Since Cristiano Ronaldo picked up the award in 2008, the FIFA World Player of the year, or Ballon D’or as it is now titled, has been reserved exclusively for the pair of Ronaldo and his La Liga rival, Lionel Messi.
The lack of challengers to the crown isn’t something that we as fans necessarily complain about, though. The duo are considered on a completely different level to any of their colleagues and watching one of the greatest ever individual battles for supremacy unfold has been a joy, and it promises to continue for at least a few more seasons yet.
In the campaign just gone, it was Messi who stole the show after his contributions to Barcelona’s treble win. The Argentine scored 58 goals and recorded 28 assists with mouth-watering displays against Manchester City and Bayern Munich amongst his individual highlights.
Messi has been voted the world’s best player on four occasions and over the past decade has developed into arguably the greatest player of all time.
In January of this year, however, Messi was forced to watch on as Ronaldo claimed the Ballon D’or for his remarkable 2014, in which the Real Madrid star scored 52 goals and played a crucial role in Los Blancos Champions League win mid way through the year.
Last season saw the Portuguese captain notch 61 times but the term ended trophyless for his side. The 30-year-old has picked up FIFA’s top individual accolade on 3 occasions and after Messi’s showings during the second half of last season, we can expect something of a response from Ronaldo in the upcoming campaign.
Based on the form shown by both players last season, neither seems likely to slow down anytime soon and so it’s far too early to eulogize. However, this great era of dominance has to come to an end sooner or later.
So what will be left in their wake? It’s a big ask, but Europe’s elite young stars will be hoping they can fill the enormous void and take centre stage.
Given the nature of modern football, most fans are well aware of the up and coming stars touted to project themselves to the very top of the game. Here are some of the most likely heirs to the thrown.
Last season saw the Belgian winger reach his biggest heights to date after the PFA player of the season helped secure the title for Chelsea. The 24 year old has long been mooted as a potential Ballon D’or winner and his progression is gathering pace.
Manager Jose Mourinho has hailed his star man as ‘one of the top three players in the world’, high praise if perhaps a little premature. Hazard scored 14 Premier league goals last term and should he improve upon that record, it will only add to the growing opinion that the former Lille man is destined for greatness.
This summer, following another impressive season for Juventus on their run to the Champions League final, Pogba became one of football’s biggest obsessions. His excellent campaign came off the back of a series of dominant displays for France during last year’s World Cup, earning him the title of Young Player of the Tournament.
Pursued by every top club in Europe, the 22-year-old looks set to stay in Turin for the time being but a move to either Barcelona or Real Madrid appears likely in the near future. Famously, he left Manchester United on a free transfer in 2012 after becoming fed up at the lack of opportunities afforded to him by then boss Sir Alex Ferguson, and Pogba is surely one of the Scots biggest regrets.
Given the praise he has received from compatriots Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry, the powerful midfielder looks set to develop into one of Europe’s biggest stars.
The youngest player in this list at 21, Depay still has a long way to go, but the early signs are good. Signed by Manchester United this summer from PSV, his performances last season commanded a £25 million fee.
The Netherlands International scored 22 goals as his side won the Eridivisie title. Depay has made no secret of his intentions to emulate the success of former United star Ronaldo and appears to have the attitude to go just as far.
Hailed in recent years for his tireless attempts to improve, combined with his massive talents, Old Trafford faithful may have a future club legend to celebrate.
The most talented Brazilian of his generation, Neymar joined Messi in helping Barcelona win the treble last season, scoring 39 times and assisting seven. The former Santos youngster has already established himself as one of the best attackers in the world and at just 23, he is fifth on the all time top-scoring charts for his country with 44.
With the weight of a nation on his shoulders, Neymar led the Selecao to the semi finals of the World Cup on home soil last summer before his absence against Germany through injury left Brazil scarcely short of inspiration in a 7-1 loss.
If he can avoid a similarly premature decline to fellow countrymen such as Ronaldinho, Neymar could sweep the individual accolades for years to come and perhaps become the greatest Brazilian player of all time.
After a largely disappointing season, Bale will be hoping to return to the form which earned him a £77 million move to Real Madrid in 2013. His debut season in Spain was impressive, with the Welshman forming part of the famous BBC with Ronaldo and Benzema, as Real became European champions.
During the past 12 months however, the 26-year-old has seen his stock with Madrid fans plummet. Branded ‘El Chupon’ for his percieved ball hogging, Bale appears determined to win over the Bernabeu faithful next season, despite interest from the Premier League’s top clubs.
Another player whose national team is largely dependant upon, the former Spurs star has been at the forefront of Wales’ charge towards next summer’s Euro’s in France. Despite last season’s club form, there’s no doubting Bale’s huge potential, which, if he can fulfil, should see him overtake his Real teammate Ronaldo in the not too distant future.
The plethora of football’s growing stars should provide its audience with just enough excitement once the current great’s talents have waned. However, a rivalry quite like that of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi is unlikely to recur. Perhaps we should savour it while we can.