ANALYSIS: The Next Regular Ballon d’Or Winner
April 03, 2018
Over the course of the last decade, the coveted Ballon d’Or prize has been dominated by the brilliant (if contrasting) duo of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. In fact, these two have shared the last 10 Ballon d’Or awards dating back to 2007, when AC Milan’s Kaka took the ultimate prize.
With Portuguese forward Ronaldo now 33 and Messi set to turn 31 this summer, however, their dominance of the world game cannot continue indefinitely. Sure, their form and influence shows no sign of dwindling at present, but it cannot be denied that both players are entering the later stages of their illustrious careers,
With this in mind, the question that remains is which players are likely to fill the considerable void left by an aging CR7 and Messi?
We’ll analyse the key candidates below and try to determine the regular Ballon d’Or winners of the future?
Mo Salah, Liverpool
When winger Mo Salah was bombed out of Chelsea for just €5 million in the summer of 2015, it appeared as though a career at the very highest level would prove to be beyond the Egyptian.
Already blessed with direct running and searing pace, however, Salah used this rejection to fuel his development and transformed himself into an intelligent and prolific inside forward during three seasons in Rome. In fact, he scored 34 goals in just 83 appearances during this time, including 19 in 41 games in the season prior to his €42 million switch to Liverpool last summer.
He has truly come of age in Jurgen Klopp’s fluid, attack-minded side, however, scoring a staggering 29 goals in just 31 EPL games and 37 in 41 overall. Showcasing a deadly left foot and an unerring ability to score all sorts of goals, Salah has eclipsed the deeds of former Reds’ forwards Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez while quickly establishing himself as a fans’ favourite.
This has prompted talk of a world record, €200 million switch to La Liga, and while these rumours have since cooled there’s no doubt that Salah is now established as one of the world’s very best forwards. With the player also set to appear in the UCL quarterfinals and star for Egypt in this summers’ World Cup, he’ll certainly be a key contender for this years’ Ballon d’Or award.
At the relatively tender age of 25, Salah has also yet to reach his peak and would appear to be the most likely player to challenge the individual dominance of Ronaldo and Messi in the near-term.
Kevin de Bruyne, Manchester City
Chelsea fans should probably look away now, as the next player on our list is another who was shipped out of the club under the stewardship of manager Jose Mourinho. Like Salah, De Bruyne left the EPL for a period before returning to sign for Manchester City for a then club record fee of £55 million.
A mobile and energetic midfield with superb vision and an incredible passing range, De Bruyne has been a huge hit at City and improved immensely under the guidance of the brilliant Pep Guardiola. This is borne out by the statistics, which show that no player in the world has provided more assists than the Belgian since his debut for Werder Bremen in the summer of 2012.
As of February this year, De Bruyne has made 77 assists in just 176 appearances, ahead of Messi (76), Cesc Fabregas (65) and Luis Suarez (64). He has achieved this in fewer games too, combining subtle and unerringly accurate passing with brilliant technique to dominate his opponents.
Now, while strikers usually dominate the Ballon d’Or award (only five non-forwards have prevailed since the turn of the century), De Bruyne’s consistent brilliance and sheer weight of assists makes him a potential candidate to win the award this year. His club are on course to win the EPL with a record number of points, for example, while they have a mouthwatering, Champions League quarter-final against Liverpool to look forward to.
With Belgium also fancied to perform well at the Russia World Cup, De Bruyne could make a compelling case to be considered for the award in 2018. Beyond this, he has the youth and the ability to compete regularly for the Ballon D’or, as did players like Andres Iniesta, Kaka, Xavi in recent times.
Paul Pogba, Manchester United
We close with a controversial choice, as despite his obvious ability Paul Pogba remains a enigma who continues to polarise opinions in the football world. While some believe him to be a naturally gifted, all-round footballer who is not always deployed effectively, for example, others claim that he is too inconsistent and lacks the footballing intelligence to be a true great.
From a pure talent perspective, however, there’s no doubt that Pogba ranks among the world’s best. He’s blessed with tremendous athleticism and strength, for example, while his close control and passing range is also exemplary.
The Frenchman is also an exceptional dribbler and boasts a key eye for goal, making him capable of contributing both goals and assists when he plays high up the pitch.
Still, his ability has not translated into form during his time at Old Trafford, as injuries and an inability to find a consistent role in Jose Mourinho’s team have stalled his development. This means that Pogba will not be a serious contender for this years’ award, even if he produces a string of brilliant performances that inspire France to their first World Cup win since 1998 this summer.
For all the suggestions that Pogba is too immature to become a true great in the mould of Ronaldo or Messi, however, he’s still just 25 and boasts all the required attributes to become a regular Ballon d’Or winner in the future.
Much will depend on whether or not Pogba can settle on a defined role within the Manchester United side, as this will provide a platform from which he can unleash his full potential.