The Ballon d’Or is the most prestigious award in world football.
In recent years it has been dominated by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – who have shared the top individual prize between them since 2008.
As both players continue to tussle for the top accolade, Messi leads the way with five wins – more than any other player in history – although it could soon be matched by Ronaldo.
Widely considered as one of the greatest players of all time, the Argentine has brought football to a new level with his quick feet and clinical finishing ability.
The Barcelona superstar first won the Ballon d’Or in 2009, before it merged with FIFA’s World Player of the Year award, and clinched it every year until 2012 when his grip on the award was broken by Ronaldo.
However, Messi’s crowning moment came in 2015, when he capped off a famous tremble winning season with Barcelona to collect a fifth award – scoring 52 goals for club and country across the calendar year.
Now 30, the maestro from Rosario has netted 524 goals in 605 matches since breaking on to the scene for the Catalan giants back in October 2004.
His mantelpiece speaks for itself carrying eight La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues, four Copa Del Reys, three Club World Cups and seven Spanish Super Cups.
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Paul Pogba is gutted to be missing the Manchester derby but suspension will not prevent the midfielder from helping United mentally prepare for the must-win clash against swashbuckling City.
Old Trafford plays host to the most highly-anticipated clash of the season as Jose Mourinho’s second-placed side attempt to make a dent on the eight-point cushion built by Pep Guardiola’s runaway Premier League leaders this Sunday.
No side has ever enjoyed a better start to a top-flight season and Manchester City will look to take a double-digit lead by ending United’s club record-equalling 40-match unbeaten home run.
Pogba knows just how crucial victory is this Sunday and has vowed to help in any way he can, despite the star turn missing the match of the season after his sending off in the 3-1 win at Arsenal.
“I’m very disappointed because I really want to help the team and wanted to be there for this derby because obviously we are playing City and in this moment we need points and we need to win,” the Manchester United midfielder said.
“It’s an important moment, an important game so, like I say, disappointed.
“Manchester City against Manchester United has always been a big, big derby. One city, two clubs.
“You know how it is so I won’t tell you what is going to happen.
“It’s going to be a big atmosphere in the stadium and a big game with a big team and big players so that’s the game you want to play.
“Unfortunately I won’t play but I will be there to help the team mentally.
“We need to (attack City from the start). To win those games you need to give everything.
“You need to be there offensively, defensively.
“Kill the game when you have one chance because they are City and they have quality as well in front and they can kill the game at any time.”
Pogba’s absence is a gut punch given his fine form this season, which continued as CSKA Moscow were overcome 2-1 on Tuesday to secure United top spot in their Champions League group.
Mourinho’s men need to utilise the building “positive energy” and the France midfielder has no doubt that the side can flourish in his absence.
“I have complete trust in the team,” the 24-year-old said. “Even if I am not there, I will be there watching the game giving positive energy and hopefully we are going to win.”
Asked if he can still have a role against City, Pogba added: “Mentally. I need to be there to boost the team and hopefully it will help, yeah.”
All help will be welcome against an unbeaten City side whose mental strength has impressed as much as their skill.
“They are first for good reason because they have been doing great at the start of the season,” Pogba said.
“They keep winning and they didn’t lose one game and obviously mentally they are very strong. We need to be as good as they are mentally.”
As good as City have been, Guardiola is likely to have breathed a sigh of relief when Pogba was ruled out of the derby.
Sunday is the first of three matches the France midfielder will miss after receiving a straight red card for his challenge on Hector Bellerin in Saturday’s 3-1 win at Arsenal.
“Yeah I didn’t really speak after the game – I didn’t have time – but I think Hector, I know him as well, and I would never give him a tackle like this,” he said.
“It looks very bad but the intention wasn’t like that. They had the decision, the referee got the red card and that’s football.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
Cristiano Ronaldo looks set to match his great rival Lionel Messi on Thursday by claiming a fifth Ballon d’Or as recognition for leading Real Madrid to a La Liga and Champions League double last season.
Barcelona’s 30-year-old Argentinian superstar won the coveted award from 2009 to 2012 and in 2015. Portugal’s Ronaldo, who is 32, took the honours in 2008, 2013, 2014 and last year.
The man who came to maturity under the watchful eye of ex-Manchester United coach Alex Ferguson clinched his fourth Ballon d’Or after an unforgettable season, first spearheading Real to the Champions League title before also leading his homeland to Euro 2016 glory in Paris.
The France football magazine award is decided upon by a journalists ballot (with 173 voting in 2016) with each naming a top five from a list of 30.
The 2016-2017 season was in a way just as glorious for Ronaldo, who started the season slowly before Real shaded Barcelona to the domestic title and then became the first side in the modern era to defend their European crown.
After seeing off Napoli, Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid in the knock-out rounds Ronaldo scored twice in a 4-1 win over Juventus in the final, taking his tally to 12 goals in the competition that season.
“Last season was exceptional. We won the league and the Champions League, where I was again the top scorer,” Ronaldo told French daily L’Equipe.
– ‘I want seven’ –
Real have a staggering seven players on the shortlist of 30 with Karim Benzema, Marcelo, Isco, Luka Modric, Sergio Ramos and Toni Kroos all nominated alongside their talisman Ronaldo.
The only other Barca player other than Messi, is the Uruguayan centre-forward Luis Suarez.
On the prospect of equalling Messi’s five wins Ronaldo quipped: “I want seven. Five is good but seven is my lucky number so seven would be great.
“I want seven children and seven Ballons d’Or.”
Despite his position as outsider Messi can take heart from the award’s history of upsets with Messi himself clinching the title against the odds in 2010.
That season purists pointed to the achievements of Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder, winner of the Champions League, Serie A and Italian Cup and indeed a World Cup finalist with the Netherlands.
Also, in the run up to the vote Ronaldo has only scored twice in La Liga so far this season – although he has netted eight goals in five games in the Champions League – and Real are already eight points behind Messi’s Barcelona.
Messi in contrast tops the Liga scoring charts with 13 goals and also secured a brilliant hat-trick for Argentina against Ecuador to clinch a last-gasp World Cup place in October, earning wide praise.
“Leo is like Maradona for those of our generation,” said Messi’s compatriot, Juventus striker Paulo Dybala, himself tipped as a future winner.
“He dragged us to the World Cup with the hat-trick in Ecuador. He is a born leader.”
Aside from Messi and Ronaldo the Ballon d’Or, originally conceived to honour only European players before going fully global in 2007, has three triple winners – Johan Cruyff, Michel Platini and Marco van Basten.
This year’s winner is being announced live on the L’Equipe television channel, the French sports daily being owned by the same company as France football.
Provided by AFP Sport