Lionel Messi will win the 2015 Ballon d’Or. There’s no question about that.
As Messi is frequently called an alien, a freak, or not human by his fellow footballers, the real question is whether Cristiano Ronaldo or Neymar will come in second place in the Ballon d’Or voting.
Both Ronaldo and Neymar have strong cases to come in second place, but second place will mean nothing to Ronaldo but something of a milestone for Neymar who has his sights on surpassing Messi.
Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Neymar by the numbers:
Lionel Messi- 44 goals, 21 assists, 4 titles
Neymar- 41 goals, 12 assists, 4 titles
Cristiano Ronaldo- 45 goals, 14 assists, 0 titles
•The Case for Cristiano Ronaldo for Second Place•
The Portuguese forward has 45 goals compared to Neymar’s 41 goals – a slight advantage. In a year where Barcelona was universally considered better than Real Madrid, Ronaldo’s goals stats equaled Messi’s. The fact that Ronaldo’s numbers equaled Messi’s and surpassed Neymar’s is perhaps a more objective and fair standard to use to compare Ronaldo to Neymar. The Brazilian might be the more complete player, but Ronaldo shouldn’t be penalized for Messi’s and Suárez’s goals cutting into Neymar’s. The fact that Ronaldo’s numbers were close to Messi’s is a strong criteria to declare him above Neymar.
•The Case for Neymar for Second Place•
The Case for Neymar is less about stats and more about how well he played with Messi, Luís Suárez, Andrés Iniesta, and so on. Many elite players would get frustrated playing in Messi’s shadow and thus work less and produce less goals and assists, but Neymar bonded and thrived with Messi. The argument can be made that scoring 41 goals and producing 12 assists is harder to do when the focal point of the team is on another player. Neymar’s combination of playmaking and goalscoring make him a more complete player than Ronaldo, and the Brazilian was more active without the ball than Ronaldo. Neymar’s international play was far more dazzling than Ronaldo’s, so this is just another aspect of Neymar’s game that is more complete than Ronaldo’s.
Neymar deserves the Silver Ball (the runner-up to the Ballon d’Or award). Soccer isn’t just about numbers, and the way that Neymar was world-class as a teammate, as an individual achiever, and as a club and international player give him the edge over Ronaldo. The Brazilian was simply electrifying and magical. The way that Neymar played was superior to Ronaldo, and Neymar was the more successful champion.
What will happen in next year’s Ballon d’Or voting when Neymar is even better?
The Bayern Munich goalkeeper and Germany number 1 is a total monster in goal. Victor Valdés is arguably playing just as well or better. Both Gigi Buffon and Iker Casillas are still arguably the two best goalkeepers.
RIGHT BACK:MAICON (Roma)
Maicon the Marauder is back to playing his best football full of attacking assaults and ferocious defense. Maicon’s supposed decline and drop in speed and fitness was off base. The Brazilian right back is still better defensively than Daniel Alves, and Maicon perhaps is more influential when playing for the Seleção than Daniel Alves.
CENTER BACK:Raphaël VARANE (Real Madrid)
The French prodigy is only surpassed by Thiago Silva, and both David Luiz and Dante are more experienced and arguably better.
CENTER BACK:Thiago SILVA (Paris Saint-Germain)
Hands down the best center back in the world. Almost universally considered the best center back in the world. The skill level of Brazilian center backs is becoming ridiculously good.
LEFT BACK:MARCELO (Real Madrid)
David Alaba has a major bone to pick here with Marcelo, and Alaba is equally as deserving. Nevertheless, Marcelo is a remarkably fast and skilled left back whose defensive skill and ability to use both feet have skyrocketed in recent years.
CENTRAL MIDFIELDER:Paul POGBA (Juventus)
The French prodigy is listed as a central midfielder because he is a totally complete midfielder who is hard to box up into a restrictive category such as defensive midfielder, box-to-box midfielder, or possibly as a soon-to-be regista.
