Kaka. That explosive Brazilian was the last person to win the Ballon d’Or. The last person to pose a significant threat to a still-developing Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Since winning football’s most prestigious award in 2007, the man became the most expensive signing in world football, had his career decimated by injuries and retired. During the 10 years when all that was transpiring and after his career concluded, nobody else has won the Ballon d’Or although some have come close.
Andres Iniesta — who recently received an apology from France Football, the organisation responsible for handing out the Ballon d’Or, for never having one bestowed on him — had perhaps one of the best shouts in 2010; scoring the winning goal in the World Cup, where he put on one virtuoso performance after another. He was also one of the lynchpins of Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Barcelona side of years past and had La Liga and a Champions league semifinal to his name to boot.
The closest contender to him at that point was thought to be Wesley Sneijder, a World Cup finalist and some would say the only creative outlet in Jose Mourinho’s Catenaccio-inspired Inter Milan side which went on the win the famed treble that year.
Yet, it was none other than Messi who won it for the 47 goals and 11 assists that he had picked up over 53 appearances. The biggest cog in the Barcelona machine despite not having scored a single goal as Argentina crashed out of the World Cup.
Fair or unfair, the reality that he won the 2010 Ballon d’Or reiterated the grim fact that performances alone were simply not going to be enough to win the award. In fact, many of the Ballon D’or’s critics would argue there has never been a consistent criterion to the award- which makes it all the harder to win.
It is then a testament to Ronaldo and Messi that there have not been any obvious choices aside from them — barring Franck Ribery in 2012.
Despite years of waiting there has not been a name who can contend with two of football’s greatest based not only on impact, but also on the jaw-dropping numbers that those two have put up on a yearly basis.
Enter Mohamed Salah.
His 43 goals in 47 appearances put him above both Ronaldo (42 goals in 40 apps) and Lionel Messi (40 goals in 50 apps) but, more importantly, the Egyptian has been doing it all for a Liverpool side punching well above their weight in Europe and, what’s more, he has been doing it from the start of the season.
After all, those are the differences to be considered between Messi and Ronaldo aren’t they?
Where Messi hit the ground running and sealed a potentially undefeated La Liga title for Barca by Christmas, Ronaldo only picked up in January and, in the process of proving that rumours of his decline were greatly exaggerated, scored by the bucket load and led Real Madrid, almost single-handedly, into the Champions League semifinals with a goal in each and every match of the campaign save the first leg at the Allianz Arena, tipping the scales of the Ballon d’Or in his favour.
In the meantime, Salah has done both. Not only has he been a driving force behind Liverpool’s run to the Champions League semifinal, he has also been the centerpiece of Liverpool’s run into the top four of the Premier League.
The only thing that may throw a spanner into the works, of course, is the World Cup. Egypt will have a tough time making it out of a group featuring hosts Russia, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay. If they do, they will have to face either Spain or Portugal, both sides that should, on paper, defeat Egypt.
However, should Salah either make it to the quarterfinals of world football’s showpiece event or if Ronaldo and Messi fail to make it deep into the tournament, the choice should be simplified.
Salah does not deserve to be judged by his team’s failures. He does not play for one of the best sides in club football nor does he represent a country in good standing in world football. He is a one-man show for Egypt and their qualification to the World Cup is a success in itself, bolstered by the fact that he was his nation’s top goal-scorer in qualifying.
His heroics for Liverpool have given them a season no fan could have fathomed at the start of the season. So while the debate rages between Ronaldo and Messi, Salah has every chance to break the duopoly that has gripped world football for a decade and it is possible that despite a potentially disappointing World Cup campaign, he will. And it would be deserved.