By Chris Myson
The Fifa Ballon d’Or may be an individual prize, but winning the prestigious honour often comes hand in hand with a calendar year that has seen the victor involved in tangible team success.
With that in mind, come December, both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi could well be looking back on this week to explain why they lost out on the chance to seal the 2013 accolade.
Only a month ago, the signs were all pointing towards yet another two-way battle between the familiar rivals in the race to be crowned as the best player on the planet over the current 12 months.
| THE LAST SIX BALLON D'OR WINNERS
Both players have already netted over 20 goals in the calendar year and have again been the go-to men for Barcelona and Real Madrid in crucial games since they finished as the top two in the last Ballon d’Or, while a Clasico European final was looking like a real possibility.
Since then, though, we have seen their sides suffer humbling defeats in the first leg of their Champions League semi-finals and unless there is a miraculous turnaround in either tie this week, both players will not be participating in the final at Wembley.
That would leave Ronaldo, who many had wrongly tipped to break Messi’s run of Ballon d’Or dominance last year after Madrid’s league success, without a major trophy this season.
A year which looks set to produce no dream La Decima, a second place finish in the league and at best a potential Copa del Rey win are unlikely to come with enough weight to beat off competition from players across the globe.
Messi is still on the brink of winning La Liga, which certainly counts as tangible team success, but has recently struggled with injury and found it tough to make an impact in the first leg of Barcelona’s semi-final when being fielded to play despite being less than 100 per cent fit.
Not winning the biggest trophy in club football or even appearing in the final undoubtedly weakens both their chances of success in this year’s Ballon d’Or.
And while a Champions League exit does not completely rule out Ronaldo and Messi’s chances of scooping the award - with the latter triumphing in 2012 on the back of a record breaking number of goals, despite not winning either La Liga or the Champions League - it does open the door to some other candidates to make their claim.
It is hard not to first look amongst the ranks of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, the two German sides who sit in a dominant position in their respective ties against the Spanish giants, for potential options.
The overall strength of Bayern Munich’s team from back to front, with no one star who consistently stands head and shoulders above the rest - unlike Barca and Madrid with Messi and Ronaldo - may actually play in duo’s favour when it comes to voting for an individual award.
Still, with attacking players often favoured for individual accolades, Thomas Muller and Franck Ribery will certainly be up for consideration following their contributions to Bayern’s dominant campaign.
For Dortmund, any doubts over the credentials of hit-man Robert Lewandowski were put to bed following his four-goal star showing against Madrid and the Pole has already scored 35 goals in the 2012-13 campaign, setting a new record for consecutive goals in Bundesliga matches.
Mario Gotze, his chief provider, hit the headlines for his impending move to rivals Bayern and will also fancy his chances of ranking highly in the Ballon d’Or voting after a stunning season, particularly if he can leave Dortmund with a Champions League medal in his back pocket.
Most importantly, the final will also provide the biggest and best opportunity for Bayern and Dortmund’s other stars to showcase their talents and provide the international coaches, captains and journalists who vote for the award with a standout moment.
Meanwhile, Messi, Ronaldo and other candidates from the Clasico rivals, such as Andres Iniesta and Xavi, will be powerless to make an impact as they are forced to watch on.
With the Champions League closing stages yet to provide a clear standout winner, it may also be wise to look even further afield.
Radamel Falcao has continued to score at prolific rate for Atletico Madrid after coming fifth in last year’s contest and a move to one of the world’s biggest clubs in the coming months could give him the chance to make a final push to the top.
In England, Gareth Bale has recently scooped PFA Player of the Year honours and, having recently won the praise of Zinedine Zidane, may be getting his chance to play on an even bigger stage come the summer, which could further bolster his own claims in the closing months of this year.
Messi and Ronaldo are by no means out of the running and their continued status as the world’s best two players will certainly not hinder their chances when voting for the award begins later in the year.
But unless they can perform miracles and turn around their ties this week, their impending Champions League exits certainly blow the race for the Ballon d’Or race wide open.
The challenge is on for some of the world’s other top players to ensure there is a different winner for the first time since Kaka in 2007.
Follow Chris Myson on