The race for the prestigious award has never been so tight and players, ex-stars and club officials alike have all had their say on who should win.It is a testament to the incredible year 2013 was for football that no clear winner can be picked at Monday's Ballon d'Or gala. The three-man candidate list is awash with talent, each deserving individual recognition for fine years on the field.
On the one hand, you have four-time defending champion Lionel Messi, who led Barcelona to the Liga title. His year may have been blighted by injuries but his record cannot be argued with, having scored 45 goals in 46 games. Not bad for a player who seemed on the cusp of a fresh knock at all times.
His eternal rival and current favorite Cristiano Ronaldo may have ended up trophy-less in the calendar year, but no one can doubt his contribution to both the Real Madrid and Portugal causes, showcasing some fine form which led the Seleccao to the World Cup and spearheaded Los Blancos' title tilt.
The final man on the shortlist is Franck Ribery, the talisman and star of Bayern Munich's brilliant treble win last term and a key figure as the Bavarians made a flying start to the current campaign under new boss Pep Guardiola.
Everyone has a different opinion on who should be the man to pick up the award, but what do football's finest think?
|"I would have absolutely no understanding of the situation if Franck did not win the Ballon d'Or"
- Uli Hoeness
Unsurpurprisingly, coaches and players have thrown their weight behind their teammates and Guardiola showed that all of his loyalty is with his current squad, rather than his old one, by saying: "Franck won everything and obviously he deserves it. But the other players are amazing too. Messi, or Ronaldo, or another player."
That view was echoed by Bayern president Uli Hoeness, who claimed that the award could not go to Ronaldo on the basis of his match-winning hat trick against Sweden for Portugal. "I would have absolutely no understanding of the situation if Franck did not win the Ballon d'Or. There is a whole year to be judged - not just one game."
Former Arsenal forward Thierry Henry knows all three candidates well, having played with Ribery for France, Messi at Barcelona and sparred with Ronaldo many a time when the Portuguese was at Man United, but is backing his compatriot: "Ribery is a different kind of player. He prefers to create goals than score them. He's the kind of player you want to play alongside. Obviously, I'd like him to win."
Borussia Dortmund forward Robert Lewandowski sealed a summer move to Bayern this month but had already thrown his weight behind Ribery. "I'd vote for Ribery," he told the Polish press last month. "He offers more in defensive areas and helps the team a lot all over the pitch. And he won everything there was to win."
Arjen Robben, however, has often had a turbulent relationship with Ribery and did nothing to ingratiate himself with his teammate when he backed Ronaldo. "Because it's an individual award, I think it will go to Ronaldo. He really deserves it," the Dutchman claimed.
|I am convinced Cristiano Ronaldo will win the Ballon d'Or, otherwise it would be an injustice. Everyone knows he is the best player in the world.
Robben, who left Real Madrid to make way for Ronaldo in 2009, was not the only one to voice his support for the 28-year-old. Like Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti has thrown his weight behind his charge, saying: "It's Cristiano's moment to win it ahead of Messi and Ribery. He's very serious, he has amazing attention to detail. It's that which helps us the most - he doesn't just score."
Club president Florentino Perez saw fit to hand Ronaldo a new contract earlier this season, certain that he was the best player in the world. "I am convinced Cristiano Ronaldo will win the Ballon d'Or, otherwise it would be an injustice. Everyone knows he is the best player in the world."
|"As long as people take no notice of political or media pressue, the Ballon d'Or will be for Messi"
- Sandro Rosell
Pepe plays alongside Ronaldo for both club and country and is hoping his teammate can win the prize he last claimed in 2008 and said: "Cristiano is the only player who deserves the Ballon d'Or because it's an individual prize. He is having a great season and a great year."
Even Argentina legend Diego Maradona, who has always been vocal in his support of Messi, believes that this is the Portuguese's year. "Cristiano Ronaldo should win. Messi has been injured a lot this year," he said.
"The three deserve to win it, but the one who must have it is Santa Claus"
So who is in the Argentine's camp? Brazil legend Ronaldo, once of both Real Madrid and Barcelona, believes the current champion will win it once more. "I think Messi will win the Ballon d'Or again. He is the biggest star in world football."
Support he can count on comes from Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella, who revealed: "I voted Messi - without a doubt."
Brazil skipper Thiago Silva also picked the Rosario native - albeit reluctantly. "It was a pity that I could not vote for Brazilians. Instead, I voted for Messi as first."
Barca president Sandro Rosell, unsurprisingly, is fully in favor of his charge scooping the prize. "First Leo, second Leo and third Leo. As long as people take no notice of political or media pressure, the Ballon d'Or will be for Messi."
Or, of course, we could follow Zlatan Ibrahimovic's advice. The Swede was controversially overlooked in the running this year but had a novel recipient for the award. "The Ballon d’Or? For me, the three deserve to win it, but the one who must have it is Santa Claus," he joked last week.