With French publication L’Equipe recognising Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez as the three best players of 2015, the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo from the podium is somewhat symbolic of the times. Ronaldo, the three time Ballon d’Or winner, is one of the three finalists for this year’s Ballon d’Or, but L’Equipe’s list offered more than a few pointers as to where the Real Madrid forward is headed to.
That was the first time Barcelona’s attacking trident of Messi, Neymar and Suarez finished atop any individual honours sheet. Ronaldo’s absence is conspicuous, but understandable nonetheless. L’Equipe listed Ronaldo in fourth, a reflection of his 2015 and an indicator of Barca’s splendid 12 months. So dominant were the Catalans that six of them were listed inside the top 20.
Staying with Ronaldo, who is now 30 and will be 31 in two months time, are his wheels finally off? An era of dominance artfully intertwined in a poetic rivalry between him and Messi could be coming to an end soon. Messi is still going strong and is well-placed to win his fifth Ballon d’Or this time round, but Ronaldo’s supposed demise isn’t exactly what it looks like.
The Real Madrid forward has plenty of gas left in his tank, evident from his 25 goals already scored in the current season thus far at a rate of more than a goal per game. Very few players can boast of such goalscoring rates, and the fact Ronaldo is one of them clearly highlights he is far from a spent force.
But the real question now is: Has Barca’s attacking trident now overtaken Ronaldo individually?
The answer lies somewhere between the affirmative and the negative. Because Barca are such a relentless attacking force, the contribution of their three prime goalscorers is bound to hit the headlines. The fact Barca scored 180 goals in 2015 will always be remembered more or less as the goals of the MSN trident, and that has somewhat overshadowed Ronaldo in the recent past.
It can be argued Ronaldo is still a greater individual than Neymar or Suarez, but the fact Neymar and Suarez have had a direct hand in all of Barca’s recent successes plays such a key part in and affects how they are perceived, in a group or in isolation. Ronaldo’s Real Madrid endured a trophyless 2015, one more reason to single the Portugal captain out for criticism.
While the world waxes lyrical about the MSN trident, it isn’t really Ronaldo’s fault that Barca’s trio is so good. But that doesn’t really mean Ronaldo has faded into oblivion, or is undeserving of a shot at individual honours. The Portuguese star has created his own bubble at the top of the world game, which was not possible for even Messi to burst in the last two years, and he still remains an icon of the game.
Statistics and silverware are the most obvious and laziest barometers for deciding which player is better than the rest, but the likes of Messi and Ronaldo, and even Neymar and Suarez transcend the quantifiable basics of the beautiful game. Their genius and brilliance cannot be weighed by mere lists; of course, lists are fun and trigger gossip, but it does in no way mean they can draw lines in what is a game of random variables and unpredictable outcomes.
Ronaldo might not wrest the 2015 Ballon d’Or from Messi’s supposed grasp, but that doesn’t in any way diminish his standing as one of football’s modern day greats. The MSN trident had a standout 2015, above par and possibly standard-setting, and the fact it is getting its due rewards is part of football’s results-based end product.
There can be no denying the fact that whether it is Messi, or Neymar, or Ronaldo, or Suarez, all great players tend to be great because of their great entertainment value, and the sense of delight and satisfaction they give to their fans. It is not that a fan looks up at a top 100 list every day and becomes a fan of the best players on a daily basis.
Football isn’t plastic; and whether or not Ronaldo makes it into lists of top footballers, he still will remain one of the very best. The very same goes for the others.