On the last day of November 2015, FIFA announced the finalists for a number of its year-end awards. Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar were named as finalists for the FIFA Ballon d’Or award: the year’s best player. The announcement came to almost nobody’s surprise, unless you’re Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski or Luis Suárez; Barcelona’s trio of Messi, Neymar and Suárez have scored more goals than Real Madrid’s entire team. FIFA also announced the finalists for FIFA World Coach of the Year for both men’s and women’s football, and the women’s Ballon d’Or award, for which the USA’s Carli Lloyd, with her World Cup-winning hat trick, is favored.
While those awards hold the most prestige, FIFA’s Puskás Award for the “most beautiful goal of the year” is arguably more coveted by the non-Barcelona or Real Madrid faithful. Think of it this way: no player besides Barcelona’s Messi and Real Madrid’s Ronaldo has won the Ballon d’Or (or the FIFA World Player of the Year Award, as it was known before 2010) since 2009. Beyond that, only five players who didn’t play for the two Spanish juggernauts have won the award since 1996. The Puskás Award is more attainable since all it takes is one moment of Messi-like brilliance. In 2012 Miroslav Stoch won the award playing for Fenerbahçe, a Turkish club whose yearly aim is just to qualify for the Champions League.
Still, the Puskás Award usually goes to a player with close ties to Real Madrid or Barcelona. The past two winners were Zlatan Ibrahimovic and James Rodríguez (although both won the award while on international duty). Ibrahimovic won it two seasons after leaving Barcelona, and Rodríguez grabbed it right before sealing his move to Real Madrid. Hell, the award was named after Ferenc Puskás, a great Real Madrid striker. So it seems fitting that this year Barcelona’s Messi is one of the finalists.
The other two finalists are AS Roma’s Alessandro Florenzi and Wendell Lira of Brazil’s Goianésia. While both scored excellent goals — Lira an overhead bicycle kick and Florenzi a midfield rocket — the overwhelming favorite is Messi. Barcelona’s Number 10 sprints from midfield, leaving a handful of defenders in the dust, and rips it near post by the keeper.
Audiences will have to wait until January 11 to find out who wins the Puskás Award, along with FIFA’s big-time awards in Zurich at the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala. You can vote here for your favorite.