Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have won every Ballon d’Or since 2008. The world’s best two players have both won the accolade five times, but 2018 could be the year when their duopoly is finally broken with Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Harry Kane and Paul Pogba among the contenders.
For the past decade, the Ballon d’Or has been passed between two men. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have won football’s greatest individual trophy an astonishing 10 times between them.
With Kaka announcing his retirement, Messi and Ronaldo are the only players still playing professional football to have won the Ballon d’Or. Ronaldo was once again crowned the Ballon d’Or winner last month.
The Real Madrid and Portugal star has won five Ballon d’Or titles over the past decade.
Barcelona’s Lionel Messi shows off four of his five Ballon d’Or trophies back in 2013. To have two dominant superpowers at their peak simultaneously has made it almost unfair for the rest of the footballing world, giving them little chance as being named the best player on the planet.
But with Messi and Ronaldo both now into their 30s and with the World Cup on the horizon giving players a chance to shine on the biggest stage of all, could 2018 be the year that the Ballon d’Or is finally won by a new name?
Here’s a list of the top 10 names that could sneak in and take the prize.
Neymar – Forward (Paris Saint-Germain/Brazil)
Neymar has shared the podium with Messi and Ronaldo on two occasions in the past three years. Probably the most likely to dethrone the pair, Neymar has hit the ground running since his world record transfer to PSG in the summer.
Neymar has helped his team to open up a nine-point gap in the league and finish top of their Champions League group ahead of Bayern Munich, as well as helping Brazil qualify for next year’s World Cup.
PSG have done all they can to set up what could be a successful 2018, and with club success comes individual plaudits. Neymar has started life at Paris Saint-Germain in blistering fashion after moving in the summer.
Kylian Mbappe – Forward (Paris Saint-Germain/France)
One of Neymar’s biggest rivals for the 2018 title is club team-mate Kylian Mbappe.
After helping Monaco win Ligue 1, Mbappe jumped ship and moved to French rivals PSG. Along with Neymar, Mbappe is a part of the attacking trio that have been PSG’s main asset so far this season.
At just 19 years old, Mbappe still has a lot to prove. As part of a youthful French side heading to Russia, he will get his chance to show the world what he can do.
If he does win the 2018 Ballon d’Or, he would be the youngest ever player to do so. Kylian Mbappe has scored goals galore for PSG this season and would be the youngest winner.
Harry Kane – Forward (Tottenham/England)
Harry Kane has had a great year in front of goal, in fact, so far he’s had a great career in front of goal.
Cries of Kane being a one season wonder are now a distant memory as the Englishman has scored over 20 Premier League goals in the past three seasons, and looks well on course to do the same this season.
Kane finished 10th in this year’s Ballon d’Or, scoring 42 goals for club and country during the last campaign.
With Tottenham and England unlikely to win anything major, Kane would have to surpass that figure if he’s to be in with a shout of beating Messi and Ronaldo.
Tottenham’s Harry Kane outscored both Ronaldo and Messi during the year 2017.
Kevin De Bruyne – Midfielder (Man City/Belgium)
Manchester City have started this season in fantastic form, winning 19 and drawing two of their opening 21 Premier League games.
Kevin De Bruyne has been at the heart of everything positive City have done, with seven goals and 12 assists so far this season. City are 14 points clear in the league and still in the other three competitions.
Silverware is seemingly inevitable at the Etihad this season. If De Bruyne can carry his current form into the second half of the season and into the World Cup, then he will be in with a chance of being the first Belgian to win the Ballon d’Or.
Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne has been in outstanding form this season.
Eden Hazard – Midfielder (Chelsea/Belgium)
Also in contention of knocking Ronaldo and Messi off their perch is Eden Hazard.
The 2014-15 PFA Player of the Year has been a stand-out for both club and country in recent years, with some of the biggest clubs around Europe interested in signing him, including Real Madrid.
With Chelsea already 14 points behind Manchester City in the league, and a last-16 tie with Barcelona looming in the Champions League, Eden Hazard will have to have the best few months of his career in order to force his way into Ballon d’Or contention.
Eden Hazard continues to be a stand-out player for both club and country.
Sergio Ramos – Defender (Real Madrid/Spain)
When it was announced that Ronaldo had won his fifth Ballon d’Or, not everyone jumped to congratulate him.
Germany legend Phillip Lahm announced that the award is ‘just a competition of popularity for attackers’; no defender has won the award since Fabio Cannavaro in 2006, and he had to captain Italy to a World Cup win.
If there is a defender that’s likely to break the trend, it’s Sergio Ramos. The Real captain is as good as they come at centre back, and pops up with many important goals too.
Sergio Ramos could buck the recent trend and become a defender to win the Ballon d’Or
Paul Pogba – Midfielder (Manchester United/France)
When Paul Pogba broke the world transfer record and signed for United in the summer of 16, football fans across the world were full of expectation.
So far we have only seen glimpses of what Pogba is capable of, but he has ability in abundance and is capable of controlling games.
So far this season, Pogba has been hindered by injuries and suspensions, but if he can help United and France win some silverware, and show his ability regularly, then he too could one day add his name to the list of Ballon d’Or winners.
Paul Pogba has started to impress more for Manchester United in the last year
Antoine Griezmann – Forward (Atletico Madrid/France)
The third Frenchman on this list is Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann. Griezmann finished third in the 2016 Ballon d’Or behind Messi and Ronaldo but hasn’t started this season very well.
At 26 years old, you’d think Griezmann is at his peak but has managed just five league goals so far this season, an uncharacteristically low tally for him.
His club, however, sit in second place in the league and with France one of the favourites of the World Cup, if Griezmann can finish the season off with some silverware then he shouldn’t be far off the top.
Antoine Griezmann has only scored five league goals for Atletico Madrid this season
Toni Kroos – Midfielder (Real Madrid/Germany)
In a team full of attacking talent, Toni Kroos quietly goes about his business in a star-studded Real Madrid team. Madrid, however, owe a lot of their recent success to the job that Kroos does in midfield.
Alongside Luka Modric (who just misses out on the list) Kroos has the ability to dictate play and control the pace of a game.
With Ronaldo and Gareth Bale not having their best seasons in front of goal, is this the year that Kroos finally gets recognised? Not to forget, he travels to Russia aiming to retain the World Cup with Germany.
Toni Kroos is Real Madrid’s midfield master and can dictate the pace and tempo of any game.
Paulo Dybala – Forward (Juventus/Argentina)
The final name on the list is Messi’s Argentinian team-mate Paulo Dybala. He finished 15th in this year’s Ballon d’Or and at 24 he’s finally coming of age.
Dybala’s capabilities are no secret and if Juventus can get a good run in Europe again, with this man is at the centre of their success, then he may stamp a claim for becoming the winner of the Ballon d’Or.
He has yet to score a goal for his country, and that will definitely have to change soon if he is to surpass his international team-mate to win it.
Paulo Dybala celebrates a goal for Juventus against Verona with his trademark ‘mask’
We can’t forget about the two men who have dominated this prize over the last 10 years. Rule them out at your peril.
Messi and Ronaldo remain two of the best players in the world. Barcelona and Real Madrid are always in contention for the Champions League and neither man has ever won the World Cup; this may be their last chance to do so too.
They may be getting closer to losing their crown, but it is also very likely that it will be 11 Ballon d’Or wins in 11 years for these two men.
Culled from Dailymail.co.uk