The Ballon d’Or has long been one of football’s most coveted individual prizes. Since the legendary Stanley Matthews won the inaugural award in 1956, the Ballon d’Or has been presented to the best footballers on the planet, the players who have shone above their contemporaries in the preceding year.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have made up the winners for much of the last 12 years, with the pair winning it five times each between 2008 and 2017. Last year, Luka Modric bucked the trend to take the title after winning the Champions League with Real Madrid and helping his native Croatia to reach the World Cup final.
There are many contenders in the mix for the 2019 award, so let’s have a look at who we feel are the top nominees for this year’s Ballon d’Or.
Virgil van Dijk
With a Champions League winner’s medal in his pocket, Virgil van Dijk has helped Liverpool reach new heights since his arrival. The defensive colossus has transformed the club’s fortunes and brought a solidity to the back four that has allowed Liverpool’s talented attacking players to flourish.
The Dutchman was overlooked in ‘The FIFA Best FIFA Men’s Player’ award earlier this year as Messi scooped the top prize. But he has been one of football’s stand-out individual performers over the last 12 months. Liverpool’s 97-point Premier League season owed a lot to van Dijk and his talents – the club’s Champions League triumph was evidence of this.
One of the most naturally talented players to ever kick a ball, Messi will always be a contender for the award as long as he remains at the top of his game. The ease with which he glides past defenders and evades challenges makes him a joy to behold when in full flow. The last year has been another stellar one for the Argentine. He scored 36 league goals to help guide Barcelona to another Spanish league title.
Success in Europe would have been the icing on the cake for Messi and Barcelona last season. A stunning performance by Messi helped the Catalan club to a 3-0 lead heading into the second leg of their Champions League semi-final against Liverpool. But the Anfield club drew from the power of their home support to stun the Spanish giants and win 4-3 on aggregate, upsetting the odds in football betting with Betfair. Had Barcelona won the Champions League, Messi would have been a shoo-in for the Ballon d’Or, but he remains a serious contender nonetheless.
Ronaldo’s standards of athleticism and physical aptitude mean he is still a top performer even at the age of 34. His move to Juventus ahead of the 2018-19 season was a momentous transfer. While his total of 28 goals for the Italian side last season represented a decline from previous tallies at Real Madrid, it was still a fine goal-scoring return.
In addition to his club form, Ronaldo led Portugal to victory in the UEFA Nations League Finals, scoring a hat-trick in the semi-final before a win over the Netherlands in the final secured the trophy. It was another major international achievement for Ronaldo and Portugal after winning the European Championships in 2016.
Raheem Sterling was one of Manchester City’s star performers in the 2018-19 season. Sterling scored an impressive 25 goals in all competitions last season for City, continuing his remarkable improvement under manager Pep Guardiola as the club won the domestic treble.
Sterling won the ‘Football Writers’ Player of the Year’ award in England for his performances. While he may be an outsider for the Ballon d’Or, his consistency for City over the last couple of seasons suggests that the 24-year-old still has many bright years ahead of him.