As usual, France Football have announced their thirty candidates for this year’s Ballon d’Or (full list below). Of course, the usual suspects are on the list. Favourites include Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann.

However, this year’s nominations have thrown up a few surprises both in terms of inclusions and exclusions. Leicester City forwards Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy have been rewarded for their success last season with places on the shortlist.

England international Vardy scored 24 goals last season, and what makes his goal tally even more remarkable is the fact that four years ago he was playing non-League football for Fleetwood Town.

He is also the only Englishmen on the list and the first Englishmen to be on the list since 2012 when Wayne Rooney was on the shortlist. Mahrez, who currently leads the France Football poll with 32 percent of votes, was also on the shortlist.

“One would think that David De Gea would but a worthier of a spot than Rui Patricio”

One nomination that stands out for me is Portuguese and Sporting Lisbon goal keeper Rui Patricio. While he was part of the Portugal’s Euro 2016 winning squad, one would think that David De Gea would but a worthier of a spot than the Portuguese shot stopper.

The Spaniard has been a key member of the Manchester United XI, winning player of the year two years in a row. Arsenal and Germany midfielder Mesut Özil is also a surprise exclusion, who fell one short of the record number of assists in the league (20), set by Thierry Henry in 2002/03 season. However, one could argue that 16 out of the 19 assists came before December.

The current favourite for the award is Cristiano Ronaldo. The Real Madrid and Portugal forward has been a key figure for both club and country, helping Madrid to Champions League glory and Portugal to Euro 2016 triumph.

The two-time winner has scored 51 goals in all competitions for Madrid this season, while also scoring three times in France. However, Ronaldo has had a slow start to the season by his usual standards, but he seems to be still recovering from the injury suffered in the final of the Euros.

Holder Lionel Messi has had a mixed season. While winning the league with Barcelona, the Argentine forward did not enjoy a good summer with Argentina, losing a fourth major final and calling time on his international career.

One outside bet for the award this year could be Antione Griezmann. The 25-year-old Atletico Madrid forward is entering the prime of his career and has found excellent form throughout the season.

He guided the Los Colchoneros to the Champions League Final and his six goals in the Euros helped France reach the final. No single French international had scored four or more goals in an international tournament since Michel Platini at Euro 1984.

“There is an argument that the Ballon d’Or has become a bit predictable and boring, with Messi and Ronaldo sharing the price between them since 2007”

What might prevent him from winning is the failure in both the Champions League and Euros finals, with Ronaldo coming out the winner on both occasions. Luis Suarez and Neymar could also push Messi and Ronaldo, with both attackers playing a key role for Barcelona again.

Neymar also played a key role in Brazil’s Olympic gold medal triumph at home. While the top two will most likely be between Messi and Ronaldo, the third spot will be hotly contested.

There is an argument that the Ballon d’Or has become a bit predictable and boring, with Messi and Ronaldo sharing the price between them since 2007. There have been calls from some corners that the way the award is decided needs to be changed to break the Ronaldo-Messi duopoly.

But when looking at their figures across the season they are the best of the bunch. Griezmann could push the two players the closest, he did win player of the tournament at the Euros and was voted the player of the season in La Liga, who use a video analysis system to decide on the best players. Maybe France Football should consider something like this.

The full Ballon d’Or is as follows:

Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund), Gareth Bale (Real Madrid), Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City), Paulo Dybala (Juventus), Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Gonzalo Higuain (Juventus), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Manchester United), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Koke (Atletico Madrid), Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur), Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich), Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Neymar (Barcelona), Dimitri Payet (West Ham), Pepe (Real Madrid), Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Rui Patricio (Sporting Lisbon), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Luis Suarez (Barcelona), Jamie Vardy (Leicester City), Arturo Vidal (Bayern Munich).

Amar Mehta

Image courtesy of Christopher Johnson via flickr.com

Video courtesy of youtube.com

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