Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates the hat-trick for Portugal that could win him the Ballon d'Or
Who gets to vote for the Ballon d'Or?
The managers and captains of national teams from across the world all get a vote, as does one eminent football journalist from each country. So from England, for example, it's Steven Gerrard, Roy Hodgson and the Daily Telegraph's Henry Winter.
How does the voting work?
Each voter nominates their top three players of the year from a 23-man shortlist. Their top choice gets five points, second place gets three points, third place gets one point. All those points are totted up, and whoever has the most is the winner.
Who gets to choose shortlisted players?
A panel of experts made up from FIFA's football committee and journalists from France Football magazine (the publication which originally set up the Ballon d'Or in 1956) puts together the 23-man shortlist for the award.
What about the final shortlist of three players, Messi, Ronaldo and Ribery? Do voters choose again to decide between those three once they are announced?
No. The 'final three' thing (the top three were announced over a month ago) is pure marketing nonsense. The votes and final decision were made after voting finished on November 29; since then, the results have been under lock and key with the vote auditors, PWC.
Right - so it's vote once, and that's that?
Normally, yes. But this year it didn't quite work out like that. In what was a hugely controversial move, FIFA and France Football decided to extend the original voting deadline of November 15 until November 29. In addition, all voters were invited to change their votes on the basis of any football matches played during those extra two weeks.
Two extra weeks? That surely won't have made much difference, right?
Far from it: the new voting deadline was announced the day after Cristiano Ronaldo's magnificent, match-winning hat-trick in the World Cup qualifying play-off match against Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Sweden.
Exactly. Franck Ribery - star player of the Bayern Munich team which won the treble in 2012-13 season - had been the bookies' favourite. That in itself had been slightly surprising, but made sense: the actual best player in the world - Lionel Messi - had been hampered by injury when the original voting took place, while Ronaldo had won nothing with club or country in 2013 despite his undeniable brilliance.
But the match against Sweden put him back in the forefront of people's minds.
Quite. And it also reminded everyone that Ronaldo had been fantastically unlucky to lose out on the award to a once-in-a-lifetime genius like Messi for the previous few years. And then people started questioning whether it was right to award Ribery when it was actually the whole Bayern team that was so dominant…
…and now Ronaldo is the red-hot favourite. Gotcha.
Yep. The change to the voting date also had another effect: Ronaldo's hopes had been damaged - if only slightly - by Sepp Blatter lampooning him during an appearance at the Oxford Union shortly before voting finished. Ronaldo and Real Madrid were apparently livid by what they saw as a slur. It was only a bit of light-hearted mickey-taking, but when a man as ridiculous as Blatter has a go at you, it has to hurt. The rumpus following that died down as soon as those goals went in against Sweden.
So the 2013 Ballon d'Or winner will be?
Sorry to spoil the surprise, but it'd be a massive shock if Ronaldo didn't win. And with 37 goals in 27 matches for club and country since the end of last season, it's probably not a bad shout anyway.
Think of it this way: if Martians invaded the earth tomorrow and challenged us to a football match, with the lives of the entire human race at stake, who would be the first name on the team list based on 2013 form? It surely has to be Ronaldo.
Pfft. I'd rather have Luis Suarez.
Ahh - fair point. Particularly if things got a bit dirty on the pitch. But that brings us to the final aspect of the Ballon d'Or: voters are asked to take into account a player's character, fair play and off-pitch behaviour as well as their pure dynamism on the pitch. Normally, of course, voters simply pick whoever they think is the best player. But when it comes to the 'Cannibal of Ajax and Anfield', they'll probably remember that being a footballing role model isn't just about knocking in the goals.
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