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Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi: Who would have won the Best FIFA awards if the two did not exist?

The world governing body for football, FIFA, has unveiled its three finalists for the 2023 The Best FIFA Men’s Player Award.

The usual suspects – Lionel Messi, Erling Haaland, and Kylian Mbappe – will face each other again after the 2023 Ballon d’Or award, which Messi won.


According to its website, FIFA will announce the winner in a ceremony in London on January 15, 2024.

Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s dominance in the major individual awards is not something new. For instance, they share 13 Ballon d’Or – the most lucrative individual award – between them. Only Luka Modric and Karim Benzema have been able to break the duopoly.

FIFA first awarded its The Best Awards in 2016, with Ronaldo winning the inaugural title after guiding Portugal to the Euro championships. He added another one in 2017, with Messi also having two awards to his name.

But in a hypothetical world where the two did not exist, who would have won the awards? Sports Brief goes year by year and looks at the top three finishers.

The Best winners without Messi, Ronaldo

2016 – Antoine Griezmann

Messi finished second behind Ronaldo in the first-ever The Best awards, with Griezmann coming in third. The Frenchman had a reckoning but disappointing year as he lost both the Euro and Champions League finals to Ronaldo’s Portugal and Real Madrid, respectively.

2017 – Neymar

Ronaldo and Messi completed another 1-2 finish, with Neymar finishing in third place. The Brazilian had just joined Paris Saint-Germain from Barcelona after watching Ronaldo’s Real Madrid pip them to the La Liga title.

2018 – Luka Modric

This did happen. The Croatian rode on his fairytale run to the World Cup final to add The Best award to his Ballon d’Or title.

Ronaldo was second, with Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah finishing third. Messi was only fifth after his Argentina side got knocked out of the World Cup in the Round of 16.

2019 – Virgil Van Dijk

Van Dijk’s solidity at the back that led Liverpool to the Champions League title wasn’t enough to beat Messi. Ronaldo, now at Juventus, was third.

2020 – Robert Lewandowski

Like in 2018, this did happen, but the year will always be mentioned in one of the biggest Ballon d’Or robberies of all time. Luckily for the Pole, he was awarded a The Best award, beating Ronaldo and Messi, who finished second and third respectively.

2021 – Robert Lewandowski

The Bayern Munich striker made it back-to-back wins, beating Messi to the award. However, in the Ballon d’Or awards, he couldn’t eclipse the former Barcelona captain who maximised on winning the Copa America with Argentina. Ronaldo was seventh.

2022 – Kylian Mbappe

Mbappe ended up on the losing side in the 2022 World Cup final to Messi, which meant it would have been difficult to beat his Paris Saint-Germain teammate. Ronaldo wasn’t even in the top 10 after a disastrous World Cup elimination by Morocco.

The Best Awards’ 2023 winner?

Messi has once again been nominated alongside Mbappe and Haaland. Haaland finished second in the Ballon d’Or, with Mbappe rounding off the top three. If FIFA uses the same criteria used in the Ballon d’Or, then Messi will be in line for a third The Best FIFA award.

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