In Depth

Can Neymar break the Messi and Ronaldo Ballon d'Or duopoly?

Barcelona's Brazilian forward joins Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi on the shortlist for the world player of the year award

The last time a player who wasn't Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi won the Ballon d'Or it was 2007. Since then challengers have come and gone and the annual two-horse race for the award has become a kind of El Clasico in bad suits.

But eight years after Brazilian Kaka won the prize, could his compatriot Neymar have a chance of breaking the Messi and Ronaldo duopoly after being named as the third contender for the honour?

Last year there was speculation Manuel Neuer could spring a surprise after helping Germany win the World Cup, but it was not to be, and he followed in the footsteps of Franck Ribery, Andres Iniesta and Xavi in finishing third.

But this time it could be different. Albert Masnou, deputy editor of Spanish newspaper Sport, told the BBC last month that Neymar's case had been helped by two factors.

The first is Ronaldo's gradual decline. "Cristiano is enduring a 'grey' period, uncomfortable with his club and his coach," explained Masnou. "He isn't leading his team or serving as their reference point."

The second is the knee injury suffered by Messi at the start of October, which allowed the 23-year-old Brazilian star to finally take centre stage at the Camp Nou, making him "more integral to Barca," says Masnou. "He is more consistent and growing a lot as the years go by. Now he is capable of leading the team when Messi's not there, and we are seeing his full potential."

Some of Neymar's play "brings to mind Ronaldinho in his pomp", says Pete Jensen of the Daily Mail. He points out that the mercurial Brazil forward won his first world player of the year award at the age of 24, giving Neymar the chance to beat him by a year should he grab football's most vaunted individual bauble on 11 January.

Current holder Ronaldo recently told talkshow host Jonathan Ross that he believes Messi will take the award for the fifth time, breaking his own two-year winning streak, reports the Daily Mirror. He predicted: "Messi is going to win this year because this kind of trophy, it depends on votes."

For his part, Neymar appears relaxed about his chances of being crowned the world's best player, having recently told O Globo "I've never played football to be the best player in the world, or to win the Ballon d'Or. I've always just played with the idea of continually getting better."

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