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Why Ronaldo and Messi's Dominance of the Ballon D'Or Could End in 2017
On Monday evening it is expected that Cristiano Ronaldo will be announced as the winner of the 2016 Ballon d'Or.
In the wake of FIFA's ending their six-year collaboration with the founders of the award, France Football, there will be considerably less glitz and glamour to the moment, but it should still feel familiar.
This is likely to be the ninth consecutive year that either Ronaldo or Lionel Messi will be pictured happily cradling the Ballon d'Or.
Since 2008, these two incredible talents have dominated the award; Messi has five wins, and this should be Ronaldo's fourth victory.
The last winner before this unprecedented era of dominance began was AC Milan's Kaka in 2007, but Ronaldo and Messi still filled the runners-up and third positions, respectively.
You have to go back to 2006—when Fabio Cannavaro was the winner—for a year when the pair weren't even on the podium.
This was a different era; Tony Blair was the prime minister of the UK, George W. Bush was the U.S. president and Donald Trump was just the host of The Apprentice.
But could 2017 finally mark the end of Ronaldo and Messi's long duopoly of the Ballon d'Or?
It would be premature and dangerous to suggest the storied pair are past their prime, but the return of the award to the complete control of France Football—and their voting process—now gives a wider group of players a greater chance of winning it.
When FIFA and France Football worked together between 2010 and 2015, the votes for the award came from a combination of football journalists, international captains and coaches. But now a panel of journalists from around the world will once again solely decide the Ballon d'Or.
If these voting rules had remained in place for the first half of the current decade, Ronaldo and Messi's era of dominance would have twice been interrupted, and they would each have one less Ballon d'Or.
In 2010, if only the votes of journalists had been counted, Wesley Sneijder would have been the proud recipient of the award.
The then-Inter Milan playmaker had been in imperious form that year, winning the Champions League, Serie A and the Italian Cup before spending his summer helping the Netherlands to the World Cup final, where they lost to Spain.
Two members of that Spanish World Cup-winning team, Andres Iniesta and Xavi, would have come second and third behind the Dutchman if based only on the votes of journalists.
Messi came fourth in 2010 in the journalists' vote, but when the ballots from the international coaches and captains were added, he overtook his Barcelona team-mates and Sneijder to win his second Ballon d'Or.
Three years later, if only the votes of journalists had been counted, Franck Ribery—fresh from winning a treble of the Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup with Bayern Munich—would have comfortably denied Ronaldo the Ballon d'Or.
Ribery had 524 points from the journalists, while Ronaldo lagged behind on 399 points. But when the votes from FIFA's network of coaches and captains were added, it was enough to hand the Portugal international the award.
It is obvious that with journalists back in control, Ronaldo and Messi should be more than a little worried.
Overall, football journalists will approach this task with broader minds; they watch more football, attend more games and—as was shown in 2010 and 2013—are less willing to stick with the status quo and make the obvious selection.
Who could capture their attentions over the next year when they come to cast their votes for the award in 2017?
Another stellar year from Ronaldo or Messi would still be enough to win it, but there is a sense they will be looking for something different and to look beyond this pair.
Ronaldo's conquest of both the Champions League and the European Championship in 2016 rendered the Ballon d'Or debate dead as early as July, but without a major tournament in Europe or South America next year, journalists will have more freedom to make their decision.
If Luis Suarez takes his scoring form from this year into 2017, he will demand that journalists take his candidacy seriously.
The Uruguayan has already picked up the Golden Shoe for his haul of 40 league goals in the 2015-16 season, but he dismissed his chances of adding the Ballon d'Or by saying he was not marketable enough. If his goals lead Barcelona to trophies in 2017, his accumulative form of recent years will make him a leading contender.
It is often debated when Neymar will emerge from Messi's shadow and become the main man at the Camp Nou; if that should happen in 2017, he would also come under serious consideration.
Gareth Bale performs a similar understudy role to Ronaldo at the Santiago Bernabeu, but he has the stage and the talent to win the Ballon d'Or himself.
Across the Spanish capital, Antoine Griezmann might have been preparing to collect the Ballon d'Or if he had been a winner—and not a runner-up—in both the finals of the Champions League and European Championship this year.
Should the Frenchman, winner of last season's La Liga Player of the Year award, go one better in the Champions League with Atletico Madrid this season, it might well be enough to sway the journalists in 2017.
The winner next year could easily come from outside Spain, for the journalists picked a winner from Italy and Germany in the last six years.
A glut of goals from Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Borussia Dortmund could see the Ballon d'Or return to the Bundesliga for the first time since Matthias Sammer in 1996.
The Premier League has a growing stable of contenders, but they will have to perform in the Champions League to bolster their cases. If Arsenal were to go all the way in the competition, then surely Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil would have a genuine chance.
If Pep Guardiola can win his third Champions League title as a manager, it would certainly help Sergio Aguero at Manchester City.
Absent from the Champions League, it is unlikely Chelsea's finest, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa, or Paul Pogba, who is still settling in at Manchester United, will have any realistic chance until after next year.
And then there is the unexpected; Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy made the 30-man short list this year—a ridiculous idea only 18 months ago—and a new surprise contender could again emerge from nowhere.
Ronaldo should enjoy his victory on Monday night, for his era of dominance with Messi could soon be coming to an end.