FIFA have cut down their provincial 25 man shortlist to just three in their final preparations for the Ballon d’Or World Footballer of the Year ceremony that will take place in Zurich on January 9th of next year. Christiano Ronaldo, 26, Lionel Messi, 24, and his Barcelona team mate Xavi Hernandez, 31, have earned the honour of going head to head for the most prestigious award in European football.

Messi is undoubtedly favourite to pick up not only his third Ballon d’Or win, but also his third in a row having been successful in 2009 and 2010, an unprecedented achievement. The Argentinean maestro netted an unbelievable 53 goals in 55 appearances for Barcelona in the 2010/11 La Liga season, leading his team to a domestic and European double, culminating in the Wembley Champions League final win over Manchester United in May. He also added 24 assists to his portfolio, thus presenting himself as the epitome of the complete player. It is important to not devalue what an input he has had. For a front player to score or be involved in 77 goals in all competitions throughout a season is testament to just how special he is, and just how important a player he is to Barcelona.

Cristiano Ronaldo is already a Ballon d’Or winner having found glory in 2008, and achieved similar heights in 2010/11 matching Messi’s goal tally of 53 goals for the season in all competitions, but doing it in 54 games, one game fewer than his Argentinean challenger. Domestically he helped Real Madrid achieve remarkably their first trophy for three seasons, since the La Liga title victory of 2008. For a club of Real Madrid’s stature to go trophy less for such a long period is unusual in the modern age and is proof of the impact Ronaldo has had in altering Real Madrid’s fortunes. His goal in the Copa del Rey final, prevented arch rivals Barcelona from achieving their second treble in three seasons, which for any Madrid fan would be a bitter pill to swallow, and was his first honours for the club.

Ronaldo however is predicted to miss out on the title, having placed as runner up on two previous occasions in 2007 and 2009, one of which to Messi who is tipped to take the crown from him once again next January. Messi’s league and European success appears to be tipping the balance in his favour considering how inseparable the two are on paper. For two players in the same season to score 50 plus goals for two different clubs highlights just how far the quality of the players in modern day football has progressed. However, others expect more of Messi for his national side and even though both Portugal and Argentina did poorly in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, they are favouring Ronaldo for glory in Zurich. It is thought that Messi cannot be elevated to the standard of Maradona until he achieves World Cup glory, but despite this opinion the ball appears to be firmly in his court for next month.

This apparent two way tie for the Ballon d’Or is strange considering the quality of player that Xavi is. Like Messi he achieved La Liga and European success and played a pivotal role as the orchestrator of Barcelona’s incredibly talented midfield. Like Ronaldo he has already been recognised for his talent when he was nominated in the three man shortlist for the Ballon d’Or, placing third behind Barcelona team mates Messi and Iniesta. In the 2010/11 season Xavi scored 5 goals and collected 11 assists but in this case the stats don’t reflect the quality of player that he is. He is the base of all of Barcelona’s attacking play, and his figure for the number of key passes he has made last season, whilst unknown, would be immeasurable. His place as Barcelona’s all time leading appearance maker, as well as his invaluable importance to the team is justification for his nomination.

However it looks likely Xavi will miss out again on the title of best player in Europe with so much hype being centred on the incredible goal scoring achievements of his competitors. For any other result to materialise other than one of the two strikers taking home the FIFA Ballon d’Or looks unlikely. The vote which is conducted by journalists and the coaches and captains of national teams, will be announced at the ceremony at FIFA headquarters in Zurich on January 9th.

Thomas Mellor

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