CENTRAL MIDFIELDER:Arturo VIDAL (Juventus)
The Chilean box-to-box midfielder is regarded by many as the most complete midfielder in the world. The Juventus midfielder is arguably the best defensive midfielder in the world, and his technical-ability and his attacking skill are as good or better than his defending. Every club wants Vidal.
RIGHT ATTACKING MIDFIELDER:Cristiano RONALDO (Real Madrid)
Cristiano Ronaldo uses both feet with the same perfect technique and his speed is virtually unmatched. The Portuguese winger or forward is a goal-scoring machine and arguably the best and most-skilled player in the world.
CENTRAL ATTACKING MIDFIELDER:Thomas MÜLLER (Bayern Munich)
Thomas Müller is easily the most-gifted and best current German footballer. Müller can play any position in the attack, and as a central attacking midfielder his style of play is very similar to Kaká’s, which uses a combination of attacking at pace with exceptional passing and vision. Other players might be better pure playmakers, but Müller is a gifted playmaker and complete attacker without any flaws. Müller is a big game player, and he backs up what he says before games.
LEFT ATTACKING MIDFIELDER:NEYMAR (Barcelona)
Neymar is the New King of World Football. The Brazilian sensation is a dazzling footballer, and he is the jewel of world and Brazilian football.
STRIKER:Mario BALOTELLI (Milan)
For many people, several strikers are better than Mario Balotelli, but the Italian and Milan striker is technically-perfect with both feet and the best athlete in world football. Italy’s number 9 has the size and athleticism of an NBA player while still being a graceful magician with the ball at his feet. Balotelli is a big game player, and his abilities range from being a dead ball specialist to being a clinical finisher. Balotelli has a full arsenal of tricks and a thunderous shot with both feet. The Italian is the only striker with a chance of being in Ronaldo’s league as far as first strikers go.
Fabio Caressa once said that Balotelli could play every position in the attack.
This list includes some criminal snubs of players like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
There is no excuse for snubbing them, but the reason that there were snubbed is because World Soccer Source believes this XI to be a more complete and well-balanced team without them.
This is extremely controversial, but World Soccer Source didn’t snub them for the sake of controversy; the intention was to have a balanced midfield and attack that included box-to-box midfielders like Arturo Vidal, Paul Pogba, and Kevin-Prince Boateng who are exactly the type of players needed to win back possession in the midfield and heavily contribute to the attack.
With the exception of Julio Cesar and Hulk, one could almost just select the Starting XI for the Seleção in the 2013 Confederations Cup Final and essentially have the World’s Best XI.
Here is World Soccer Source’s World’s Best XI (Formation: 4-1-2-1-2):
GOALKEEPER: Gigi BUFFON (Juventus/Italy)
Gigi Buffon, along with Iker Casillas, has long been recognized as the best goalkeeper in the world, and he shows no sign of slowing down.
Snub: Iker CASILLAS (Real Madrid/Spain)
RIGHT BACK: MAICON (Roma/Brazil)
With Maicon’s return to the Seleção and his excellent form at AS Roma after serving a prison sentence with Manchester City, Maicon the Marauder, reclaims his spot as the most terrifying right back in the world. The Brazilian combines fantastic and intimidating defense with inspired runs down the sideline. Of all the right backs in the world, Maicon is the one that defenders really do not want to see coming at them. Stong, skilled, and fast, Maicon also brings with him a tendency to smash outside of the foot shots from distance that are usually dipping, swerving, and on target.
Snub: Daniel ALVES (Barcelona/Brazil)
CENTER BACK: Thiago SILVA (Paris Saint-Germain/Brazil)
Thiago Silva is internationally-recognized as the best center back in the world. A totally flawless defender with blazing speed, graceful defending, and technical ability. Easily the best center back in the world.
