With just weeks to go before the Ballon d'Or ceremony, the politicking by influential members of the world football fraternity is in full swing, with the great and good sharing their perspective on who should become the latest recipient of the game's biggest individual award. Chief among them was Sir Alex Ferguson, who told Diario Marca: "I cannot think anyone better than Cristiano [Ronaldo] to lift the trophy, his achievements are unsurpassable, he won the Champions League and the European Championships."
According to bookmakers, the Portugal international and Lionel Messi are favourites to scoop the prize. The latter has backing from the likes of Ronaldinho, and won La Liga and the Copa del Rey last term. But why should two players who have dominated the award for the past eight years be considered the outstanding candidates again? IBTimes UK looks at the alternative contenders.
Why should silverware dictate the voting process?
Though it is true that the Ballon d'Or winners are generally cherry-picked from clubs who have won trophies in the previous campaign, it is meant to reward the best footballer over a single year. Messi did not win the World Cup or the Champions League in 2010, but he lifted the prize for a second time.
Antoine Griezmann has stood head and shoulders above the rest despite his lack of silverware. He guided Atlético Madrid to the Champions League final, surrounded by good players but not superstars. Only a penalty shoot-out prevented his side winning their first European Cup. He scored 32 goals in 54 games; a remarkable achievement for a club bereft of stars such as Neymar, Gareth Bale, Luis Suárez, Karim Benzema, Andrés Iniesta or Toni Kroos.
But thanks to the inspirational Frenchman, Atlético were able to fight against the giants not only in the continental competition – where they knocked out Messi's Barcelona – but also in La Liga, where they finished just three points adrift of the Catalans. Griezmann reached the Euro 2016 final with France as well, and though he was on the losing side in Paris he finished as the top scorer and was named the best player of the tournament.
Even if we accept that success is important when it comes to the Ballon d'Or, should Gareth Bale not sit above Messi and Ronaldo? The winger was the most important player in Real's 11<sup>th Champions League triumph and spearheaded Wales' run to the Euro 2016 semi-finals. His performances reached astonishing levels during the regular season.
Messi and Ronaldo far from their peak years
Barcelona and Real Madrid's talismans are the two best players in the world. The Ballon d'Or, however, is meant to reward outstanding consistency over a whole season – and neither have reached that level over the past 12 months. Suárez and Bale were instead the key players for their clubs and the most regular stars.
Victory for either Messi or Ronaldo again this year could raise the possibility of the pair commandeering the award until the day they retire. Between them they have won it eight years in a row, even during periods when the likes of Andrés Iniesta, Xavi and Wesley Sneijder influenced the biggest of matches. It is time for the baton to be passed.
Let's put campaigns to an end. This is not the US election.
The voting system for the 2016 Ballon d'Or has been belatedly overhauled upon Fifa ending their association with the award. Whereas captains and managers of national teams voted for the best player of the season, journalists all over the world will have the exclusive rights to vote in 2016.
This has inadvertently led to Real putting pressure on the Spanish media not to select Messi in this year's competition, according to Diario Gol. The Catalan press are playing exactly the same game, instead attempting to ensure Messi does walk away with the title. The truth is players like Antoine Griezmann and Gareth Bale do not have enough power and influence when it comes to media, nor do they have the marketing profile to rival the illustrious pair.
Griezmann's agent Eric Olhats admitted recently his client has no hope of winning the trophy: "It will not be for us this year, it will be Ronaldo." Due to media campaigns, the reputation of the Ballon d'Or has degraded over the last few years. Showing your skill on the pitch now counts for little.