With all the inevitability of a goalless Manchester United game, the result of the Ballon D’Or was announced last week and to the surprise of absolutely no-one – perhaps with the possible exception of Cristiano Ronaldo – Lionel Messi took the honour for a record fifth time.
The award, which was once a tussle between the best players of the footballing year, has turned into an appraisal of the years of Messi and Ronaldo, and a shootout between them, if you’ll pardon the pun.
As scintillating as their performances may be, their monopoly on global accolades has become as tedious as it is undoubtedly impressive.
Neymar, who has enjoyed an outstanding year, must have felt like his nomination was a courtesy rather than an honour, that it was his turn to watch one of his contemporaries add to their collection rather than feeling he had a genuine chance of success.
Of course, you cannot ignore the ability of these two players. They inhabit a separate planet to those they play against and alongside – players such as Luis Suarez, Gareth Bale and Neymar are simply satellites, hoping the waves emanating from their teammates can somehow improve or elevate them.
In light of this, the absence of variety over the best part of a decade is completely understandable, but that’s not to say it isn’t boring. Much like Michael Schumacher dominating F1 for several years, or Novak Djokovic’s stranglehold on the majority of men’s tennis, the outcome feels predetermined, no matter how exciting the journey. It all makes for a series of anti-climaxes. Sitting and admiring is the only option.
What makes sport so gripping and addictive is not just the skill on show, but the uncertainty. The unpredictable nature of watching a match is the very essence of it, and the same goes for these kinds of awards. It is, after all, sports fans who follow such things as the D’or, and sports fans love a photo finish.
Many of the great sporting stories are borne of triumph in adversity and other such tales of the underdog.
No such thing will be happening for the foreseeable future, certainly not at the Ballon D’Or ceremony. While it will be a great shame when one of football’s greatest individual rivalries comes to an end, many will be happy to see the fight to be named the world’s best player return to a war rather than a duel.