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The Ballon d'Or: Finding the dark horse vote amongst the clamor for Neuer, Ronaldo, and Messi

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We all know the Ballon d'Or is a popularity contest. To that end, lets find the voter who bucked that trend and dropped down the most dark hose vote.

Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images

Since we all know that the Ballon d'Or is in essence a popularity contest, I'm setting out to find this year's most unpopulist and dark horse ballot in the entire process. If this seems familiar it's because I did this last year, when Bahrain's Anthony Hudson won with his vote of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Andrea Pirlo, and Mesut Oezil.

As a refresher, here are the criteria:

  1. The Ballot cannot have contained a vote for one of the finalists. No Ronaldo, no Messi, and no Neuer
  2. I'm adding a criteria this year in that Arjen Robben is also up for the UEFA Player of the Year award in addition to Ronaldo and Neuer, so all votes including Arjen Robben are stuck from the record as well
  3. No coach or team captain can vote for one of their club or international teammates in any of the positions
That's it. Those are the restricitons. Applying the first two criteria via automated filters in the magical world of Excel, leaves us with a grand total of 13 votes. Now let's apply criteria number 3.

Lionel Messi, captain of Argentina votes for Angel Di Maria and Javier Mascherano. Stricken.
Cristiano Ronaldo, captain of Portugal votes for Sergio Ramos, Gareth Bale, and Karim Benzema. Stricken

The fact that both Messi and Ronaldo ended up in the dark horse voting is either testament to how much they value their teammates and how crucial they are in their success, or to just how inflated their egos are that they wouldn't vote for one of the other competitors. Either way it is hilarious. Also, Wales captain Ashley Williams voting for Gareth Bale? See you later hombre.

This leaves is with a grand total of 10 votes to parse. Subjects will be graded completely subjectively based on the whims of the author and criteria like hype and whether they are or are not a goal scorer.

Vote #1: Diego Costa. Strong start. Eden Hazard. Quite possibly the best player in the Premier League? This vote is sinking. Neymar at #3. Weak finish.

Vote #2: Neymar. Wrong answer. James Rodriguez. Warming up. Thomas Müller. Right answer. This is a strong contender, but the initial vote for Neymar totally destroys it.

Vote #3: Toni Kroos. This one's swinging for the fences right at the start. Not choosing a goalscorer, but one of the world's best deep-lying creative players is the epitome of dark horse. Paul Pogba. This one's on fire with one of the best box-to-box midfielders on the planet. And how do they wrap it up? James Rodriguez. The breakout star of the World Cup and a selection that doesn't detract from the others.This is already a solid leading contender.

Vote #4: Thomas Müller. Going good. Andres Iniesta. And now it's gone. Iniesta, despite being one of the best players on the planet the past few years, doesn't really deserve to be in this year's Ballon d'Or voting. It's just playing off old votes and not dark horse at all.

Vote #5: Mario Götze. Sorry, but no. The only reason Mario Götze is here is because he scored the 116th minute winner in the World Cup final and that belies a lack of thought. Sorry. disqualified.

Vote #6: James Rodriguez. Things are looking up. Paul Pogba. Things are heating up. Thomas Müller. Bam. Another solid contender.

Vote #7: James Rodriguez: Again, a good  start. Javier Mascherano. Mascherano had an incredible World Cup, carrying Argentina to the final on his back and that fact that he didn't win the Golden Ball is still a travesty in my opinion. Neymar. Oh....well that fell apart quickly. Next.

Vote #8: Thomas Müller. Diego Costa. Sergio Ramos. Wrong. Ramos may have won a Champions League trophy but he was atrocious for Spain in the World Cup. Sorry Sergio, but you're variability of performances cost this voter.

Vote #9: Neymar. Next.

Vote #10: Gareth Bale. I can think of over 100 million reasons why this should be disqualified, but I'm willing to see where this one goes. Paul Pogba. Redeemed. Zlatan. Chalk it up as a serious contender. Gareth Bale is the weak spot on this list and despite Zlatan's hype, his ability to dazzle and amaze is enough that he's always going to be a dark horse candidate.

That leaves us with three solid dark horse votes.

Vote #4: Toni Kroos, Paul Pogba, James Rodriguez.

Vote #6: James Rodriguez, Paul Pogba, Thomas Müller.

Vote #10: Gareth Bale, Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

I'm swinging for vote #4, by Ecuador head coach Vizuete Toapanta Sixto Rafael. Two deep lying creative midfield engines that help to run their respective sides with the breakout star of the World Cup? Dark horse enough for me.