Snub: Raphaël VARANE (Real Madrid/France)
CENTER BACK: David LUIZ (Chelsea/Brazil)
There was a time when people criticized David Luiz for being a walking yellow card, but the Brazilian defender has become a more elegant tackler while still being the most technically-skilled center back in the world along with Thiago Silva. After David Luiz played his first game with Chelsea, no one made any comments about David Luiz being a soft Brazilian defender who would have trouble adapting to England again. David Luiz’s goal-line sliding save against Spain in the 2013 Confederations Cup Final was impossible.
Snub: DANTE (Bayern Munich/Brazil)
LEFT BACK: MARCELO (Real Madrid/Brazil)
The best left back in the world without question. Marcelo used to be somewhat lacking in his defensive abilities, and he used to be one-footed. Not any more. Marcelo is very hard to beat with pace, and he has developed a knack for dispossessing opponents only to take the ball and dribble and pass his way out of the back without losing possession. No left back in the world rivals Marcelo in the attacking category.
Snub: Mattia DE SCIGLIO (Milan/Italy)
CENTRAL MIDFIELDER: Paul POGBA (Juventus/ France)
The French phenomenon is so complete that no one knows what midfield position he is really playing. He isn’t a trequartista or a true number 10, but Pogba is a complete midfielder and a freak of nature. While not as athletic as Mario Balotelli, Pogba is an incredibly athletic and technically-skilled midfielder with no flaws. Standing at 6’4” with zero body fat, Pogba combines power with elegant passing and ball control. Pogba is so good that World Soccer Source selected him over Andrea Pirlo, who himself is one of the greatest midfielders to ever play the game.
Snub: Andrea PIRLO (Juventus/Italy)
RIGHT MIDFIELDER: Arturo VIDAL (Juventus/Chile)
The Chilean is a ruthless midfielder who defends without mercy and without being reckless. Vidal is as talented on the ball and in the attack as he is as at defending, and his style of play has earned him the nickname, “The Warrior.” Vidal is an essential component to making a Starting XI to beat any opponent because, like Paul Pogba, he is a totally complete midfielder who would start for any team in the world, including the Brazilian national team.
Snub: RAMIRES (Chelsea/Brazil)
LEFT MIDFIELDER: Kevin-Prince BOATENG (Schalke/Germany & Ghana)
Underrated and underappreciated, Milan fans are now seeing just how good Kevin-Prince Boateng is, and Milan fans are missing him. Boateng has proven that he can make a huge impact in any game against any opponent, and his playing style is one of the most unique in the world, as he combines trickery with physicality powered by a crazed mentality to win. Boateng is another complete midfielder who can score with either foot, take defenders off the dribble, and emphatically dispossess opponents with fantastic slide tackles. Boateng plays very much like a Brazilian, and Boateng’s unique combination of skills makes him a player who is ready and able to face any opponent at any time. Boateng has a fantastic collection of golazos to his name, and until he played for Milan, only Jürgen Klopp and those who had played with him knew just how good he was.
Snub: PAULINHO (Tottenham/Brazil)
PLAYMAKER: RONALDINHO (Atlético Mineiro/Brazil)
Ronaldinho is still way too good to keep off a World’s Best XI, and probably no footballer ever has been as technically-gifted as Ronaldinho. When Ronaldinho is inspired to play, no one in the world is better than he is. Ronaldinho’s vision and technical-ability is unmatched by anyone, and even now he continues to provide strong performances and a steady stream of goals, assists, and highlights. Until Ronaldinho is no longer physically-fit to compete at the same level, Ronaldinho remains the greatest playmaker and the most-talented player in the world. Ronaldinho’s ability to never suffer a serious injury is often over-looked by critics who call him fat and past his prime. The ability to avoid injuries is a testament to his fitness and longevity as a player. Avoiding injuries while being hacked and fouled so much is truly an art form.
