One of these years, FIFA's final shortlist of the last three Ballon d'Or contenders will not include both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. That year isn't this year, though, as both players land among the trio of Ballon d'Or finalists 2015, for the fifth year in a row and the eighth year in total. (Ronaldo was not shortlisted in 2010, but Messi was.) Also named among the top three was Messi's teammate Neymar, his first time as a finalist for the prestigious soccer award. FIFA will announce the winner of the prize on January 11th.
From 23 to ThreeÂ
The three-man list of finalists was culled from a 23-man shortlist that FIFA released to the public back in October. FC Barcelona was the most represented football club on the 23-man list, so it's fitting that they own two of the three finalist slots. In addition to Messi and Neymar, Luis Suarez, Javier Mascherano, Ivan Rakitic, and 2010 and 2012 finalist Andres Iniesta were also shortlisted.
Ronaldo was also not alone representing Real Madrid on the 23-man list. Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, James Rodriguez, and Toni Kroos were also shortlisted.
At this point, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are virtually guaranteed slots in the final three, due in part to their fame, but also to their high level of play. Messi led a treble-winning soccer club last season and made Barcelona an unstoppable force in virtually every competition. Ronaldo, meanwhile-who has won the last two Ballon d'Or awards-beat his personal best by scoring a career high of 61 goals across all contests.
The question when FIFA released the 23-man list, then, was not "Which three players will be finalists?" but rather "Which player will join Messi and Ronaldo in the final three?"
If the third finalist was ever going to be a non-Barcelona player, it was probably going to be Robert Lewandowski. We haven't seen FIFA's shortlist voting statistics yet, but Lewandowski surely deserved consideration for the year he's had. By itself, the game this autumn where he scored five goals in nine minutes against Wolfsburg could have put Lewandowski in the top five.
Luis Suarez, the Odd Man Out
When FIFA does release voting statistics, though, it's likely that Luis Suarez will be the player that just missed out on one of the top three slots. When the UEFA announced the shortlist for their Player of the Year award this past summer, Suarez was on the list with Messi and Ronaldo instead of Neymar.
The Uruguayan footballer has certainly been impressive at Barcelona, scoring 43 times since arriving in the fall of 2014. He's also worked in tandem with Neymar to keep Barca not just afloat, but on top during Messi's injury spell this fall. And, to top it all off, Suarez scored the pivotal goal that put Barcelona up 2-1 in the Champions League final against Juventus.
Messi and Neymar both think that Suarez deserved to be among the finalists for the Ballon d'Or award.
"I am happy to be once more among the three best, and to go to another gala. Happy to be with Neymar," Messi said of his nomination," before adding, "Luis Suarez also deserved to be among the three best, but that is to take nothing away from Cristiano Ronaldo, who also deserved it."
Neymar had a similar viewpoint, stating: "I believe that the image of the Ballon d'Or should have been Messi, Luis Suarez and me; I would have loved to be there all together."
So should Cristiano Ronaldo have been left out? Perhaps. First off, FIFA has shortlisted three Barcelona players in the past. In 2010, when Ronaldo missed the finalist round, it was because Messi, Iniesta, and Xavi were honored instead. Since Messi, Suarez, and Neymar have often been praised as the best frontline in Barcelona history-and sometimes, even as the best in the history of league football-it would have been fitting for all three of them to be on the final podium.
Ronaldo likely made it because of his sheer goal count-an impressive tally, to be sure. However, Ronaldo's football club also didn't pick up a single title in 2015, whereas Barcelona won the treble and then added a UEFA Super Cup. Messi is right: Suarez deserved this, and saying so doesn't take anything away from Ronaldo's accomplishments.
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