Just a few days ago, France Football magazine unveiled a list of the 30 Ballon d’Or nominees for the season. Among the first-timers and prior winners is a familiar name making a comeback: Lionel Messi.
Messi made the headlines again for leading the 2023 Ballon d’Or shortlist and remedying last year’s absence, but his known rival Cristiano Ronaldo has faded off the stage to end a 20-year nomination streak. If Messi wins the 2023 Ballon d’Or, Ronaldo fans will have to accept another outcompeting title in this long-standing rivalry.
For the decade from 2008 to 2017, Ronaldo and Messi alternately took the Ballon d’Or into their own hands, and no pair of players ever dominated the wins like they did. It was also the industry’s honor to capitalize on two matching powers that have elevated this sport physically and economically for ages.
However, 2022’s World Cup had already brought different outcomes to the two soccer stars. The 36-year-old Argentine finally accomplished a career milestone by winning the World Cup Trophy. Meanwhile, the 38-year-old from Portugal chose to sign a two-and-a-half-year contract with Al Nassar and debuted in the Saudi Pro League in January.
The separate paths seemed to have diverged even further for the two soccer rivals following this summer’s “Bienvenido” ceremony hosted by Inter Miami — where Messi became a part of the Major League Soccer club.
As they near ages of retirement, Messi and Ronaldo have less concern for statistics and achievements. Fans are simply more appreciative of seeing the “half-retired” Messi and Ronaldo on the pitch than disappointed by the transfers.
Ronaldo’s exit from the “Big Five” — Premier League in England, the Bundesliga in Germany, La Liga in Spain, Serie A in Italy and Ligue 1 in France — was a primary example.
In the months that followed, more big names appeared in the starting line of Saudi Arabian soccer clubs. Neymar left Paris Saint-Germain for a 90-million-euro, two-year contract; last year’s Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema began to play for Al Ittihad this year; and two Manchester City players, Aymeric Laporte and Riyad Mahrez, who completed a treble win last season, had also joined the league.
It appears the professional trajectory of soccer is now heading in an interesting direction. The “Big Five,” once the highest level of professional soccer that every player pursued, now seems less attractive than a Saudi Arabia contract.
Manchester City’s midfielder Rodri recently commented on Saudi Arabia’s large purchases of players in an interview with the Manchester Evening News saying, “It is totally understandable due to the amount of money they offer. I think it’s a personal issue for everyone to decide for themselves.”
He later added that there is a need for control measurements as the “exit” trend fell upon young players.
The 27-year-old Spanish soccer player is also on this year’s Ballon d’Or shortlist for a stunning season, including his winning goal in the Champions League final. Soccer betting websites have him at odds of 50, just behind Messi (1.08) and his teammate Erling Haaland (7.5), who just debuted in the Premier League and broke the single-season scoring record at the age of 22.
Messi’s betting odds are an approval of his legacy that people expected for his eighth Ballon d’Or. But with the younger faces like Haaland and Rodri rising on the fields and the changing scene in competitive soccer, who will win? Let’s wait and see on Oct. 30.