A World Cup year could well see the end of either Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi ruling the roost in terms of Ballon d’Or glory
Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain and Brazil)
Brazilian superstar Neymar has announced himself as the true heir to Lionel Messi’s throne as the best footballer in the world. To live up to those expectations, Neymar moved to French heavyweights PSG this summer for a world record fee to become the main man at a top European club.
If the 25-year-old manages to guide PSG to glory in the Champions League this season or bring the World Cup to Brazil, the chances are high that Neymar will end the Ronaldo-Messi hegemony which started in 2008 and claim his first Ballon d’Or in 2018.
Lionel Messi (Barcelona and Argentina)
In an environment as dynamic as football, there has been one constant factor, and that is Lionel Messi. For the past ten years, the little man from Rosario has been the best player in world football and one of the greatest to play the game.
Five Ballon d’Or awards are probably not enough to do him justice as an individual but team achievements count in the Ballon d’Or criteria as well. In 2018, Messi probably has his last shot at major glory with Argentina. After losing in three consecutive international finals between 2014 and 2016, Messi will be determined to get it right at the World Cup in Russia. The trophy would surely earn him his sixth Ballon d’Or and perhaps the tag of GOAT.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid and Portugal)
Having won the Ballon d’Or for the first time in 2008, Portugal legend Cristiano Ronaldo went on a dry spell for four years as Lionel Messi picked up four consecutive awards. Ronaldo bounced back, however, winning four out of the next five, including this year’s, and now has as many Ballon d’Or awards as his eternal rival Messi.
Turning 33 next February, the 2017 Ballon d’Or might well have been his last one. The World Cup could Ronaldo’s last big tournament in which he can take a huge step to a sixth, but World Cups and Cristiano Ronaldo don’t particularly go hand-in-hand.
Eden Hazard (Chelsea and Belgium)
In terms of talent, not many are better than Chelsea player Eden Hazard at the moment. His dribbling ability gets fans off their seats and makes the Belgium star a special player. In the post-Ronaldo/Messi era, Hazard will surely be one of the main Ballon d’Or contenders and being an important player in a star-studded Belgium side, 2018 could be Hazard’s year.
After gaining experience in the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Euros, Belgium feel that Russia 2018 is their time as most of their vital players have entered their prime. Hazard will be pivotal in his country’s World Cup campaign and if he can guide Belgium to glory, he will be a big contender for the 2018 Ballon d’Or.
Antoine Griezmann (Atlético Madrid and France)
Being on the podium in 2016, Antoine Griezmann has established himself as a contender for the Ballon d’Or. The Atlético Madrid frontman hasn’t been as consistent over the last fifteen months as we might have expected but is still one of the finest players in world football.
The World Cup next summer presents Griezmann with the opportunity of glory with France which would make him a strong contender for the 2018 Ballon d’Or. Griezmann has already proven himself internationally, scoring six goals in France’s 2016 Euros campaign.
The host nation eventually lost to Portugal in the final and will be ready for revenge in Russia. The France squad is perhaps the best of all nations at the moment and are one of the favorites for the World Cup. A leading role for Griezmann in a World Cup win for France would make him a real competitor.