Messi, Van Dijk and other stars who are in contention for the Ballon d’or

The Ballon d’Or and FIFA best awards are still far away, but some players have already put themselves in contention to win the prestigious award with their performances this season.

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Liverpool players are expected to feature prominently on the nomination list whenever it is announced after the Reds beat Premier League rivals Tottenham on Saturday night in Madrid to win their sixth European title.  The Ballon d’Or award is the biggest individual award a player can win in his career.

It’s like the Oscars of football with its popularity growing year by year. The award is given yearly by France Football magazine. It has been given out since 1956 although it made an agreement with FIFA between 2010 and 2015 to be called the FIFA Ballon d’Or awards.

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The partnership ended in 2016 with FIFA creating its own special award called the Best. Nevertheless, France Football continued giving out the Ballon d’Or award and even had a special ceremony for the first time last year.

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Croatia’s Luka Modric won the prestigious award last year following his exploits for Real Madrid and Croatia. The 31-year-old won the Champions League with the Los Blancos last season while he also led Croatia to their first world cup final last year.

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However, he has been unable to replicate the form this season with Real Madrid having a bad campaign. Having said that, there have been some players that have stood out and that include the usual suspects Ronaldo and Messi who have both won the award five times each in the last eleven years.

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But they are not the only ones who have had a remarkable campaign which is why we will be taking a look at the contenders for this year’s award.

Virgil Van Dijk (Liverpool and Netherlands): The Netherlands international has been a colossus since he joined Liverpool in January 2018. Before Van Dijk’s arrival, Liverpool’s defence has always been their Achilles hill.

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But since he moved to Anfield, he has elevated the team’s defence. This season Liverpool conceded just 22 goals in 38 league games as opposed to the 46 they conceded last season.

His performances for the Reds earned him the PFA player’s player’s award of the season. In 64 games this season, nobody got past the rock defender. With Liverpool winning the champions league already and the Netherlands competing in the Nations League, Van Dijk’s is in a good position to be the first defender since Cannavaro to win the award. He has received backing from one of his rivals, Cristiano Ronaldo.

According to Don Balon, Cristiano Ronaldo watched the game and also paid close attention to the action on the pitch, while simultaneously texting his former Real Madrid teammates in Whatsapp Group conversations. Apparently, Ronaldo then told his Real Madrid friends that van Dijk could take home the Ballon d’Or by defeating Lionel Messi, just like Croatian star Luka Modric did last year.

Sadio Mane: The Senegal international had another brilliant campaign for Liverpool winning the Champions League and finishing as joint premier league top scorer. Mane scored 26 goals in 5o matches for the Reds this season and also played a key role in the team’s victory over Spurs.

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With the Nations Cup also coming up where Senegal are the favourites, Mane could be the first African to win the Ballon d’Or since George Weah won it in 1995.

Mo Salah: The Egypt international finished in the top three of FIFA best last year but could only manage the sixth position in the Ballon d’Or rankings. But he’s in for a shout in this year’s award after he finished as Premier League top scorer alongside Mane and Aubameyang. The former AS Roma star will strengthen his position if he can lead Egypt to a record-breaking eighth AFCON title.

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Cristiano Ronaldo: Many felt the Portuguese star was robbed of the award in 2018. Ronaldo’s fifteen goals last season helped Real Madrid to a third successive Champions League title, while he was also on the scoresheet 26 times in 27 La Liga matches for Real Madrid. He left the Santiago Bernabeu last summer to link up with the Old Ladies in the Italian Serie A, but that has not affected his goalscoring form.

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The Portugal international 21 goals in 31 Serie A matches helped Juventus to an eight successive Italian league title. The 34-year-old could lay more claim to the award if he leads Portugal to the Nations League title.

Lionel Messi: The favourite for this year’s award. Messi finished in a disappointing fifth place last season, but is on course to win his sixth Ballon d’Or title this year after another extraordinary season for Barcelona.  The Argentine international scored 36 LaLiga goals during the 2018-19 season and won the European Golden Shoe for the third consecutive season. He also registered the joint-most number of assists (13) in the league.

Although the Catalan club were knocked out of the UEFA Champions League by Liverpool in the semi-finals in an extraordinary way, Messi was in a good form prior to the elimination and finished as the competition’s top goalscorer with 12 goals in 10 games. The Barcelona star will certainly put all doubts to rest if he can lead Argentina to a first major title since 1993 when the Copa America kicks off in Brazil later this month.