Ballon d’Or — The End of an Era

This past week, history was again re-written in the beautiful game, as Lionel Messi became the first and only player to every win 7 Ballon d’Ors in the stretch of a career. The Argentine pipped Polish striker Robert Lewandowski and Italian Euro Winner Jorginho Frello to lift the Golden Ball handed out by the French Football Association on an annual basis. But that was not it. Lionel Messi again outclassed his eternal rival Cristiano Ronaldo as the Portuguese not only failed to win the prize, but also couldn’t even make it to the top-three.

A lot was talked about the judgement of all those involved, especially after Robert Lewandowski broke multiple record in the Bundesliga and Europe last season by his goal-scoring prowess. To add to the upset supporters worldwide, Messi’s current form for his new club Paris Saint-Germain was also called upon, for introspection on why the Argentine was handed the ultimate individual prize in the footballing world.

Well, the argument over the ideal winner is for another day. Our today’s topic is a bit different though. With Messi just scraping out a win in the individual awards held in Paris on Tuesday night and Cristiano Ronaldo not even making it to the top-three, it is more than established that we are nearing the end of an era. As the two biggest legends of the game age every passing day, it’s not long that we will have to cumulatively bid a goodbye to probably the greatest footballers to ever play the sport — #LM10 and #CR7.

Have we seen the last of Cristiano at the podium?

The Portuguese footballing sensation broke the internet as well as the entire sporting community when he re-joined his boyhood side Manchester United earlier this season. The announcement posts smashed records on Instagram, the shirt sales tripled his transfer fee already and with fans back at the stadiums, the noise levels at Old Trafford, Manchester have gone over the roof once again, like old times.

But if we look at the sporting side of it, things do not look as bright. Manchester United are on the verge of a long-term rebuild. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been sacked, Ralph Ragnick has been handed an interim job to change the playing philosophies at the club and new faces are emerging as the pole-bearers of the future of the red half of Manchester. Sadly, Cristiano doesn’t seem to fit in it, at least not from a long term point of view.

Moreover, the rebuild means that this United side’s ambitions are totally different this season. There is no chance that they realistically challenge for the Premier League trophy this season, let alone going for the Champions League — the ultimate prize. Next year’s Ballon d’Or will also exceptionally include the World Cup 2022 performances and credentials, which must have saddened Ronaldo even more. The Portuguese finds himself against Italy for qualifying to the World Cup. Not to forget, the Azzurri are the current European Champions and favourites to make it to the big stage.

With that being said, Cristiano seems to be practically out of the race to win even a single meaningful title this upcoming year, which takes him out of the Ballon d’Or race even before it has started.

Farewell present for Messi this year?

Lionel Messi’s statistics seem to be totally opposite to the hype that the Parisiens built around upon his arrival. With just 1 goal in 8 games for the Ligue 1 side, the Argentine may win a lot of trophies with PSG but they shall come at a cost of foregoing individual success.

At the French Capital, the ex-Barcelona man finds himself amongst a talented and world-class squad, which can alone nominate 2–3 Ballon d’Or contenders themselves — Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Gianluigi Donnarumma. Moreover, if we keep the individual battles aside, this Paris Saint-Germain side has been built upon the very foundation of bringing home the Champions League trophy — the only title that they haven’t one in their lifetime. This is not Catalonia where the club relied on Messi’s magic to win games and titles alike.

A lot has been said about Messi winning the 2021 Ballon d’Or with regards to his recent move to Paris. With regards to an award which is presented by the French Footballing Association and the French Journalists, there is no doubt that there was a hint of favoritism when it came to handing the golden ball to the little Argentine and keeping the big prize in Paris — the capital of France.

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After the gala night, many yesteryear legends of the game, current players, both experienced as well as youth stars, and fan-bases alike were quick to take to the Social Media to declare Robert Lewandowski as the people’s winner. #LewandowskiRobbed trended worldwide for quite some time, and surely there are some officials inside the French FA who are ensuring that there is more clarity henceforth on the parameters on which the award is presented.

Nevertheless, it seems that Lionel Messi might still be in the race for the Golden Ball next year at this time, but he shouldn’t realistically make it to the top-three considering his dip in performances this season.

Time for the Mbappes and Haalands to step up

In the last 14 years of this prestigious Ballon d’Or ceremony, only two names remain unusual. No, we are not talking about the obvious Messi and Ronaldo duo here. 2007 and 2018 were the only two years when the Argentine and the Portuguese starlet were both pipped to the prize by two exceptional midfielders — Kaka and Luka Modric. 2022 could be the beginning of a new era where we might see a new generation of stars, probably much younger than Kaka and Modric, win the coveted prize and announce themselves to the hall of fame of this beautiful game.

A fantastic tweet post the Tuesday’s ceremony read, “When you are so good, they have to create a new award to present to you…” Robert Lewandowski’s unreal goal-scoring abilities were acknowledged as the Ballon d’Or committee announced a new award, “Best Striker Award” from 2021 onwards. With Lewandowski inches closer to getting his hands on the Ballon d’Or, the Poland International can only be fired up for claiming the prize hands-on next season. With Bayern playing their best brand of football, both in Germany and Europe, under Julian Nagelsmann, we are sure that Lewandowski will be backed by trophies, with numbers always on his side.

Coincidentally, the next big name that could be in the running for the award in the upcoming years was sitting right next to Messi and Lewandowski on Tuesday night. Kylian Mbappe became a household name when he spearheaded France to 2018 World Cup single-handedly, at the age of 18. A fully-grown man in the Paris Saint-Germain squad now, we can only believe that the attacking player was practicing his etiquettes for the next year’s ceremony by sitting alongside Messi on Tuesday.

Rivaling Mbappe for the prize and probably the Cristiano to Mbappe’s Messi — Erling Haaland is the other name which has been making a lot of noise in the German Bundesliga. Destroying defenses on a weekly basis is the top mention on his resume and with his contract ending with Dortmund at the end of this season, we can expect a transfer fee in the range of at least 300 million for the Norwegian. The only thing keeping Haaland away from Ballon d’Or right now seems to be International Numbers, which aren’t matching up due to Norway’s repeated failed attempts to make it to the World Cup.

Another name, not as inexperienced as Mbappe or Haaland, is making the famous Anfield roar in Merseyside, England. Mohamed Salah has been scoring outrageous goals, against top clubs, and in a non-stop fashion this season. With Liverpool in the Premier League title race as well as one of the top contenders for the Champions League trophy, Salah could become the first African after George Weah to win the Ballon d’Or next year — something which could totally change the way that the footballing fraternity looks at the sleeping giant, Africa.

Well, as football supporters, we can only preview facts and predict events of the future. So, Messi and Ronaldo might just have one last dance left between them. But, if we have seen the last of the legendary duo on the Ballon d’Or podium, it will be the end of an era for all those fans who have grown up watching these two players dominate and give us magical memories to ponder upon.