Cristiano Ronaldo won his fifth Ballon d’Or on Thursday evening, thus equaling Lionel Messi’s record. The pair have dominated world football for the past decade, but a day will come when their grip on supremacy slips and the next generation of stars will enter.
There are a range of players in the queue to compete for the individual prize in years to come. In order to analyse those candidates, we have divided them in to short-term, medium-term, and long-term options.
The slate will be wiped clean in January and the player who has the best 2018 (taking in to account the heavy weighting attributed to the titles their team wins) could break the Messi-Ronaldo hegemony.
Neymar came third in the rankings this year and is the obvious candidate. In fact, the Brazilian left Barcelona for PSG precisely with the Ballon d’Or in mind, fueled by the perception that he could not flourish in the shadow of Messi. Real Madrid President Florentino Pérez suggested that Neymar would have a better chance of winning the prize if he were to move to the Bernabéu, but if PSG lift the Champions League, he will presumably be the favourite.
Antoine Griezmann is another player who has already found himself on the Ballon d’Or podium. The Atlético Madrid striker came third in 2016 after starring for his club side and France at Euro 16. He has not been at his best so far this season, but he could be a contender if he returns to top form in the New Year.
Other names to consider: Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Luis Suárez (Barcelona), Harry Kane (Tottenham).
The next edition of the Ballon d’Or will probably come too soon for these players. But these are the candidates to dominate the global footballing panorama further down the line.
Three names stand out, and the first of them is Isco. The Real Madrid playmaker is the standout player from LaLiga following an excellent 2017 in which he has consolidated a place in Zinedine Zidane’s starting line-up. He’s not short on class, and his side will be in contention for silverware. It’s a matter of time until he enters the debate.
Kevin de Bruyne is the most likely player from the Premier League. The Belgian wizard has flourished in his second season under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, and he looks set to be a cornerstone of that team for years to come.
From Italy, we have Paulo Dybala. The Argentine occupies the No.10 position for Juventus, just behind his compatriot Gonzalo Higuaín. He is the true star of the Serie A champions, but may find things more difficult at the World Cup in Russia, where he will have to vie with Lionel Messi for the same spot in the Argentina team.
Other names to consider: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund), Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United), Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool), David de Gea (Manchester United), Marc-André Ter Stegen (Barcelona), Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea).
It won’t be immediate, but if these youngsters continue on their current trajectory, they will be the stars of the next decade.
Few players can boast an early career to match that of the precocious Kylian Mbappé. The French forward moves past players with ease and has an unerring sense of where the goal is. At just 18, his talent is frightening.
If anyone can match the PSG man, it is Dele Alli, who emerged from the prolific Milton Keynes Dons academy system to star for Tottenham in the Premier League. Since making the step up to the Premier League he has barely stopped scoring goals and providing assists. Half of Europe is following him, and if he ends up at a top-level club he could begin to challenge for the Ballon d’Or immediately.
Other names to consider: Gabriel Jesús (Manchester City), Marco Asensio (Real Madrid), and Ousmane Dembélé (Barcelona).