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Ballon d’Or 2023: It’s time to move on from the Messi and Ronaldo debate

Lionel Messi: A Look Back at His 8 Ballon d'Or Wins
FIFA Ballon D‘OR Awards, FIFA Museum ( Ank Kumar, Infosys) 07

Another year has passed, and another Ballon d’Or has been awarded to Lionel Messi. For many, this spells the end of the near two-decade fight for dominance between Lionel Messi and his long-time rival Cristiano Ronaldo.

With Messi’s Argentina claiming a third World Cup in Qatar, last month’s award was the final nail in the coffin for many who still felt that Ronaldo was the inarguable best in the world.

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With a World Cup to his name and a record eighth Ballon d’Or to add to his collection, the Argentinian magician can enter the winter of his career knowing that he has cemented his place in football history.

Ronaldo meanwhile was not nominated for the award for the first time in twenty years.

While Messi’s achievements will last long in footballing memory many fans around the world and on social media are quick to accuse the organisers of the ceremony, France Football Magazine, of rigging the award in Messi’s favour.

From journalists such as Piers Morgan to fellow professionals Harry Kane and Kevin De Bruyne, there are an army of those who claim that many of Messi’s awards, particularly those in the last five years, belonged to others. Robert Lewandowski, then of Bayern Munich, earned sympathy from football fans for missing out on the 2021 award with Messi himself admitting that the Poland international deserved to have his achievements recognised.

The debate over the greatest of all time will certainly continue to rage on well into both Messi and Ronaldo’s retirement with this year’s ceremony only adding fuel to that fire. More importantly, what the 2023 ceremony did offer to fans of the beautiful game was hope for the future of the sport.

As two of the most talented and decorated players of their generation finally leave the spotlight a whole new generation of talent was on show at the awards ceremony. With Jude Bellingham winning the Kopa Trophy for best young player, fresh off a scintillating start for Real Madrid, and both Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe finishing second and third respectively, the future of football looks incredibly bright.

Haaland, having broken so many records in the Premier League last season, looks destined to break Alan Shearer’s goalscoring record if he stays at Manchester City and hoover up any number of collective and individual awards. Meanwhile, Mbappe continues to deliver in a turbulent Paris Saint Germain side amidst constant speculation over a future move to Real Madrid.

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The forward pair are not the only ones showing the promise of winning the Ballon d’Or in the future. Haaland and Mbappe share the headlines in world football.

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Haaland’s Manchester City teammate Julian Alvarez and Vinicius Junior of Real Madrid, both also under the age of twenty-five, made the top twenty in the Ballon d’Or rankings alongside youthful England internationals Bukayo Saka and Jude Bellingham.

With all the aforementioned players performing at the same standards this year, if not playing even better than before, it is only a matter of time before the furore over Messi and Ronaldo gives way for a more evenly distributed footballing landscape in which individual awards become less predictable.

While 2023 marks the beginning of the end for two iconic and generation talents it also signifies the beginning of an exciting new era where a veritable feast of footballing talent will be on display for at the next decade at least.

If football fans were to take one thing from the Ballon d’Or awards this year it was that even as the stars of the last two decades begin to fade, we can all remain optimistic of an exciting and entertaining future.

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