Zak Rowe looks at his top 5 for the Ballon D’Or, if Messi and Ronaldo were not in the frame.
When the Ballon D’Or (the annual award for the world’s best footballer) shortlist was announced earlier this week, the majority of the 23 players included would have come of little surprise to anyone with even the slightest interest in football. Again, the list is comprised mainly of attacking players, with just a single goalkeeper and defender being nominated for football’s most prestigious individual award.
Despite goal scoring clearly being the main criteria for a nomination, few could argue that the when the Ballon D’Or is announced in January, it will be, for the fifth consecutive year, either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo who take home the trophy. However, whilst no player is on the same level as the aforementioned superstars, several come close and here I will consider some of the other nominees before providing an alternative top five players of 2015.
FIFA Ballon D'Or Winners from the last 5 years
Before I reveal my other choices, I must first give a special mention to a number of players who have performed exceptionally well during 2015, but just miss out on spot in the top five. Firstly, Belgian playmaker Kevin De Bruyne enjoyed a superb campaign for Wolfsburg last season; his 10 goals and 20 assists saw him guide the Wolves to second in the Bundesliga. Another Belgian who has helped steer his national side to number one in the world rankings, Eden Hazard, also deserves not to be ignored. Last year’s Premier League Player of the Season was class above the rest as he added goals (19 in all competitions) to his exceptional creative talents, scoring or setting up 32 goals in 52 matches, leading to his manager Jose Mourinho claiming Hazard performed better than Cristiano Ronaldo during the season.
A final special mention has to go to Barcelona’s Croatian midfielder Ivan Rakitic. A relative unknown on the global stage before his move from Sevilla to Barcelona in 2014, Rakitic developed into one of Barcelona’s most important performers last season, opening the scoring in the Champions League final and effortlessly slotting into the midfield position that had been vacated by Xavi. Unfortunately, players like Rakitic often do not receive the credit they deserve due to the unattractiveness of their work, hence the 27 year old’s surprise, but thoroughly deserved, inclusion.
5. Alexis Sanchez
The Arsenal and Chile forward is simply a delight to watch. The 26-year-old began his Arsenal career this time last year in sensational form, and his performances haven’t dropped since. His work rate and desire is simply sensational and, in addition to being far and away Arsenal’s best and most consistent player last season, scoring 25 goals in 52 games (including an unbelievable long-range effort in the 2015 FA Cup final), the Chilean also picked up the PFA Fans’ Player of the Year, showing that supporters of other clubs acknowledge his fantastic ability and attitude too. His knack of performing when it matters have seen him transform Arsenal in potential title candidates, however it is for his national side where his biggest achievement lies. Sanchez was instrumental in guiding his national side to their first ever Copa America title with brilliant performances against Uruguay and Peru, as well as scoring the winning penalty in the final against Argentina, confirming his status as one of the world’s best.
4. Robert Lewandowski
The Bayern Munich forward is possibly the best striker in world football currently, and unquestionably the most prolific. In just nine league matches this season, he has already scored 13 goals (including one incredible game where he netted five in nine minutes against Wolfsburg – arguably the Bundesliga’s second strongest side), as well as three in three in the Champions League. Yet, it is not just his goalscoring which makes Lewandowski stand out; in 62 games for the Bavarians since his move from rivals Borussia Dortmund in 2014, he has registered 15 assists. This is a very impressive return for a striker who does not play as a conventional target man, made even more so considering the number of creative players in the Bayern squad. Additionally, with 13 goals and set up his teammates on a further five occasions in European Championship Qualifiers for Poland, he almost singled-handedly guided his side to France next summer. If Lewandowski is able to continue his current form and performs well at the Euros, perhaps he will be challenging for the main prize in 2016.
3. Sergio Aguero
From scoring that memorable winner against QPR in May 2012 to clinch Manchester City a first league title since 1968, to his recent five-goal haul against Newcastle, Sergio Aguero has been nothing short of exceptional since his move to England. His goal scoring record speaks for itself (32 in 42 during the 2014/15 campaign), however it is the Argentinian’s tireless work rate and willingness to chase many a lost cause, as well as his ability to produce something out of nothing, that have seen him come to be regarded as perhaps the world’s best outside Cristiano Ronaldo and international teammate Lionel Messi, drawing comparisons to fellow Argentinian and arguably the greatest player of all time, Diego Maradona.
1. = Luis Suarez & Neymar
I believe there are two players worthy of top spot; with very little to separate Luis Suarez and Neymar as Messi and Ronaldo’s closest challengers. However, as mentioned before, in my opinion this prize should not exclusively concern goal-scoring, and the overall contribution of these two players to their respective clubs sides in 2015 is what stands them in a class above the rest.
Alongside Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez form two-thirds of Barcelona’s attacking trio; in 2014/15, the three of the them scored 122 goals between them, including 25 for Luis Suarez. Moreover, the 28-year-old also provided 24 assists for his teammates, thus playing an integral role in Barca’s incredible run to completing the treble last season. Despite his career being filled with controversy, there is no denying his talents as arguably the world’s best finisher and the Uruguayan appears to have left his past behind him as he excelled in 2015 with 22 of his 25 goals coming after the turn of the year.
Arguably the most skilful player on the planet, Neymar has enjoyed a stunning 2015. Despite not quite living up to the hysteria that surrounded his controversial transfer to Barcelona in his first season with the Catalan giants, his second was nothing short of spectacular. Goals in the Champions League and Copa Del Rey finals finally proved his doubters wrong of his ability to perform in the big matches, and made up two of his 39 last season as Barcelona swept aside all competition to complete a historic treble. Neymar has started this campaign in similar fashion, and surely one day he will win the top individual accolade in world football. Additionally, the Brazilian is well on his way to becoming his national side’s all time top goalscorer; at the age of just 23 he has already scored 46 international goals, as well as being handed the captaincy following that disastrous semi-final defeat to Germany.