Never before in football have one or two players dominated the game for such an extended period. But Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been in a league of their own since 2008.
Indeed, no other player has touched the Ballon d’Or – other than the pair – since then. Ronaldo has claimed it five times, as has Messi (while the pair have each come runner-up five times to the other also). It’s a remarkable feat. And one that means they share the record for most Ballon d’Or honours, with the next on the list being Messrs Platini, Cruyff and Beckenbauer, who each won the prestigious award three times.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that Messi and Ronaldo’s duopoly is over, but at the ages of 30 and 33 respectively, their stars surely can’t burn so brightly for much longer.
But will 2018 be the year another player finally beats them to the crown? Or at least breaks into the top two?
Well, that fate could well be decided at the World Cup. Indeed, five of the last nine Ballon d’Or winners during World Cup years also won the tournament. It’s the ultimate shop window to show your credentials to the footballing masses.
So, just who could be Messi and Ronaldo’s greatest challengers to the Ballon d’Or in 2018?
Rumour has it that Neymar actually left Barcelona in order to escape Messi’s shadow with the aim of being recognised as the best player in the world in his own right.
His record-breaking transfer to PSG paved the way for him to become the main man, but winning Ligue 1 won’t secure him the recognition of being the best footballer in the world on its own. So, Neymar really needs to win the Champions League or World Cup to really put his name in lights.
And let’s not forget, a much-fancied Brazil crashed out of the tournament in a humiliating 7-1 defeat to Germany on home soil in 2014, so he will be desperate to make amends for that in Russia.
Indeed, the 25-year-old is the 3/1 second-favourite in football betting for the 2018 Ballon d’Or behind Lionel Messi.
Kevin de Bruyne
As a key part in Manchester City’s magnificent team, Kevin de Bruyne has already lit up the Premier League this season. If City can win the Champions League, or Belgium can land the World Cup, you wouldn’t bet against the 26-year-old landing the top award.
The midfield maestro could well win the Premier League player of the year, but could he crowned as number one in the world?
Despite constant speculation linking Griezmann away from Atletico Madrid, the 26-year-old remains in the Spanish capital.
It seems unlikely that Atletico will win any silverware this season – aside from perhaps the Europa League – so Griezmann will need to play a key role in France winning the World Cup to get his name ahead of the other contenders this year.
France narrowly missed out on winning Euro 2016 and undoubtedly have one of the strongest squads heading into the tournament, with a formidable spine of young talents such as Pogba, Mbappe, Martial and Dembele amongst their ranks.