Hats off to Barcelona star Lionel Messi for claiming his record fifth FIFA Ballon d’Or. But now that the dust has settled, it’s time to look to the future. For the last eight years, the Ballon d’Or has been a two-horse race between Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but it’s only a matter of time before their reign atop world football comes to an end. We take a gander at five of the top candidates – in no particular order – capable of splitting up the duopoly in the years to come. – FOXSoccer.com's Danny Michallik & Thomas Hautmann
AFP/Getty ImagesFABRICE COFFRINI
Granted, after only earning a measly 7.86 percent of the final vote, Neymar was a long-shot to usurp Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo this year, but many feel the future belongs to the 23-year-old. In scintillating form for the Catalans this season, Neymar completely took over the side during Messi’s prolonged absence in the fall. Neymar's meteoric rise shows no signs of slowing down, and if he can stay healthy, he’s the odds-on favorite to become the next Brazilian to pick up football’s highest individual honor.
Getty ImagesDavid Ramos
Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich/Poland)
Lewandowski has just about perfected his craft as a center forward and been hailed by many as the most complete No. 9 in all of world football. The Poland international finished fourth in this year’s Ballon d’Or vote by carrying his nation into Euro 2016 and by banging in the goals for Bayern. Should he keep flourishing in Munich, Lewandowski will be back in the conversation for the next few years.
AFP/Getty ImagesCHRISTOF STACHE
Luis Suarez (Barcelona/Uruguay)
Suarez was ultimately omitted from this year’s three-man shortlist, but he’s become an integral component to Barcelona’s success alongside Lionel Messi and Neymar. His whopping goal-scoring record speaks for itself: With 15 goals, he currently tops the La Liga charts. Yes, his history and his attitude make him a touchy choice, but few can answer with his on-the-field production. Suarez will celebrate his 29th birthday at the end of the month, but rest assured, El Pistolero won’t go away anytime soon.
Getty ImagesDavid Ramos
Paul Pogba (Juventus/France)
At just 22 years of age, Pogba has arguably the highest ceiling compared to the rest of this year's FIFPro World XI. The France international has the ability to dominate games with his precise passing and seemingly effortless flair, but he can also produce a bit of magic to decide any match. Juventus has already produced eight Ballon d’Or winners, and the exciting Pogba looks to be the next in line.
Getty ImagesValerio Pennicino
Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich/Germany)
Muller is a marvelous footballer whose instincts and composure in front of goal are second to none. Still in the early years of his pomp and the heart and soul of his club since Bastian Schweinsteiger left for the Premier League, the homegrown Muller could spearhead a Bayern team capable of challenging for the Champions League for years to come – a near prerequisite for a Ballon d’Or win. That all said, Muller is a dark horse: he’s never been the flashy creator, and that may (unfairly) hurt his chances.