Ballon d'Or battle
Monday sees the Ballon d'Or ceremony take place in Zurich with Cristiano Ronaldo, Franck Ribery and Lionel Messi looking to take home football's greatest individual prize. Here we weigh up the evidence and make the case for each of the nominees to be crowned the winner of the Ballon d'Or.
By Adam Bate
Last Updated: 13/01/14 7:04pm
As the world awaits the verdict on who'll be crowned the winner of the FIFA Ballon d'Or, awarded to the player considered to have performed best in 2013, Sky Sports takes a look at the three nominated candidates. Did Lionel Messi do enough to retain the crown or will it be Cristiano Ronaldo's goals or Franck Ribery's trophy cabinet that impresses the judges?
Outrageous stuff. Ronaldo has scored a phenomenal 55 goals for Real Madrid in 2013 with Getafe, Galatasaray and Real Sociedad all on the receiving end of hat-tricks by the Portuguese marksman. He even reserved two of the beauties for Sevilla. And that's just his record in club football. This was also the year in which Ronaldo scored two hat-tricks for his country - the second of which against Sweden in the second leg of Portugal's World Cup playoff ensuring his country's place in Brazil.
It's the empty space at the heart of a remarkable season of personal achievement. Real Madrid failed to win a single trophy in 2013. Second in La Liga to Barcelona, runners-up in the Copa del Rey to Atletico Madrid and beaten in the semi-final of the Champions League by Borussia Dortmund, Ronaldo had to content himself with the title of top scorer in Europe's premier club competition - regaining the crown he had lost to Messi in 2008/09.
There are plenty of titles, trophies and cups out there for team achievement. That's the nature of football. But the Ballon d'Or is surely here to honour individual brilliance. It is difficult to argue that anyone has exceeded the efforts of Ronaldo in that regard. Week after week he has produced mind-blowing match-winning performances allied to the sort of goalscoring greatness usually reserved for comic books and computer games. A heroic effort that deserves acclaim.
"Do I deserve to win? I believe I deserve to win the Golden Ball each year. I would like to win, but sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, that is the way things are. I've been on the podium for six years. This is no accident, it demonstrates the consistency that I have shown in recent years." - Cristiano Ronaldo
"Messi is an excellent player, but he has been out of action a long time. And you can't give an award like this to Ribery, who only scored 22 goals. Cristiano Ronaldo has always been at the top of his game and scored twice as many." - Fabio Coentrao
"Messi and Cristiano are the two most important players in the world today but, for me, Ronaldo is the best." - Radamel Falcao
There is far more to Ribery's game than goals but the Bayern Munich winger still managed to produce a healthy 16 of them from 40 appearances for the Bundesliga giants in 2013, including a final-day brace against Borussia Monchengladbach to cap a remarkable 2012/13 season. Ribery has also become a talismanic figure for his country, scoring for France against Georgia and Finland in World Cup qualifying as well as bagging a brace in their win in Belarus.
This is where the Frenchman really comes into his own. The list of honours is long so here we go: the Bundesliga title, the German Cup, the Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup. This was the year that Bayern won the lot and Ribery was the star man, being named player of the tournament in the Champions League, man of the match in the Super Cup and MVP in the Club World Cup. Glory hardly covers it.
"The game is about glory," said Danny Blanchflower. And Ribery was the living embodiment of that in 2013 as he enjoyed the sort of annus mirabilis that every player dreams of. Don't believe the talk of Ribery being outshone by some of his team-mates either. It was the Frenchman who really lit up this Bayern side with his verve, enthusiasm and prolonged periods of excellence. Rewarding the best player in the very best of teams can never be seen as a bad decision.
"I'm happy. Happy for myself, for the club, and for my whole family. Whether I win or not I will still be happy. To me it is a pleasure to be on the shortlist of candidates with Cristiano and Messi. This year I have won everything with Bayern, and I think I helped a lot." - Franck Ribery
"I'd vote for Ribery. Cristiano Ronaldo's statistics are impressive - individually, he's doing great things and setting new records. However, Ribery offers more in defensive areas and helps the team a lot all over the pitch. And last season he won everything there was to win." - Robert Lewandowski
"Ribery is a great player, a different kind of player. He prefers to create goals than score them. He's the kind of player you want to play alongside. Obviously, I'd like him to win." - Thierry Henry
Despite an injury-hit end to the season, when Messi was on the pitch he maintained his astonishing goalscoring record for Barcelona by scoring 37 goals in his 36 appearances in 2013. He began the year in style by scoring four goals against Osasuna in January and has added further hat-tricks against Valencia and Ajax so far this season. He closed out the calendar year with a brace against AC Milan before being withdrawn through injury in the November win over Real Betis.
After Barcelona surrendered much of their silverware in 2012, Messi helped fire the Catalan giants back to the top of La Liga in 2013 as they reclaimed the title from Real Madrid to be crowned Spanish champions for a 22nd time - a sixth win for the Argentine genius. But there was disappointment in the Champions League as Barca were humbled in a 7-0 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich with Ronaldo also ending Messi's four-year streak as tournament top scorer.
"If Messi had done that we'd all be raving about it," say the tiresome pundits. It's precisely the opposite. The little magician has made the magnificent common-place during his reign as the game's greatest player. Indeed, the only things likely to prevent Messi winning the Ballon d'Or for a fifth successive year are his untimely injury and the sheer fatigue of proclaiming his greatness time and again. If we were looking objectively, Messi remained the world's best player in 2013.
"The truth is that I'm focused on my recovery and not thinking about anything else." - Lionel Messi
"Ribery and Cristiano deserve to win the Ballon d'Or but there's no doubt that the best player now - and of all time - is Messi." - Xavi Hernandez
"I don't know who will win the Ballon d'Or but I don't care, Lionel is still the best in the world." - Jordi Alba