By Kris Voakes
Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Franck Ribery were named on Monday as the final three players under consideration for the 2013 Fifa Ballon d’Or. Few will be surprised at the trio on the shortlist, but the final announcement on January 13 is far from a foregone conclusion.
Real Madrid star Ronaldo is arguably the world’s form player as we reach the end of the year, with his stunning hat-trick in Portugal’s World Cup qualifying decider against Sweden leaving most observers gobsmacked.
There have been other huge feats too on the way to racking up 67 goals in 57 games over the course of the calendar year, with his 33 in 21 in 2013-14 so far including hat-tricks against Northern Ireland, Galatasaray, Sevilla and Real Sociedad even before that crucial treble in Solna.
Supporters of Ribery, meanwhile, will point to the huge effect his performances over the year had on Bayern Munich becoming the most feared club in Europe. The 30-year-old, named 2012-13 Player of the Season by Uefa, was the star performer as Bayern won a unique treble of the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and, most memorably, the Champions League.
While his goals record of 22 in 51 matches might be a low return in comparison to Ronaldo and Messi, his impact upon Bayern’s magnificence as a team unit cannot be underestimated. Die Roten remain unbeaten in the Bundesliga in 2013 thus far, with only an inconsequential Champions League loss to Arsenal and the German Supercup defeat to Borussia Dortmund blotting their copybook during a Ribery-inspired year. He was also key to France's last-gasp qualification to the 2014 World Cup.
Messi is the reigning four-time holder of the award, but 2013 has been one of the most difficult years of his senior career. He may well have scored 45 goals in 46 games for Barcelona and Argentina combined, but a string of injuries have hampered his progress following on from a calendar year in which he netted a record 91 times.
His run of scoring consecutively against every opponent La Liga had to offer looked set to make this year even bigger for the Argentine, but since early-April his brilliance has been restrained by regular visits to the treatment table. Still, that cannot take away from just what a spectacular record he set over those 19 league games between November 2012 and the end of March 2013.
This year’s Ballon d’Or looks set to be the closest-fought contest in years. All eyes will be on Zurich in five weeks time.