As Sam Cooke sang, a change is gonna come. One day not too far in the future, football’s most important individual accolade will become interesting again.
Okay, so the very concept of awarding the individual in a team sport is questionable, but regardless the Ballon d’Or is entertaining. Or it used to be. Back in the days before Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi engaged in their tiresome battle of egos and world dominance, the build-up to the ceremony was actually quite interesting. Even people like Zinedine Zidane, Franz Beckenbaeur and Johann Cruyff failed to truly dominate, with Cruyff the only one of those greats to win it twice consecutively.
In the last decade, however, the Ballon d’Or has become little more than another sycophantic exercise in telling the world’s two best players how much better than everyone else they are. Even today, when it could be the argued that they actually aren’t. For nine years one of the two has won, and in only one of those years did another player have the dubious honour of finishing second – when Andrés Iniesta led both club and country to international glory.
This cannot stay the same forever, though. We don’t doubt that Ronaldo has purchased many portraits in the hope of emulating the life of Dorian Gray (or perhaps just to stare at during after-work activities), but the Portuguese is ageing. Messi too, although seemingly still having more time left at the top than his old enemy, will soon fade to legend.
So, who will be the real winners of this new dawn? You would have to fancy Antoine Griezmann for the first post-Ronessi prize. Neymar will also surely scoop the gong at some point, but are the two really capable of dominating the award for years to come?
Perhaps we should look to the Premier League for potential winners. It might be knee-jerk to suggest Gabriel Jesus, but this is a teenager who has been integral to the Brazilian national side for a while now, and looks capable of anything at such a tender age. Dele Alli, too, has time on his side, but both players will have to evolve significantly if they’re to be the best in the world.
If @Dele_Alli isn't the next winner of the Ballon d'Or, then something is seriously wrong with the world!
— Chris (@bridyid5) January 5, 2017
Eden Hazard would probably the first name on the lips of most Premier League supporters, and there’s no doubting the Chelsea star has the ability. There’s a big possibility that the Belgian will continue to wow until securing a move to Real Madrid, and win the golden ball shortly thereafter. Until he finds consistency, though, nothing is guaranteed.
Let’s look then to a compatriot of his. Not the indisputably terrific Kevin de Bruyne, but Romelu Lukaku. Some may scoff at the prospect of Lukaku becoming the world’s best player, but the facts suggest this is far from improbable.
The 23-year-old is 23 years old. 23. Lukaku seems to have been around so long I’m sure I remember him donning a mullet and celebrating a goal with Neville Southall, but he is in fact still practically a kid.
Since 2012/13, only Kün Agüero has scored more goals than the Belgian. A striker in his prime playing for the league’s best club over that period. Lukaku has been learning on the job at West Bromwich Albion and Everton, and scoring for fun in the process.
It only takes one look at Lukaku to adjudge that physically he’s capable of becoming the best on earth, and with his technique improved steadily, what is holding him back from winning the accolade?
Lukaku is lucky enough to be playing at a time when Messi and Ronaldo are on the decline, unlike this lot, who would’ve won the Ballon d’Or if the impressive duo weren’t around!