2016 – The Year Of The Underdog. Ballon D’or To Follow Suit?

Written by Lee Clarke

As the curtain starts to fall on 2016 attention turns towards who will claim the Balon D’or prize for their performances during the calendar year.

Naturally Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi of Barcelona will front up the chase for the coveted accolade and given their elitism that seems only right. The likes of Neymar, Robert Lewandowski and Luis Suarez will also be among the contenders.

The year 2016 turned out to be the year of the underdog in the English Premier League, with Leicester City shocking the entire footballing world by winning the title.

It asks the question of whether a dark horse will come to the forefront and claim the ultimate personal prize during the Balon D’or awards ceremony in January.

In my opinion there is one man who could make a valid contender to rival the juggernauts of Ronaldo and Messi, and its Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann.

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credit Xavier Naltchayan

Now don’t get me wrong, the little Frenchman doesn’t score the same amount of goals as his rivals for the title – he netted just 35 during 2016 for club and country – although his performances, and attitude could coincide to make him a surprise winner.

During Euro 2016 the 25-year-old almost single-handedly guided Les Bleus to the final with six goals and although he couldn’t lift the trophy for his country, it certainly wasn’t for his lack of effort. The same could also be said about his club, Atletico Madrid, who were beaten on penalties in the Champions League Final against city rivals Real.

Griezmann lit the tournament up at times and his performance in the 2-1 win over Republic of Ireland in the last 16 was simply poetic.

The versatile performer is also a likeable guy. Extremely grounded, very rarely in the media spotlight and lets his football do the talking. Unlike Ronaldo, who tends to sulk when things don’t go his own way, Griezmann is a work horse and simply gets on with the task in hand.

As we know the Balon D’or is not really much more than a glorified popularity contest, if truth be told, with players, managers, journalists and coaches voting for the eventual winner.

Ronaldo is a worthy contender for the award in 2016. He did win the Euro 2016 title with Portugal, after another successful season in front of goal for Real Madrid.

Messi on the other hand, retired from international football after fluffing his lines during a penalty shootout in the Copa America before changing his mind, whilst off the field he was found guilty of tax evasion and handed a 21-month suspended sentence. Hardly his finest year, despite his usual glut of goals for Barcelona.

If Griezmann doesn’t win it this year, the quest to stamp his name on the award won’t be over. His age allows him several more years at the top level of the game and his time could well come further down the line.

Of course, Griezmann himself has had blemishes over the course of the last year. His penalty miss in the Champions League Final proved costly for Diego Simeone’s side, whilst he would have been mightily disappointed not to win Euro 2016 with France, despite going into the final as heavy favourites.

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credit Nazionale Calcio

I feel that the time is now for another stellar player in the world of footballing talent to be recognised. Griezmann on his day is as good as Ronaldo or Messi. Consistently he obviously isn’t at their level just yet, but let’s not forget that he is six years younger than Ronaldo and four younger than Messi.

The Atletico man has been sublime for club and country this year and his efforts should be rewarded with at least a place in the top three when the results are announced at the start of next year.

Griezmann would be a worthy winner of the award and hopefully his fellow professionals and journalists have been as impressed with the former Real Sociedad man over the past year as I have.

Who should win the Ballon D’or? Let us know in the comments below!

featured image by Xavier Naltchayan