Just how do you distinguish between three great players, each with a list of accolades as long as your arm?
We’ve asked Spanish football writer Andy West, Italian football expert Mina Rzouki and BBC Sport’s chief football writer Phil McNulty to make their case for each of the candidates.
So who do you agree with? Take our vote here and select your winner. Highlights of the Fifa Football Awards are on BBC One at 23:05 BST on Monday.
If you are viewing this page on the BBC News app please click here to vote.
|Nationality: Argentinian Club: Barcelona Age: 32|
|The case for:|
|Won La Liga and helped his side reach the Champions League semi-final and Copa del Rey final.|
|Claimed European Golden Shoe as continent’s top goalscorer and was La Liga’s top assist-maker.|
|Helped Argentina to bronze at 2019 Copa America.|
Spanish football writer Andy West:
Knowing that Lionel Messi is the best player in the world comes with just one condition: having eyes, and using them to watch football.
If you actually watch him – and you are being even vaguely objective – you will see that Messi is head and shoulders above everybody else. The skill gap is not even close.
Watch him, and you will see the goals. You will see the dribbles. The supernatural defence-splitting passes, the faultless first touch, the 360-degree spatial awareness, the uncanny ability to escape multiple markers, the unselfish game awareness. You will see all those things, and you will be forced to admit: yes, Messi is the best. By far.
If you don’t trust your eyes to reach that conclusion, maybe the stats will help. You probably already know that Messi scored more league goals than anyone else in Europe in 2018-19 (36, ahead of Kylian Mbappe’s 33). But Messi’s all-round magnificence is reflected in the fact that he was also among Europe’s top performers in assists (fifth), chances created in open play (third), dribbles completed (fourth), passes into the final third (second) and shots against the woodwork (first). He is a striker, playmaker and winger all rolled into one.
Those individual exploits led to silverware, too, with Messi inspiring Barcelona to a comfortably-earned league title, finishing 11 points ahead of Atletico Madrid.
He also excelled in the Champions League, easily topping the competition’s scoring charts (12). And before you throw Anfield in his face, note that Messi created more chances and had more shots on target than any other player in that dramatic second leg (including Liverpool players). It’s hardly his fault his team-mates forgot how to finish or defend.
Messi’s problem, and the only reason the ‘deserving’ winner of awards like this is even discussed, is that we take him for granted.
When we see – to cite a game a larger-than-normal number of UK-based fans will have witnessed – the incredible performance he produced at Wembley last October to destroy a helpless Tottenham defence, we shrug our shoulders and say: “Well, that’s Messi.” If another player reached that level just once, we would be in raptures. With Messi, it’s normal.
But the fact that he delivers displays of such mind-boggling brilliance 25 or 30 times a season should not just be brushed aside. We should appreciate him while we can, and revel in his unmatched splendour rather than reason that it’s somebody else’s turn to be acknowledged as the best. There is no other best. The best is Messi.
And if you’re still not convinced, take heed of an informed opinion from a man who played against him last season: “Messi is still the best player in the world and I think he deserves it [the award] as long as he is playing.”
Whose words were they? None other than Virgil Van Dijk’s.
Even the other main contender for the award thinks Messi should win it.
|Nationality: Portuguese Club: Juventus Age: 34|
|The case for:|
|Won Serie A and named the league’s most valuable player.|
|Finished as club’s top goalscorer in all competitions and won Italian Super Cup.|
|Helped Portugal win UEFA Nations League as top goalscorer in the Nations League finals.|
Italian football expert Mina Rzouki:
Let’s be honest, Ronaldo didn’t outscore Lionel Messi nor did he help Juventus win the Champions League last season as Virgil Van Dijk managed with Liverpool. Three players outscored the Portuguese Icon in Serie A and for the first time under Massimiliano Allegri’s tutelage, Juventus didn’t win the Coppa Italia.
So why should Ronaldo win the Fifa player of the year?
While his critics have plenty to point to when calculating why Ronaldo may not have lived up to the very high expectations the five-time Ballon d’Or winner has set for himself, it should also be noted just how much of a difference he made when playing for his country and new club.
Unlike Van Dijk and Messi, Ronaldo chose a new challenge, playing in a new league with new team-mates and a new system. Under the guidance of a pragmatic coach, Ronaldo was tasked with proving value – and he did just that. He was named as the most valuable player in the league, helping Juventus to not only win the Supercoppa but the Scudetto, too, by being the club’s top scorer and their inspiration moving forward.
How many would boast similar statistics when changing leagues and clubs?
It was Ronaldo who scored in the Supercoppa final against Milan to secure the win, Ronaldo who sealed the extraordinary comeback win against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League and Ronaldo who rallied the troops to secure vital points against the likes of Napoli and Inter, Juve’s challengers for the title.
As for Portugal, manager Fernando Santos confessed to running out of adjectives when it came to describing the player, settling on simply and aptly labelling him as ‘a footballing genius’.
Ronaldo scored a hat-trick against Switzerland to secure Portugal’s presence in the inaugural Nations League’s final, while the country’s eventual win against the Netherlands was the player’s 30th title in football.
For both country and club, Ronaldo has made the difference, winning every final he played last season. He is the player his team-mates have looked to, not only to inspire them on the pitch but also to motivate them off it.
Virgil Van Dijk
|Nationality: Dutch Club: Liverpool Age: 28|
|The case for:|
|Won UEFA Champions League.|
|Named the PFA Player of the Year and Premier League Player of the Year.|
|Helped the Netherlands to UEFA Nations League final.|
BBC chief football writer Phil McNulty:
He instantly transformed a previously vulnerable Liverpool defence to the extent they reached the Champions League Final at the end of that season, although even he was powerless to cure the flaws of hapless goalkeeper Loris Karius that played a major part in their 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid in Kiev.
Throw his career forward and we now have a player being ranked alongside the greatest central defenders Liverpool have ever had – even the likes of Alan Hansen – and who is simply irreplaceable in manager Jurgen Klopp’s plans.
And we also have a player whose presence, calmness, leadership – and the occasional goal such as when he scored a crucial header in the Champions League last 16 second-leg win away to Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena last season – allowed Liverpool to make up for that bitter disappointment against Real Madrid by claiming European club football’s biggest trophy for the sixth time against Tottenham Hotspur in Madrid in June.
Van Dijk’s level consistency is such that when Arsenal’s Nicolas Pepe got the better of him in an individual joust in Liverpool’s 3-1 win at Anfield on 24 August, it was the first time anyone had dribbled past him in a 50-match sequence stretching back to March 2018.
It is a truly remarkable statistic and testimony to just how good Van Dijk is and why I believe he will be a worthy recipient of the Best Fifa Award.
There was almost an air of incredulity when he made the first error of serious consequence anyone could recall with confidence when his loose backpass enabled Fernando Llorente to seal Napoli’s 2-0 win against Liverpool in their first Champions League group game.
Yes, Messi and Ronaldo have sustained incredible longevity and levels of greatness we may not witness again for a generation, but in the last 12 months the transformative effect of Van Dijk on Liverpool means no-one should complain if he is the winner.
Van Dijk is magnificent in the air, has the ability to overpower attackers with his physical presence, has a finely-honed sense of danger and his range of long and short passing gives Liverpool an extra dimension to their offensive game.
Quite simply he is the complete defender. He has played a large part in making Liverpool the team they are.
He is the central plank in a team that has won the Champions League, is playing a part in Ronald Koeman’s rival of the Netherlands national side, and is coveted by every club in the world.
Van Dijk, in my opinion, should win this prestigious award.