This week’s rather long 23-man shortlist for the coveted Ballon d’Or provided a sharp wake-up call to English football.
We may boast the most exciting league in the world, but is it really the greatest?
The fact that just five Premier League stars have been nominated for the prize this year (three of whom are newbies) tells it’s own story about the individual quality perhaps.
According to this list, 78% of the world’s best footballers DON’T play in England.
Just for fun (although it proved far more complicated than I’d imagined) I’ve narrowed FIFA’s stellar cast of 23 down to a top five.
Gareth Bale, the sole Brit on the list just missed out, placing sixth in my own rankings but I’m happy with the standard of those that did make the cut…
5th Place – Thomas Müller
The 25-year-old German isn’t the most skillful or eye-catching player on the planet, we don’t even know if his best position is as a striker or in midfield, but it’s irrelevant because he’s blessed with the ability to conjure up perpetual end product at the highest level.
Intelligent, slippery and chillingly cool in front of goal, the Bayern Munich man comes up trumps with moments that matter, time and time again.
In 2014 he won the Bundesliga, German Cup and the World Cup, contributing to all those triumphs with a deluge of goals and assists. Voted the second best player at the World Cup, it’s been a year to remember.
4th Place – Diego Costa
To fully appreciate Costa’s performances this year they have to be put into context. Plundering 27 goals in La Liga last term, the Spanish striker almost single-handedly steered underdogs Atletico Madrid to the league title.
Make no mistake Diego Simeone’s side were good, but without their talismanic forward they’d never have got close to Barcelona or Real Madrid, let alone usurped them.
Injury sadly ruined his Champions League final and World Cup, but the 26-year-old powerhouse has all but made up for that by lifting Chelsea’s long-standing striker curse. Smashing nine goals for the Blues already, in this his first experience of the Premier League, Costa has got off to a mind-blowingly good start.
3rd Place – Lionel Messi
The four-time Ballon d’Or winner looked as disgusted as the rest of us when asked to collect the Golden Ball for being the World Cup’s best player in July, but even though that award was unmerited, the Argentine genius hasn’t exactly been shabby over the last 12 months.
Since the start of last season he’s netted 35 times in La Liga, scored 10 Champions League goals, and laid on a total of 20 assists. It shouldn’t be forgotten he did also score four goals for his country en route to the World Cup final too.
When you take into account the injuries and fatigue he’s suffered from, and the slight decline in quality around him at Barcelona, Messi’s performances have still been pretty remarkable. The worry for everyone else is that it looks like he’ll be back to his best in 2015.
2nd Place – Manuel Neuer
The ultimate sweeper-keeper!
This year the 28-year-old practically redefined the art of goalkeeping by showing off his phenomenal reading of the game and nimble footwork at the World Cup finals, and if anyone should have won the Golden Ball instead of Messi, it had to be Neuer.
Conceding just 18 goals in Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga triumph, and proving to be the pick of an exceptionally brilliant bunch of keepers in Brazil, the German number one is rightly lauded as one of the greatest footballers in the world. He has the temperament and tools to be remembered as one of the all-time goalkeeping greats.
1st Place – Cristiano Ronaldo
It should be a formality that Ronaldo picks up the Ballon d’Or for the second year running.
He’s been a footballing Adonis in 2014 – on a different level to anyone else in the game.
The Portuguese megastar was another that struggled with injury at the World Cup, but the manner in which he drove Real Madrid towards a 10th Champions League success, with 17 goals and four assists, was just frightening.
This season he’s set to smash record upon record. The forward’s already netted 22 goals in all competitions, and has scored in each of his last 12 appearances. Messi will push him close in 2015, but as it stands today, the greatest footballer on the planet is unquestionably Cristiano Ronaldo.
Did I get my top five correct? Who would you rank as the best five players of 2015?
It would be great to hear your views…