Jaws dropped four months ago when Franck Ribéry's name appeared on the back of the UEFA European Player of the Year trophy. Now Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have a second crack at the Frenchman, this time for the biggest stakes in world football, the FIFA Ballon d'Or.
Ronaldo pumped his game to a whole new pressure since the European award. He scored 36 goals between the UEFA Champions League draw and the Ballon d'Or voting deadline extension. Even if FIFA president Sepp Blatter was gelling Ronaldo's hair for him, that tally is hard to ignore.
Messi did not take advantage of the same time frame. In his defense he was hamstrung along the way, missing 11 of 24 games for FC Barcelona. Still, while he followed up his 91 goals for club an country in 2012 by halving the record to 45 in 2013, including a record 21 consecutive Liga BBVA matches with a goal.
Because of the prolific goal scoring records of Messi and Ronaldo, Ribéry does not measure up in surface statistics. Messi's 45 goals might be less than Ronaldo's 59 in 2013, but is more than Ribéry's 18. To compare goal scoring records is a little arbitrary though. Ribéry's contributions to FC Bayern München's treble campaign and defense is different from what Messi and Ronaldo provide for their respective clubs. Both Liga BBVA players are required to score for their club while Ribéry is called upon for his service.
With that in mind, Ribéry's statistics as a winger may be his ticket to the lustrous trophy. He completes more dribbles per game than anyone in Europe, and his passing statistics are comparable to Messi and Ronaldo combined totals. There is no winger that has done what the Frenchman has done on the left wing in Bayern red and French blue.
The fact that Ribéry is a winger may work to his advantage. Messi and Ronaldo have service to them from all around the pitch and take a large percentage of shots for their teams. Ribéry, meanwhile, is piece of a larger whole, a pillar in a coliseum rather than the sandy center. While that seems like a knock on the Bayern star may underscore his goal scoring record instead.
The club records help the FC Bayern representative as well. Ribéry lifted four trophies before the Ballon d'Or voting closed, while Messi's name is linked to one and Ronaldo has trophy girlfriend instead of a trophy season. Six players in the Champions League era have won the Ballon d'Or and a Champions League trophy in the same year, including four in the past six years.
Ribéry has collected a bunch of individual hardware as it is, winning the French Footballer of the Year as well as the Bundesliga Player of the Year to go along with his UEFA award. The FIFA Ballon d'Or would be the perfect topper to what was perhaps the best performance of the Frenchman's long career.
Could lightning strike twice? Could he be the first FC Bayern player since Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in 1981 to win the Ballon d'Or? Could he be mentioned in the same sentence as Gerd Müller and Franz Beckenbauer? Tune in at 18:30 GMT to see if Ribéry can drop some jaws again.