Ballon d'Or 2017 - A decade of dominance: How the Messi-Ronaldo balance of power has shifted
Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to win the 2017 Ballon d'Or to extend the incredible spell of dominance he and Lionel Messi have cast over the world of football.
Here, we chart how modern football's greatest rivalry has unfolded, through the lens of the game's most prestigious individual prize.
2008 – Ronaldo (Messi second, Fernando Torres third)
Manchester United Portuguese winger Cristiano Ronaldo poses with his trophyAFP
Two years older than Messi, Ronaldo had his growth spurt into true superstardom a bit earlier. No less than 77 of the 96 journalists voting for the award placed their vote for Ronaldo after he scored 42 goals in the 2007-08 season to inspire Manchester United to a Premier League and Champions League double. It made him the third Portuguese winner of the Ballon d’Or after Luis Figo and Eusebio. Messi had an injury-hit year without a trophy to his name, but big changes were afoot at Barcelona that summer…
Goals in the calendar year: Ronaldo 35, Messi 22
2009 – Messi (Ronaldo second, Xavi third)
Lionel Messi shows off the 2009 Ballon d'OrReuters
On May 2, 2009, Pep Guardiola unveiled a tactical masterstroke. Appointed at the start of the 2008-09 campaign, he already had Barcelona on course for their first ever treble in his first season in charge but a Clasico against Real Madrid was the setting for the reinvention of Messi as he played as a false nine for the first time and Barcelona won 6-2 at the Bernabeu. The change helped Barcelona to a record six trophies in the calendar year as Messi laid the groundwork for a long, long period of dominance over the man who was to become his great rival following his move to Madrid in the summer of 2009. Messi also became the first Argentine to win the award.
Goals in the calendar year: Ronaldo 30, Messi 41
2010 – Messi (Andres Iniesta second, Xavi third)
Lionel Messi of ArgentinaReuters
It was a full podium of Barcelona players the following year as Guardiola continued to set new standards with his work at Camp Nou, slowly but surely establishing a new culture and style at the top of the game. Inter won the treble that year, and Spain took the World Cup, but the way Messi was dominating matches for Barcelona, scoring a previously unheard of 60 goals for the calendar year, at least in the modern era, saw him enforce his dominance over Ronaldo, whose first season at Real was a barren one despite his prolific previous form.
Goals in the calendar year: Ronaldo 48, Messi 60
2011 – Messi (Ronaldo second, Xavi third)
Lionel Messi of Argentina, FIFA World Player of the YearReuters
It was a hat-trick of awards for Messi, who, although narrowly outscored by Ronaldo for the calendar year, led Barcelona to the La Liga title and another Champions League title as well as winning the Spanish Super Cup, UEFA Super Cup and the Club World Cup. He scored in the Wembley final against Manchester United and gained 47.8% of the votes to Ronaldo’s 21.6%. A first trophy in Spain, the Copa del Rey, and his success in becoming the first player to score 40 goals in a Liga season was not enough for Ronaldo to get even close to the man now established as clearly the best player in the world. And it was about to get worse for the Portuguese.
Goals in the calendar year: Ronaldo 60, Messi 59
2012 – Messi (Ronaldo second, Iniesta third)
Barcelona's soccer player Lionel Messi poses with his four Ballon d'Or (Golden Ball) trophiesReuters
The greatest performance by any football player in any year in history? Ronaldo won his first Liga trophy but his performance was completely overshadowed by that of Messi, who smashed Gerd Muller’s annual record of 85 goals, set in 1972. The big prizes eluded Messi, with Madrid winning the league and Chelsea the Champions League, but his historic feat could not be ignored and the Copa del Rey trophy offered some silverware. In a frankly ridiculous 2011-12 season he also scored 50 goals in La Liga alone, became Barca’s all-time record goalscorer and scored five goals in one game: against Bayer Leverkusen in Europe. Messi won the Ballon d’Or for a record fourth time but the dynamics were already changing with Guardiola having stepped down and his replacement Tito Vilanova suffering ill health.
Goals in the calendar year: Ronaldo 63, Messi 91
2013 – Ronaldo (Messi second, Franck Ribery third)
Cristiano Ronaldo reacts after being awarded the FIFA Ballon d'Or 2013Reuters
Goals in the calendar year: Ronaldo 69, Messi 45
2014 – Ronaldo (Messi second, Manuel Neuer third)
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal, makes a speechReuters
Ronaldo’s resurgence to the pinnacle of the game was cemented when he won the Champions League for the second time, Real Madrid beating Atletico Madrid in the final in Lisbon to claim La Decima. Ronaldo rounded off the scoring with a penalty in extra-time, his 17th goal in the competition that season to establish another record. Messi had the honour of being named the best player at the World Cup after Argentina lost in the final to Germany but he finished the year without a major trophy after also losing in the final of the Copa del Rey, to Real Madrid, and on the final day of the Liga season, to Atletico Madrid. However, Barca’s appointment of Luis Enrique that summer would help to swing the pendulum back once again, and in November Messi laid down a sign of things to come when breaking the all-time goalscoring record in La Liga with his 252nd goal.
Goals in the calendar year: Ronaldo 61, Messi 58
2015 – Messi (Ronaldo second, Neymar third)
FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi of Argentina (R) shakes hand with FIFA's acting President Issa Hayatou (L)Reuters
The year started with speculation that Messi would leave Barcelona at the end of the season; it finished with a second treble and a fifth Ballon d’Or. This was also the year that Messi evolved further as a player. With Luis Suarez joining Messi and Neymar in the MSN attack, the Argentine moved out to the right wing and started to drop ever deeper into midfield, showcasing his prodigious passing skills as well as his dribbling and finishing. Ronaldo was also refining his style, becoming more and more a penalty-box poacher purely focused on scoring goal after goal, but he was supplanted as the world’s best in the process. Barca, and Messi, were back on top.
Goals in the calendar year: Ronaldo 57, Messi 52
2016 – Ronaldo (Messi second, Antoine Griezmann third)
Real Madrid's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo poses with his four Ballon d'Or France Football trophiesGetty Images
Another year, another Champions League trophy for one of the two best players in the world. Ronaldo followed up his moment of triumph in Milan, when he scored the winning penalty in the shootout against Atleti, by also winning the European Championship, urging Portugal on from the sidelines after being withdrawn in the first half against France due to injury. With Messi losing in a second consecutive Copa America final with Argentina, his league and cup double was also overshadowed by a difficult summer in which he was found guilty of tax fraud and given a suspended jail sentence. Ronaldo’s own tax affairs were splashed all over the newspapers at the end of the year but his totemic twin achievements on the pitch ensured he dominated European football and re-took his place at the summit of the world game too.
Goals in the calendar year: Ronaldo 55, Messi 59
Ronaldo is the odds-on favourite to draw level on five Ballons d'Or having secured a third Champions League title in four seasons, as well as La Liga too. But the second half of the year has been quite alarming, with Ronaldo stuck on a pitiful two league goals to Messi's 13. With a new wave of hundred-million signings in Neymar and Kylian Mbappe coming through, the age of the duopoly could be at an end.
For Ronaldo, the signs of decline are certainly setting in, even if Messi remains a sparkling all-round talent. But another trophy-laden year will see Ronaldo draw level with his great rival on five apiece - a scenario which looked so unlikely when Messi raced out to a 4-1 lead.
Goals in the calendar year so far: Ronaldo 48, Messi 52