For 15 years, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have dominated football, raising the level of the game and consistently producing spectacular moments on the pitch. Much like any sport, great performance warrants great awards. The Ballon d’Or is an annual award that recognizes the best player in the world, and Messi and Ronaldo have won it an astonishing seven and five times, respectively. However, Karim Benzema recently won the 2022 Ballon d’Or, and, for the first time in many years, Ronaldo placed 20th and Messi didn’t even make the 30-player shortlist for the award. Will either of them ever win again?
What does it take to win the Ballon d’Or?
In order of importance, the Ballon d’Or is based on individual performance, team performance, and fair play. In other words, winners usually play for teams that have either won or reached the later stages in the biggest competitions, such as the Champions League. They are also the players who have made the most impactful contributions to their teams’ success. Will Ronaldo or Messi be able to have the same impact going forward?
At 37 years old, Ronaldo has started in four out of 10 Premier League matches with a total of one goal. His team, Manchester United, failed to qualify for the Champions League after finishing sixth in the Premier League last season. As a result, the team has qualified for the Europa League. Ronaldo is not even getting the opportunity to play football at the highest level. Due to his lack of playtime, he may not be fit or sharp enough for the World Cup. With his age and declining performance, the list of teams for him to potentially move to is shortened. Therefore, it might be nearly impossible for Ronaldo to win another Ballon d’Or.
In contrast, Messi has had a fantastic start to the season. At age 35, he’s started in every game this season for Paris Saint-Germain. He’s notched seven goals and 10 assists and is displaying his usual excellence after a rather disappointing 2021/22 season. While Ronaldo seems to be down and out, Messi may still have more left in him. The real test will be the Champions League and the World Cup.
Who will be their successor?
It seems unlikely that there will be another period of dominance for these players. Some suggest that Kylian Mbappé and Erling Haaland are their successors, as they are both young, elite players. But Messi and Ronaldo exhibited a rare dominance over the last fifteen years as part of Barcelona and Real Madrid, respectively. Both teams consistently won trophies in the Champions league, and were rivals at the top of the table domestically in La Liga, with Messi and Ronaldo undoubtedly being the most impactful players in their respective teams. This is extremely rare in the history of football.
Before Messi and Ronaldo came along, Ballon d’Or winners were typically different players each year. The next generation seems to have a more even playing field, with multiple teams and players in tight competition for the big team and individual trophies.
While we may still witness some spectacular moments of brilliance from Messi and Ronaldo, their era of dominance is coming to an end, and the future of football will more likely consist of many different Ballon d’Or winners.