo and Messi rivalry began, the Ballon d’Or was awarded to a wide range of players, including Ronaldinho, the Brazilian Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane. This is an exclusive chance for many players to be featured among the best in the world, and in one case, a chance to be crowned the best player of the year.

The only problem I see with the award is the delay. The voting procedures are more or less fair, with journalists from all over the world adding to the votes, in addition to national team captains and coaches who have not only experienced the international games, but the domestic ones as well. The award is decided upon in January of the next year, so in this case January 2017, which is late for an award that is based on the performance of the previous year.

According to uefa.com, the 30-man shortlist includes: Dimitri Payet (West Ham United), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy (Leicester), Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund), Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, Toni Kroos, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Gianluigi Buffon, Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain (Juventus), Diego Godin, Antoine Griezmann, Koke (Atletico Madrid), Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luiz Suarez (Barcelona), Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller, Manuel Neuer, Arturo Vidal (Bayern Munich), Rui Patricio (Sporting Portugal).

My top five prediction

After strenuous research and a long look at last season’s stats, I’ve come up with a five-man shortlist. For diversity’s sake, I decided to also include a goalkeeper and a defender, along with three forwards/wingers. Since this year included the Euro2016 competition, the players that participated in and/or won the tournament have an advantage on those who didn’t. Other than that, I looked at domestic league and cup winners, the Champions League results and individual statistics. Although my pick might disappoint some, as I’ve left one major star out, it is a fact-based prediction.

To begin with, the goalkeeper I chose to start off my top five Ballon d’Or shortlist is Manuel Neuer. Bayern made it further than the teams the other nominated keepers play for in the Champions League (semi-finals vs. Atletico Madrid). Bayern also won the Bundesliga, in addition to the domestic cup (DFB-Pokal). To top that off, Neuer was awarded best goalkeeper in the Bundesliga, having saved 79 percent of shots this season!

Next up is my chosen defender, Pepe. The Real Madrid/Portugal National Team center back has racked up quite the number of achievements this season. His team won the Champions League, to be crowned Kings of Europe, in addition to Portugal winning the Euro2016. Obviously an influential player for both, Pepe’s international achievement puts him ahead of Ramos and Godin in my books.

My third pick is Antoine Griezmann. This lad has been playing excellent football, taking his team, Atletico Madrid, to the finals of the Champions League, as well as the France National Team to the finals of the Euro2016. Unfortunately, both teams ended up second in both competitions, so Griezmann doesn’t have a title under his belt. What he does have, on the other hand, is a spot in the Euro team of the tournament, in addition to a Player of the Tournament award and the Euro2016 Golden Boot. To add to that, his side reached the quarter finals of the Cop Del Rey, much better than rivals Real Madrid did, and third in La Liga. This fantastic display of football, both domestically and internationally. earns Antoine Griezmann a spot in my top five and I’m pretty confident he will be in the top three once they are announced.

Next up, is Cristiano Ronaldo, the favorite to win the Ballon d’Or. This exemplary player added a few more trophies to his cabinet when his teams (Portugal and Real Madrid) won the Euro2016 and Champions League. As if that wasn’t enough, he was also the top scorer in the Champions League (16 goals), second top scorer in La Liga (35 goals), had the 5th most assists in La Liga (11) and won the Silver Boot at the Euro2016. Ronaldo has created and completed so many chances and is a lethal forward that many clubs would dream of acquiring, even though he is 31 going on 32 in a few months.

Finally, my fifth player, one that has previously been disgraced in the football world, now stands a high chance of winning his first Ballon d’Or. This goal machine is Luis Suarez. The Barcelona/Uruguayan forward really proved himself last season, landing at the top of the league’s top scorers table (40 goals), tied for most assists (16) with teammate Lionel Messi and tied for top scorer (five goals) in the Copa del Rey. A truly unselfish player, Suarez helped Barcelona win La Liga and the Copa del Rey, in addition to a subpar, yet still thrilling Champions League campaign that was cut short by Atletico Madrid in the Quarter Finals. As if that wasn’t enough, Suarez was featured in most of the teams of the year, and turns out to have scored the most goals (40) among the top scorers in the most prominent European Leagues.

Other players who were close

I’m sure the player that most of you will miss in my top five pick is Messi. Although he still is one of the best players in the world, his season wasn’t very eventful. He was the third top scorer in La Liga, and tied for most assists with Suarez. Other than that, he has little to show for the 2015/16 season.

A few other players were close, such as Ibrahimovic, who scored 38 goals last season for PSG, and Neymar, who led the Brazilian National Team to Olympic victory. On the other hand, Ibrahimovic’s international campaign was very short-lived as Sweden were knocked out in the group stages. Neymar’s chances to win the Ballon d’Or also diminished after learning he had the fourth most assists in La Liga and was nowhere near Suarez, the top scorer.

Finally, Buffon could’ve taken Neuer’s place as both are world class goalkeepers.Buffon is actually one of the greats, having broken several records last season, including most clean sheets for Italy and most clean sheets in Serie A. What threw him off is his teams’ (Italy and Juventus) performances in the Euro and Champions League, as Neuer’s teams (Germany and Bayern Munich) did better in both competitions.