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Forget Messi and Ronaldo: Piatek leads top leagues in goals

FC United

Cristiano Ronaldo is the Ballon d'Or winner: Was it the right decision?

Cristiano Ronaldo on Monday night was crowned the best footballer on the planet, beating Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Bayern Munich's Manuel Neuer to lift the Ballon d'Or. It capped a fine year for Ronaldo, but was it the right result? We asked our ESPN FC bloggers from Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich for their verdicts.

So, Cristiano Ronaldo is the 2014 Ballon d'Or winner. Fair result?

Rob Train: Absolutely. It was hardly ever in doubt, but his eventual triumph was well-deserved. Ronaldo has been consistent ever since he arrived at Madrid and a voting bias toward the glory end of the field -- coupled with Lionel Messi's under-par 2014, by his astronomical standards -- played into the Real forward's hands as surely as he keeps the ball out of those of opposition keepers. Equaling Michel Platini, Marco van Basten and Johan Cruyff is a just reward not only for the calendar year, but for Ronaldo's career to date.

Francesc Tomas: The Portuguese forward did take Real Madrid to "La Decima" Champions League victory, so in that respect, it is clear that his influence deserved recognition. Congratulations to an outstanding player who is always ready to compete at the highest level.

Having said that, his performance at the World Cup, undoubtedly the most significant event of the year, was not as good as Neuer's (the winner with Germany) or Messi's (MVP). Still, a season to be proud of.

Mark Lovell: All's fair in love and Ballon d'Or. Wasn't Ronaldo always going to win this award again after lifting the "Decima" with Real Madrid? Given Ronaldo's remarkable scoring feats over the calendar year, it's certainly more deserved than in 2013, when he carried off the prize despite failing to win any trophies.

What was the crucial factor in the end?

RT: A record 17 goals in the 2013-14 Champions League campaign, 61 goals in 60 appearances for club and country in the calendar year, breaking the La Liga hat-trick record, a rate of one goal every 62 minutes in La Liga, a Champions League title, a Copa del Rey title, 21 club assists and a leader's role on the field as Real finally bagged the Decima. However, it's fair to say that Argentina failing to win the World Cup also played more of a part than Ronaldo did in Brazil in the Ballon d'Or outcome.

FT: Ronaldo led Real Madrid to victory in the most important club tournament in the world, scoring plenty of goals and terrorising rival defences in the process. His influence in the very successful year that Los Blancos have enjoyed under Carlo Ancelotti is obvious, as is his increasing desire to become a leader for experienced teammates and upcoming youngsters.

ML: The bottom line is Messi and Ronaldo are the leading "brands" in the game today, the finest outfield players of their generation who parade their magnificent individual talents at the two biggest clubs on the globe.

History wasn't on Neuer's side. Goalkeepers get very little kudos, on par perhaps with referees -- Russian Lev Yashin was the last keeper to win this type of award, back in 1963. For Neuer, a mere goalkeeper for Bayern Munich in the not-so-major box-office Bundesliga, making the short list itself is a tremendous achievement.

Is Ronaldo the best player of all time -- and if not, will he be one day?

RT: The best player of all-time debate is so fraught with variables that it is essentially redundant. Pure skill -- Ronaldinho (Ballon d'Or in 2005) and George Best (1968) are cases in point -- is one side of the coin, but it's winning the major competitions that counts. Until another player single-handedly drags their country to the sport's greatest prize, Diego Maradona has to stand alone on that particular podium. And he was hardly lacking in eye-catching individualism either, despite being not exactly the perfect physical specimen for much of his career. Ronaldo will have to do something exceptional at the 2018 World Cup in Russia to be considered the equal of the "Cosmic Barrel" in the all-time stakes.

FT: No, as the best player to ever play the game is still Messi. With a résumé boasting three Champions Leagues, six La Liga titles, two Club World Cups, four straight Ballon d'Or awards, eight consecutive years in the top 3 and an MVP at the World Cup finals, it is hard to ignore Messi's impact on modern football both at the club and international level. The 27-year-old has more years of football left on his boots than Ronaldo, who will become 30 next month.

Pele, with three World Cups and 1,281 goals in 1,363 appearances to his name, isn't within Ronaldo's reach, either.

ML: Best player of all time? No.

Every era produces its greats and Ronaldo (and Messi) are the standout players of the game today, while Neuer is clearly the best at his unsung craft.

When Ronaldo and Messi finally hang up their boots, we add them to the list of all-time legends among the likes of Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Bobby Moore, George Best, Diego Maradona and Zinedine Zidane.

The sky is the limit for Cristiano Ronaldo, who will be seeking a fourth Ballon d'Or in 2015.

What more could the other two have done in 2014?

RT: In Messi's case, he leading his country to victory at the World Cup, or winning something at club level. In Neuer's, moving from a sweeper-keeper to an attacking role. It seems impossible that another keeper will ever win the Ballon d'Or; only Oliver Kahn and Gianluigi Buffon have been short-listed this side of the 20th century. If winning the World Cup isn't enough for a keeper to take the top individual prize, there isn't much hope for Neuer, or any other No. 1 ... Iker Casillas wasn't even nominated in the final three in 2010

FT: Neuer was the standout player in the national team that won the most prestigious title in world football, the event every child dreams about, the special competition that gathers everyone's attention only once every four years. Messi became the all-time top goal scorer in both the most important club competition on the planet and the Spanish league. Honestly, either one of the top three would have been deserving of the award.

ML: Neuer, a World Cup winner, couldn't have really done any more to impress the judges. Wait. The German could have embarked on one of his famous forays, dribbled past five men and scored a pile driver from 40 yards. Ideally to win that World Cup final.

No doubt, Messi would have had a better chance of winning if he had won the World Cup with Argentina, instead of flopping in the final against Germany.

What do Ronaldo, Messi and Neuer have to do in 2015 to get back here next year?

RT: More of the same. Despite media hyperbole and wishful thinking, neither of the forwards will leave their current clubs and if they keep banging in goals in La Liga and Europe, they are automatic candidates. Neuer can only keep doing what he does -- in his own words: "After games, the highlights show mostly goals, scoring chances and assists. The spectator tends not to remember that as a goalkeeper I make difficult saves at great risk and start moves with my efforts." Unfortunately, until that changes, the award will continue to go to a forward.

FT: Despite their differences, Messi and Ronaldo are in fact fortunate to have each other. Their ferocious rivalry continues to force them to take their own game to new heights on a daily basis as, inevitably, they are fully aware that their rival is working relentlessly to improve even further. It is without a doubt the most interesting talking point in modern football. Whoever leads their club to Champions League victory this season will have the edge for next year's Ballon d'Or.

ML: Have no fear, Ronaldo and Messi will be back in 2015 -- provided they can still walk.

The dynamic duo have been automatic "seeds" in the top three since 2007 when Kaka was the last player to break their monopoly. It's hard to see Neuer making the final three next time around, unless he scores the winning goal for Bayern Munich in the Champions League final.

Finally, prediction time. Aside from the obvious, give us a dark horse for the 2015 Ballon d'Or

RT: The major international tournament in 2015 is the Copa America, so considering the clubs they are at and the countries they play for, the likes of Sergio Aguero, Alexis Sanchez, Luis Suarez, Neymar and Angel di Maria may find themselves on the short list. A real outsider would be a defender, and Sergio Ramos leads the running in that position.

FT: Neymar. The 22-year-old's increasingly impressive performances and goal-scoring record this season make him the most exciting youngster in world football, the one to watch.

ML: Marco Reus -- if he joins Real Madrid.


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