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Five contenders for this years Ballon d'Or, excluding Messi and Ronaldo

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By: Michael Jarvis Updated 03 Jun 2013 09:06:44

Five contenders for this years Ballon d'Or, excluding Messi and Ronaldo

With Lionel Messi having been the recipient of FIFA's Ballon d'Or for the last four years running, it is hard to look past the dynamic Argentinean for 2013's award.

Indeed, if you are going to look past him, you're probably going to look towards Cristiano Ronaldo, who was the last player to win the gong before Messi and has been second on three occasions since.

But what if you're looking at neither? With most European league campaigns at an end, it seems a good time to take stock and assess who might have an opportunity of dethroning the pair. Or taking third place, at least.

Arjen Robben

Not who some might expect to be discussed here, granted, but consider his credentials.

Robben's season was undoubtedly defined by his 89th minute winner in the UEFA Champions League final.

His man of the match performance against Borussia Dortmund also saw him claim an assist which helped Bayern Munich to land the top European trophy for the first time in 12 years.

Munich of course, also claimed the German Cup on Saturday night, making them treble winners after having won the Bundesliga with a record points tally.

The influence of the Dutchman was pivotal and made even more remarkable by the fact that, because of injury, he had played just ten games for Bayern before February.

Following his return to action, the 29-year-old chipped in with as many goals, including two in Bayern's 7-0 aggregate mauling of Messi's Barcelona.

Manager Jupp Heynckes told Sky Sports last month that he was unsurprised, and that he thought the winger had in fact added a new dimension to his game.

"He is a very important player in my system because he has learned to take on defensive roles. That makes him a lot stronger than he has been in the past," he said.

What with that new found defensive versatility added to his unquestionable attacking talent, perhaps Robben could indeed be deemed worthy of being put forward for the most coveted individual award in world football?

Robert Lewandowski

Here is a man that commentators across Europe continually struggled to find superlatives for. His season with Borussia Dortmund lasted 48 games, and the Pole struck on 35 occasions.

In November, the 24-year-old scored consecutive braces across four matches. He then set a club record by scoring in 12 consecutive Bundesliga games between mid-December and mid-April.

His name was truly cast into lights on 'that' night against Ronaldo's Real Madrid though, when he became the first player ever to score four goals in a Champions League semi-final.

One person who was already assured of Lewandowski's quality though, was his manager Jurgen Klopp. Back in October, he labelled the forward as the "most exciting player I have seen in the last 10 to 15 years" - particularly high praise given the talent in Dortmund's side.

Not surprisingly, the number nine has been linked with just about every European superpower recently, and the signs are that he will join Robben at Bayern Munich very soon.That said, if team honours are a major influence in voting for the Ballon d'Or, then perhaps Lewandowski stands more of a chance next season, with Munich having thwarted Dortmund's dreams of silverware in every competition this.

Gareth Bale

It is perhaps an apt mark of how strong the Premier League is to think that Tottenham, with the Player of the Year in their side, did not manage to qualify for the Champions League.

And to think like that, demonstrates just why Bale is worth considering for the Ballon d'Or.

Time and again, the 23-year-old scored goals of the highest quality and of the highest importance, hence why he is strongly linked with a move to Real Madrid, and also why fees in the region of £85 million are being rumoured.

Not only has he impressed domestically this season though, he has also flourished playing for a weak Wales side, having scored over half of their goals.

In all, Bale made 52 appearances for club and country, scored 29 goals, and was involved in the build up to most others.

His value to Tottenham was exemplified after their first leg victory against Inter Milan in the Europa League when, having established a comfortable lead, Andre Villas-Boas admitted he would have asked the Welshman to get booked deliberately, if he had not already, in order to make sure he was available for the next round.

Like Lewandowski, a lack of achievement by his club is something that might be a stumbling block for Bale, however anyone who Zinedine Zidane says is "this year the player who has impressed me the most" has to be taken seriously.

Neymar

Brazil's answer to Messi will link up with the Argentinean at Barcelona following his country's exploits in the Confederations Cup this summer.

Thanks to just over a reported £40 million, a successful career chapter at Santos is being brought to an end for the 21-year-old.

Neymar's side finished 8th in the Brazilian Serie A last season, but the attacker notched 14 goals from 17 appearances.

In the most recent State League, he scored 12 times in 18 games to help Santos to the runners-up spot.

For his national side, Neymar has scored 11 times in 14 appearances since last August, including a hat-trick against China and a 94th minute winner against Argentina, both in September.

The young man, recently pronounced the world's most marketable athlete by SportsPro, has a huge amount of expectation upon him, with Brazil pinning their World Cup hopes on his shoulders.

He was not South America's Footballer of the Year in 2012 for nothing though, and his goalscoring exploits have obviously been enough to attract Europe's elite.

It may be a case of seeing how he performs in Europe however, before Neymar has a real shout of being crowned the world's best player.

Radamel Falcao

Falcao signalled his intention for another imperious season right from the off with an awesome display in the UEFA Super Cup against Chelsea.

After single-handedly dismantling the London side, the 27-year-old went on to notch 34 goals in 40 appearances for Atletico Madrid, not forgetting his five goals against Deportivo La Coruna in December.

His season, which also included five goals in six appearances for Colombia, was rounded off nicely by winning the Copa del Rey final against rivals Real Madrid.

Following that of course, he completed a move to Monaco. The fee paid is believed to have been in the region of £40-50 million, while the forward's contract will supposedly earn him an annual salary of just under £12 million.Hailed by Diego Simeone at times this season as "extraordinary, almost perfect," certainly Falcao has proved he is worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Messi and Ronaldo.

Despite that, a lack of forays on the biggest stage, in the Champions League, probably counts against Falcao. Perhaps his move to Monaco will eventually see him performing in the latter stages of the competition?


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