Established stars looking to end duo’s domination

For nearly a decade now, the title of the best soccer player in the world has belonged to one of two men: Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.

Since Ricardo Kaka won the Ballon d’Or in 2007, with Ronaldo coming second and Messi third, the duo have won the award a combined nine times: Messi has five, and Ronaldo is right behind him with four.

The success of these two players has put them at the top of the all-time record books.

No one in the history of the game had won the award more than three times in the past. Michel Platini, Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten all peaked at three.

Every year, at some point, someone raises the question of if it is finally someone else’s turn to win the award.

In 2010, Messi’s teammate at Barcelona, midfielder Andres Iniesta came closest to breaking the duo’s domination, finishing second after scoring the World Cup winning goal for Spain.

Since then, Messi and Ronaldo have won the award each year, with the “loser” finishing second.

Pundits argued that 2016 would be the year to end the domination, because French forward Antoine Griezmann and Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez had terrific years and deserved recognition — but the award was never truly in question.

Ronaldo got more votes than Messi, Suarez and Griezmann combined, after leading Real Madrid to an 11th Champions League trophy, and Portugal to their first ever international trophy at the 2016 Union of European Football European Championship.

This year,  there are signs that the competition is truly tightening up.

Messi is at the top of the goalscoring charts in Spain, having netted 25 goals in 25 games, and in the Champions League, with 11 goals in seven games.

However, he has been oftentimes overshadowed by his teammates, Brazilian winger Neymar.

The 25-year-old leads both the Spanish La Liga and the Champions League in assists, with 10 and 11, respectively.

Neymar played arguably the best game of his career earlier this month against Paris Saint-Germain, leading the team to a 6-1 win with two goals and an assist in the dying minutes of the game, to overturn a 4-0 loss in the first leg.

Messi was almost invisible in that game: his only direct contribution was a penalty goal, after Neymar was fouled in the box.

Messi and Neymar could suffer to register votes at the end of the year if Barcelona do not rack up the trophies at the end of the season.

Their 4-0 loss to PSG showed that they are not invincible in Europe, and they’re already two points behind Ronaldo’s Real Madrid in La Liga, with Madrid having one more game to play.

Ronaldo has only scored two goals in eight Champions League games this season, an almost unacceptable record by his standards.

He has scored 19 goals in the Spanish league, but sits behind both Messi and Suarez. Griezmann sits behind them with 14 goals.

While Messi, Neymar, Suarez, Griezmann and Ronaldo are all doing pretty well this year, soccer is being played elsewhere too, not just in Spain.

Bayern Munich is once again showing their strength in the German Bundesliga, having moved a whopping 13 points ahead of second-placed RB Leipzig. In the Champions League, they destroyed Premier League side Arsenal, winning 10-2 in aggregate.

Two Bayern players have stood out throughout the season. First, there is forward Robert Lewandowski. The Polish striker is once again in top form this season, having scored 41 goals in 42 games for club and country.

The other Bayern star with a shot at individual glory is midfielder Thiago Alcantara.

The Spanish maestro has been crucial for Bayern this season, dictating the tempo of a dominating Bayern midfield.

His performances have raised the interest of his former team Barcelona, but Bayern have declared he is not for sale, according to Sport, a German newspaper.

In the Premier League, Chelsea’s dominance has highlighted the importance of N’Golo Kante. The French midfielder is having another terrific season, after his groundbreaking season last year, when he lead minnows Leicester City to the Premier League title.

Eden Hazard and Diego Costa may also be recognized for Chelsea’s dominance in the Premier League, meanwhile Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez, Manchester United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne have an outside chance of glory.

Elsewhere in Europe, Juventus have all but secured the Italian Serie A title.

If Juventus makes the Champions League title theirs, forward Paulo Dybala and legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon may stand a chance of winning the Ballon d’Or.

It is really early to make predictions for this year’s Ballon d’Or winner. The Champions League will play a huge part in this year’s voting, with no major international tournaments taking place during the summer.

While Messi and Ronaldo still have to be considered favorites, Lewandowski, Neymar, Suarez, Kante and Thiago will feel it’s their time to shine.