Snub: OSCAR (Chelsea/Brazil)
FIRST STRIKER: Mario BALOTELLI (Milan/Italy)
Mario Balotelli is the best first striker since Ronaldo and Thierry Henry. There’s never been a footballer with Balotelli’s athleticism, and his physique has never been seen before in world soccer. The scariest aspect about Balotelli is that not only are his technical ability, physique, and athleticism basically better than everyone else’s, but he is a merciless competitor with ice in his veins. Balotelli brings everything to the first striker position: a sniper’s accuracy, a perfect first touch, unmatched speed and strength, and a full arsenal of tricks and striking techniques. The Italian prodigy is famous for his penalty kicks due to the fact that he’s never missed one in a competitive match and due to the fact that he looks into the goalkeeper’s eyes throughout the entire process of approaching the ball to strike it. Balotelli is the King of the Paradinha, and no defender in the world can really contain either his skill, his athleticism, his size, or his strength. The Milan striker and Italian number 9 shouldn’t be dismissed as just an incredible athlete with great technical skill because his technical skill matches any footballer on the planet. After UEFA Euro 2012 and after the 2013 Confederations Cup, most of Balotelli’s harshest critics faded to black.
Neymar is not only the best Brazilian footballer since Ronaldinho Gaúcho but the best footballer of any nationality since Ronaldinho as well. Neymar’s 1v1 dribbling abilities and tricks surpass those of Pelé, Diego Maradona, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Lionel Messi. In his first games with Barcelona, Neymar has been more dangerous and effective throughout matches than Messi, but Messi continues to have the ability to finish free kicks or score anything when there is a glimpse of the goal. With Barcelona, the Brazilian has been displaying his passing and his ability to improve his teammates, but he has also displayed the ability to penetrate European defenses and create scoring opportunities for himself better than Messi. Neymar’s performance against Spain in the Confederations Cup Final and his seamless transition to La Liga and European football show that Neymar is poised to have a breakout season in just his first season with Barcelona. As an attacker, Neymar’s ability to leave any opponent for dead is unmatched, and his finishing with both feet is off the charts. The Brazilian is without a doubt the greatest player of his generation, and he will only continue to improve and collect trophies and individual awards.
Snub: Thomas MÜLLER (Bayern Munich/Germany)
OTHER SNUBS: Lionel MESSI, Cristiano RONALDO, Andrés INIESTA, XAVI, Philipp LAHM, Luiz GUSTAVO, Franck RIBÉRY, FALCAO, Robert LEWANDOWSKI, Mario MANDZUKIC, Jordi ALBA, Leonardo BONUCCI, Giorgio CHIELLINI, Daniele DE ROSSI, Tony KROOS, Mario GÖTZE, Blaise MATUIDI, David ALABA.
Although Grandmaster Ronaldinho is currently playing very well for Atlético Mineiro in the Brasileirão where he has them in first place, Neymar is now very much the face of Brazilian soccer. While Neymar garners the majority of the headlines, players likes Ronaldinho, Diego, Robinho, or Kaká should not be considered irrelevant or ineffective players for the Brazilian national team.
Neymar has excellent passing skills, but he is not a meia-armador or central attacking midfielder or playmaker like Ronaldinho, Ganso, Oscar, or Diego are. Although some of Brazil’s more established players are in their thirties (such as Maicon, Ronaldinho, and Lúcio), Brazil has several excellent players in their mid to late twenties such as Thiago Silva, Robinho, and Diego.
Neymar has already arrived on the world stage as an elite international and club soccer player, and he is very much worthy of comparisons to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Both Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo (called this out of respect for Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima) are widely considered by all of their peers and coaches around the world as the two most skilled players in world soccer. Neymar is different than both of these players in that Neymar has no observable flaws in his game, even at 20 years old.
Unlike Messi, Neymar is a more versatile passer who does not limit his passing to short passes inside the penalty box when he can no longer dribble through traffic. Messi does play quality long passes through and over the opposing teams’ defenses, but Neymar seems to do this more often. Neymar will track back almost to his own defense at times to get the ball, and he looks to play through balls, quick first-time passes, cross-field passes, and soft chips over opposing players and over the top of the opponent’s defense. Messi has never demonstrated this same degree of passing range or skill because Messi mostly plays by dribbling through defenses after his teammates at Barcelona have played keep away from their opponents.