Ballon d’Or: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or Neymar?

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Suarez, Neymar and Messi see the ice-cream man. Credit: PA

Yesterday’s announcement that Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and A.N. Other are the nominations for the 2015 Ballon d’Or will have come as a surprise to precisely zero football fans on this great planet we live on. Since 2008 (that’s seven awards for those who can’t do maths), the FIFA World Player of the Year/Ballon d’Or (as it was renamed in 2010) has been won by either Ronaldo or Messi.

Four of the prestigious trophies belong to the sublime Argentine, who has finished either first or second every year for the past eight awards, whilst ex-Red Devil Ronaldo has three. He has finished in the top three every year except 2010 in the same span as Messi.

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Ronaldo realises he won’t win another Ballon d’Or. Credit: Lars Baron/Getty Images

The third nominee has never really been in with a shout of winning and no one has consistently reached the same heights that these two deities of football has. Since 2008, there have been five other players who have made up the top three: Fernando Torres (when he was actually able to hit a cow’s bottom with a banjo) Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Manuel Neuer and Franck Ribery.

This year, the third prize will be going to Brazil’s Neymar. One who has always split opinion, it may now be time to recognise that he is one of the world’s best and at just 23 years of age, the Ballon d’Or is his to lose in the next ten years.

But should the third prize be going to a different part of Barcelona’s attacking trio, Luis Suarez? Let’s take a look at club and country stats for the four players in 2015:

Messi Ronaldo Neymar Suarez
Games 56 52 59 52
Goals 48 48 45 40
Assists 24 14 9 21

Barça’s MSN attack force, so named because of Luis Enrique’s passion for the Microsoft messaging system that anyone born in the ’90s used, is quite staggering. Messi averages 0.85 goals per game, whilst Suarez sits on 0.77 with Neymar at 0.76. Eclipsing them all is Ronaldo though, who hits the back of the net 0.92 times per game.

Goals are great. Everyone loves scoring goals; hitting the ball into the top corner from 25 yards, tapping home after a drool-inducing team goal, or scoring a bicycle kick in the last minute to give your team all three points. They’re pretty great. But the mark of a true striker, especially in the best teams in the world, comes in his decision-making. More specifically, his assists.

Messi leads the way with 24 assists, an average of 0.43 per game. However he doesn’t really count since his feet were blessed by a sorcerer as a young child which enables him to find space and make passes that should not be possible. Ronaldo and Neymar are both lagging behind as they combined for just 23 in 2015, making Suarez is the key player here.

21 assists in 52 games gives him an average of 0.4 per game, and makes him the complete striker. This was evident during his time at Liverpool, where he recorded 23 assists for the Reds in the Premier League whilst scoring 69 times in just 110 matches.

The ever-hungry Uruguayan has tasted victory in 40 of his 52 games this year, giving him an astounding win percentage of 83%, matched only by Neymar. In contrast, Messi’s is 77% and Ronaldo’s is at a substandard 63%. Tim Sherwood will be having words.

In truth, if anyone should make way for Suarez it should be Ronaldo. The Portu-geezer just doesn’t have enough influence in his side, and using Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema as an excuse just doesn’t fly since MSN work so well together. Ronaldo is the most individual player out there, especially when it comes to international football (although with the lack of quality in Portugal’s side this is hardly a surprise), but he’s just not had a good enough 2015 to retain the Ballon d’Or and make it three in a row.

Obviously Messi will win. At time of writing, the little genius’ best odds at Oddschecker.com is 1/8 at Betway. His shortest are 1/14. Ronaldo’s shortest is 7/1 with William Hill (his longest is 12/1), whilst Neymar’s worst is out at 8/1 with various sites. His longest also stands at 12s.

In a perfect world, Suarez would claim second whilst Neymar would be third. But as this is not that, Ronaldo is likely to bag runner-up with Neymar third.

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Just where has all the money in football come from?

The financial aspect of sport is one that has often been the cause of controversy. Far gone are the days when top-level sport was still considered a leisure activity, with football being the frontrunner when it comes to British sport and the money surrounding it.

The top-earning players in the Premier League are Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie (both of Manchester United) and Yaya Toure (Manchester City), who earn around £250,000, £240,000 and £240,000 a week respectively. These figures are approximately nine times the average UK annual salary. To any member of the general public, whether they are football fans or not, this may seem like an absurd amount for someone who essentially runs around a field kicking a ball.

Some players, like Arsenal forward Nicklas Bendtner, says that players deserve such high wages because they aren’t allowed to do activities that may injure them, such as go skiing. However a lot of players prefer to remain quiet on the topic due to the nature of it, especially in the current economic climate. Retired striker Alan Shearer is one of the more recent people directly involved in football to extend his opinion on the matter, saying it isn’t right that players get paid so much.

On top of that, transfer fees are getting higher and higher every year. Gareth Bale’s world record transfer of £85 million from Spurs to Real Madrid set a benchmark that shouldn’t be surpassed for some time, but it could easily be. Players are becoming more and more valuable in the transfer market as they become more and more valuable to their teams, which prices them over and above what they would normally be worth. Another good example lately is Marouane Fellaini. The Belgian moved from Everton to Manchester United on transfer deadline day for £27.5 million, a figure that surprised fans and critics alike. They also agree that Fellaini has been quite substandard this season so far, and that United may have overpaid for the midfielder.

But the real question, in my mind, isn’t whether players should be earning so much. It’s how and why do they earn so much.

I consider there to be two main reasons for this: Foreign Owners and TV Rights. There then comes the question of whether spending will ever decrease.