Ballon d'Or: Who should really have won during Messi, Ronaldo years
The Ballon d'Or will be handed out on Thursday and, as has become tradition, the football world waits with bated breath to see which of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo will win it.
The Barcelona and Real Madrid stars have won every edition of the prize since 2008, both as France Football's standalone award and during its merger with FIFA's prize, and it seems inconceivable that the duopoly will not continue in 2017.
Plenty of debate has raged over which of them has deserved to get their hands on the glittering gold sphere every year, but not quite so much air time has been given to assessing those who deserved it just as much – perhaps even more so.
Well, in the spirit of Ballon d'Or decency, we're going to do just that. Here are the players we think fully deserved to have won the award every year since 2008...
2008: IKER CASILLAS
Casillas came fourth in the Ballon d'Or standings the year Ronaldo won his first, which seems more than a little harsh.
The goalkeeper captained Spain to Euro 2008 glory after winning LaLiga with Real Madrid, earning the Zamora Trophy for his clean sheets in Spain's top flight. This was also the year of the first of his five IFFHS World's Best goalkeeper prizes.
This was Messi's first victory, the Argentine finishing ahead of Ronaldo and Barcelona team-mate Xavi after the Catalans won the treble in Pep Guardiola's first season in charge.
Given he was the top assist-maker in LaLiga and the Champions League (he set up Messi's goal in the final win over Manchester United), the UEFA Club Midfielder and LaLiga Midfielder of the year, it seems unjust Xavi did not get his hands on the trophy.
2010: WESLEY SNEIJDER
This was the first year of the Ballon d'Or's partnership with FIFA and it rather spoiled its own image from the off by placing Wesley Sneijder in fourth place.
The Netherlands star was the creative driving force behind Inter's treble triumph, was the top assister in the Champions League and claimed the Silver Ball and Bronze Boot at the World Cup after inspiring his country to the final. But it wasn't enough to stop Messi winning again.
2011: ANDRES INIESTA
Another year, another Messi win, and another case of the man in fourth place having been unfairly treated.
Iniesta, fresh from scoring the winner in the World Cup final the previous year, made more assists than anyone as Barca won the Champions League again to add to their LaLiga crown.
— Andrés Iniesta (@andresiniesta8) October 23, 2017
2012: XABI ALONSO
Okay, 91 goals in a calendar year is pretty good, but Messi's fourth Ballon d'Or in a row arguably should have gone to Xabi Alonso.
He won LaLiga with Real Madrid, and was named the competition's best midfielder, before going on to triumph at Euro 2012 with Spain. He even got both goals in the quarter-final win over France. What did it get him in the Ballon d'Or race? Eleventh place.
Lived it. Loved it.
Farewell beautiful game. pic.twitter.com/1aSN7GGNzZ
— Xabi Alonso (@XabiAlonso) March 9, 2017
2013: FRANCK RIBERY
Bayern Munich stormed to the treble in 2012-13 and Franck Ribery laid a claim to being called the world's best footballer, such was the quality of his performances (together with Arjen Robben).
However, despite winning the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and Champions League, the UEFA Best in Europe award, the Bundesliga player of the year prize and the Golden Ball at Bayern's Club World Cup triumph, the Ballon d'Or poll disagreed and placed the Frenchman third. Ronaldo won it.
2014: MANUEL NEUER
Third place is not bad at all for a goalkeeper but, just like Casillas six years earlier, Neuer deserved a bit better than to be bottom of the podium.
Having won the domestic double with Bayern, he went on to lift the World Cup in Brazil, earning the Golden Glove and a place in the FIFA 'dream team'. It wasn't enough to stop Ronaldo winning Ballon d'Or number three, though.
— Manuel Neuer (@Manuel_Neuer) July 15, 2014
Messi got his hands on trophy number five in 2015 after his second treble triumph with Barcelona, but team-mate Neymar perhaps deserved it more.
The Brazilian, who was a real bright spot at the World Cup before his back injury and earned the Bronze Boot as a result, was named LaLiga's Best World Player for his second season in Spain and scored goals in the Champions League and Copa del Rey finals, but it was only enough for third place.
2016: ANTOINE GRIEZMANN
Ronaldo got his fourth victory last year but, once more, the man who finished third was pretty hard done by.
Griezmann dragged Atletico Madrid to the Champions League final and was named LaLiga's best player for the season. He then earned the best player and top-scorer prizes at Euro 2016 as he fired France to the final on home soil, where Eder broke host nation hearts.
— Equipe de France (@equipedefrance) November 8, 2017