New Delhi: Ahead of Monday's FIFA Gala at Zurich, Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi has emerged the clear favourite to win the Ballon d'Or award for an unprecedented fifth time.
The Argentine has been shortlisted for the award along with his Barca team-mate Neymar and Real Madrid front-man Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese superstar is the current holder of the trophy, having won it two other times in his celebrated career.
Messi and Neymar, along with overlooked Uruguay star Luis Suarez, formed a formidable front three that propelled Barca to five trophies in 2015, including a second Champions League, La Liga and Copa del Rey treble in six seasons.
Messi, who won the award four times in a row from 2009-2012, scored 48 goals for the Spanish champions in 2015 as the Catalan giants reclaimed their status as the world’s top club side, easily overcoming South American champions River Plate in the Club World Cup in Japan last month.
By comparison, it was a turbulent season for Ronaldo -- world player of the year in 2008, 2013 and 2014 -- and Real Madrid as they played second fiddle to their arch rivals despite a contribution of 54 goals in 52 games from their Portuguese talisman.
Neymar may appear an outsider for the award this time, but the 23-year-old Brazilian is emerging as the main threat to end the Messi-Ronaldo Ballon d’Or stranglehold -- Kaka in 2007 was the last player other than the dominant duo to claim the prize -- after transforming his prodigious talent into 41 goals of his own this past year.
The award is given to the world's best player over the calendar year, and each of the last seven prizes have been won by either Messi or Ronaldo.
The three-man shortlist was picked from 23 nominees, and the winner will be announced at FIFA's Ballon d'Or Gala in Zurich on January 11.