Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar up for 2015 Ballon d'Or
By Adam Bate
Last Updated: 11/01/16 7:28pm
Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar make up the three-man shortlist for the 2015 Ballon d'Or. With the help of Guillem Balague, we compare the top three…
The award is given to the world's best player over the calendar year, and each of the last seven prizes have been won by either Real Madrid's Ronaldo or Barcelona's Messi.
This year, they face competition from Messi's team-mate Neymar, who is the joint-top scorer in La Liga so far this season with 15 goals in 16 appearances.
The three-man shortlist was picked from 23 nominees, and the winner will be announced at FIFA's Ballon d'Or Gala in Zurich on January 11.
Here, with the help of Spanish football expert Guillem Balague, we examine the three contenders.
Messi has already claimed the award four times and he is Sky Bet's overwhelming favourite to win an unprecedented fifth, having missed out to Cristiano Ronaldo for the last two years. The Argentine led Barcelona to a La Liga, Champions League and Copa del Rey treble last season, scoring a remarkable 28 goals in the second half of the campaign.
He was unable to inspire his country to Copa America success in Chile during the summer, but he looks back to his best since returning from injury this month and Balague thinks he deserves to win it.
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"Barcelona can still compete against anyone without him but to get the records and the titles that will make them an extraordinary side, they need Messi," he said. "You have to give him the Ballon d'Or again. You have to reward what we're seeing, which is absolutely out of this world."
Ronaldo is aiming for his third consecutive Ballon d'Or after back-to-back successes in 2013 and 2014, although he has his work cut out after ending last season without any silverware. He scored 29 goals in the second half of 2014/15 and became Real Madrid's all-time record goalscorer in October, but his performances this season have come under scrutiny.
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"Ronaldo's influence on games has diminished, there's no doubt about that" Balague told Sky Sports. "The best Real Madrid ended in December after the Club World Cup and 22 consecutive victories. After that, according to [Real Madrid president] Florentino Perez himself, the team went into decay. That affected everybody, especially Ronaldo."
Neymar scored 24 goals in the second half of Barcelona's treble-winning 2014/15 season, and he became an even more prominent figure during Messi's recent injury absence. The Brazilian is joint-top of the Spanish scoring charts with 15 La Liga goals this season, and while Sky Bet make him the third favourite to win the award, Balague thinks he is well placed to usurp Ronaldo.
The case for Neymar
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are the main men but does Neymar deserve the Ballon d'Or?
"I do feel Neymar is more influential these days," Balague said. "It was noted when Messi got injured for two months, but generally in the last 12 months you've got one of the few players in the world who can beat defenders, whose pace is electrifying, and who not only scores but assists as well. He's got everything to be the second best player in the world."