On Monday, January 11th, Lionel Messi won the FIFA Ballon d'Or Award for the fifth time. The win has seemed, for a while now, like a foregone conclusion. Messi led Barcelona to a treble victory in 2015, was the soccer club's top scorer during the 2014/15 season, and has even recovered from a lengthy autumn injury with grace. Cristiano Ronaldo may have led Leo in terms of goals scored, but Messi was probably the right pick for the best footballer in the world.
Still, as Messi takes the Ballon d'Or and breaks Cristiano Ronaldo's two-year winning streak, one has to ask if we will see Ronaldo lift that trophy again. Or, for that matter, if Messi's fifth Ballon d'Or will be his last.
Football Shirts with Player Lettering
The Glory Years
At this point, it's understandably difficult to imagine a Ballon d'Or ceremony that doesn't end with either Messi or Ronaldo accepting the award. For each of the past five years, the two players have been the top two vote-getters for the highest individual honor in soccer. In 2011 and 2012, Messi was the winner, and Ronaldo played second fiddle. For the next two years, they swapped. Now, Messi is back on top. The third-place player varied every year though it was more often one of Messi's teammates (Xavi, Iniesta, Neymar) than not (Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery and Manuel Neuer, who rounded out the podium in 2013 and 2014).
Go back even further, and Messi and Ronaldo were still the golden boys of the Ballon d'Or. Ronaldo missed the top-three in 2010 when a trio of Barcelona players owned the podium, but Messi still came out the winner. Messi also won in 2009, with Ronaldo taking second while those results had been flipped in 2008-the first year either football player won the award.
In fact, you'd have to go all the way back to 2007 to find a Ballon d'Or prize with a winner other than one of these two men. That year, Milan's Kaka won. Cristiano and Lionel still ranked second and third. 2006 was the last time neither player was included in the final three.
Of course, along the way, both players have decorated themselves in plenty of glory. Messi is the La Liga's all-time leading goalscorer, with 295 goals total. Ronaldo is ranked third, with 239 goals. By the end of the season, the Portuguese star will likely have displaced Telmo Zarra as runner-up. No other current La Liga player is even in the top 20. Quite simply, there is no precedent to what this pair has accomplished-whether in Spanish football or in the sport, period.
A New Era
But even the greatest streaks eventually come to an end, and it seems like the dominance of the Messi-Ronaldo rivalry may be fading. Leo turned 29 in June; Cristiano will be 31 next month. Both are still undisputed stars, but neither is as viable as he once was. Messi's injury highlighted the superstar abilities of his Barcelona teammates Neymar and Luis Suarez-players who currently rank as the La Liga's top scorers for the 2015/16 season, and players who deserve to be recognized by Ballon d'Or voters in the near future. This year, some football pundits were even saying that Suarez deserved a top-three nod more than Ronaldo did, if only because his contributions helped net Barcelona trophies while Cristiano and Real Madrid went home empty-handed.
Cristiano, for his part, remains the lynchpin of Real Madrid but is being challenged for the leadership position by both Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema. Bale and Benzema are both having strong seasons while Ronaldo was rumored to be having troubles at the club due to management decisions. (In particular, he was supposedly clashing with Rafael Benitez.)
With Benitez out the door and things off to a good start with Zinedine Zidane, most of the rumors of Ronaldo hitting the road for a signing with Manchester United or Paris Saint Germain have quieted down for now. But with Cristiano reaching the age where he will undoubtedly start slowing down, how many more years does he have playing at the top level that Real Madrid demands? How long until a new opportunity-like Major League Soccer-beckons?
Celebrate Cristiano's impressive career and three Ballon d'Or wins, with a brand new Ronaldo Real Madrid shirt 2015/16 from Soccer Box!