Greatest of all-time? Lionel Messi settles Cristiano Ronaldo debate
In-depth: Attention has already turned to 2016 as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo battle it out for the Ballon d’Or. But is their dominance nearing an end?
Lionel Messi chalked up a record fifth Ballon d’Or on Monday evening, finishing ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar at the Zurich gala.
The Barcelona ace is two clear of his closest challengers (Michel Platini, Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten and Ronaldo) and only one of them can feasibly overhaul him…
However, Messi surely has more history to make.
WHY MESSI WILL REIGN AGAIN IN 2016
Quite simply: he plays for the best team. While Barcelona continue to dominate, he will be in the headlines. This is Messi: probably the greatest player who has ever lived. His team-mates, fronted by the selfless Luis Suarez, consciously try to find him at every opportunity – allowing his goal tally to spiral up at a much faster rate.
Throw in the obsession with his head-to-head with Ronaldo and it’s easy to see him winning a sixth Ballon d’Or. Was the Real Madrid man really the second best player in 2015? Probably not. But his rivalry with Messi has transformed the award and gives them both slightly more leeway. Voters don’t want to pick an outsider when they have a favourite out of the Barcelona and Real Madrid duo.
BUT DOES THIS WIN END THE RIVALRY?
Ronaldo’s hope of becoming the greatest of all-time has suffered a notable chink. It’s near-impossible for him to usurp the Argentine in Ballon d’Or wins now. He’s 31 in February; Messi is 28 until the summer. Even if he won three on the spin – aged 31, 32 and 33 – it would still rely on the Barca man not winning another. It’s not happening.
However, there is one final hope for Ronaldo: the World Cup. Victory with his nation would leave him boasting trophies with Manchester United, Real Madrid and Portugal. He’ll likely have one more crack before his inevitable decline. Having said that, Argentina are far more equipped to win the World Cup – the final quest for both players.
Messi said as much in the pre-event press conference: "Obviously I would [rather] win the World Cup. I've always said the team achievements are more important than individual ones. The World Cup is the highest you can reach as a player, so I'd go for the World Cup, definitely."
Still, with the likelihood of Ronaldo winning the World Cup appearing incredibly slim, Messi's five Ballon d'Or wins put him on a level Ronaldo will never be able to reach.
SO HOW MANY MORE BALLONS D’OR CAN MESSI WIN?
One, maybe two.
2016 will be Messi’s year again, providing: a) Barcelona’s dominance continues and, b) he swerves injury. But when Ronaldo’s performances decline, and the young crop led by Neymar start asserting their own claims, the voters will be keen to consign the era to history.
Can he really more than two? It's so unlikely. Someone will have a breathtaking season; Barcelona won't win the treble every season. Six or seven would be an extraordinary tally - anything else is just selfish...