Sub-par Messi still a candidate for fifth gong

Lionel Messi may have dropped below his own high standards in 2013 - averaging a meagre goal a game and winning only his sixth Primera Division crown with Barcelona - but he will still be looking to collect his fifth straight Ballon d'Or on Monday.

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The 26-year-old's exploits in recent years mean that what would be considered a superb 12 months for most players is now nothing more than ordinary for the diminutive Argentinian.

Having won the last three FIFA Ballon d'Or awards, and the two separate prizes in 2009, Messi could easily continue his personal domination of the footballing world by keeping hold of the gong in Zurich on Monday.

Messi's importance to Barcelona was highlighted during an infamous Champions League mauling at the hands of Franck Ribery's Bayern Munich in April when the 26-year-old was an unused substitute in the second leg as he struggled to overcome a hamstring issue.

It may have not been his most fruitful year by his own high standards, with a court case surrounding tax fraud also drawing headlines off the pitch for the first time in his career, but Messi's standards eclipse those of almost every other footballer.

However, in fellow shortlisted stars Ribery and Cristiano Ronaldo he has arguably the strongest competition to his all-conquering crown.

Ribery enjoyed being part of an all-conquering Bayern side which swept everyone away both domestically and on the European stage, hammering Messi's Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate in their Champions League semi-final before going on to beat German rivals Borussia Dortmund in the Wembley final.

Whilst Ribery collected winners' medals for the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup competitions, Ronaldo did not win a single team accolade with his Real Madrid side in 2013.

But the FIFA Ballon d'Or is awarded for individual prestige and the Portugal captain once again shone brightly for much of the year.

Scoring at a ratio of over a goal a game, he became the quickest Real Madrid player to reach 200 goals for the club and signed a new deal at the Bernabeu in what was a great year for the 28-year-old.

He also scored in both legs of Madrid's Champions League tie against former side Manchester United but could not help compatriot Jose Mourinho capture any silverware in his final year at the club.

So Messi has to contend with the trophy-laden season of team player Ribery and the continued individual brilliance that has become synonymous with Ronaldo if he is to keep the award in his possession.

It will be a close call in Switzerland but all three candidates have different claims for why they would be a deserving champion for the glamorous accolade.



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