By Ian Chadband
LONDON (Reuters) – Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will go head-to-head once again for the title of world’s best footballer after being short-listed along with Neymar on Monday for the 2015 FIFA Ballon d’Or.
For the seventh time in eight years, the dynamic duo of Barcelona’s Messi and Real Madrid’s Ronaldo are expected to fill the top two places on the podium in Zurich in January for the coveted accolade of being the year’s leading player.
Even before the award was merged with France Football’s Ballon d’Or in 2010, the men’s World Player of the Year had effectively become an annual private ‘Clasico’ between two of the great players of any generation.
Argentine Messi, who will now have been on the podium for an amazing nine successive years, won four times in succession between 2009 and 2012, while Portugal’s Ronaldo has won three times, once when he was at Manchester United in 2008 and the most recent two editions at Real Madrid.
The only time in the last seven years when they did not finish one-two was in 2010 when the Barcelona trio of Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi swept the podium.
Messi is an overwhelming favourite to lift the trophy again for a fifth time after a calendar year in which, despite losing two months to injury, he has still scored 48 goals while inspiring Barca to a Champions League/La Liga/King’s Cup treble.
Ronaldo, too, has 48 to his name for club and country in 2015 but Real’s fortunes have slumped and his protests on the chat show beat that he is still the number one have held just a little less conviction than usual.
Yet on his present scintillating form, Brazilian Neymar, Messi’s partner in destruction along with Luis Suarez at Barca, has a claim on being the equal of either of them.
The Ballon d’Or vote has been made by national team coaches and captains and leading journalists, with the winner being announced at a ceremony in Zurich on Jan. 11.
Luis Enrique, who coaches Messi and Neymar at Barcelona, heads the shortlist for the coach of year award, along with Bayern Munich’s Pep Guardiola and Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli.
Guardiola’s inclusion was possibly a surprise as Bayern Munich’s only trophy last season was the Bundesliga — the very minimum that would have been expected of them — although his team’s form this term has been magnificent.
Sampaoli, an Argentine, was included after leading Chile to their first-ever Copa America title, which they won at home after beating Argentina on penalties in the final.
(Editing by Justin Palmer)