By Liang Tao
Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo was crowned the Best FIFA Men's Player in 2016, winning the highest individual prizes in world football in a memorable year for the star. Ronaldo, having led La Liga powerhouse Real Madrid to Champions League glory before inspiring Portugal to its remarkable triumph at Euro 2016, is the overwhelming favourite to win the Best Player award again, ahead of rivals Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann.
Many of you may feel, as I do, that only Ronaldo or Messi can walk away with the top prize from a football awards ceremony. For almost a decade, Real Madrid's iconic No. 7 and Barcelona's Argentine magician have taken turns to steal the show. It seems to have become a tradition in the football world.
Reviewing modern football history, there has never been such an outstanding duo dominating world football, and certainly not over a period of 10 years or more. In the process of chasing each other, the two brilliant stars unconsciously changed the situation of world soccer, making others, including footballers and fans, the audience of their greatness.
The evidence for Ronaldo and Messi as the greatest players of modern times is not limited to individual awards. Each has helped his respective club, La Liga sides Barca and Real, to clinch Champions League titles, thrice and twice respectively. Also, with the exception of Atletico Madrid's La Liga title in 2014, Barca and Real have basically split the league title between them in recent years.
Although the Ronaldo-vs-Messi circus has been marvelous to watch for so many years, the two-man era is doomed. At some point in the future, possibly sooner than later, things will change. A new face will emerge and, eventually, the two established stars will begin to fade, and a new name will be engraved on the trophies that Ronaldo and Messi have essentially shared for years now.
Ronaldo will turn 32 next month; Messi will be 30 in June. And although their incredible efficiency last year for Real and Barca respectively (Ronaldo scored 37 goals, Messi had 44) emphasized that twilight has not fallen yet, the two men must now brace themselves for a challenge to their supremacy from emerging talents across the globe.
That threat has always been there, but when the two players were in their mid-20s, in their prime, nobody could dream of coming close to them in terms of ability or raw talent. Now, as time begins to catch up with them, new stars will emerge and will ultimately overtake the two football greats.
Griezmann, the third name on the ballot for top football honours, and whose promise came shining through during Euro 2016, is the leading figure among the younger wave of players, who have time to claim the summit for themselves.
Time creates heroes. Heroes change times. For now, though, the stage is still owned by Ronaldo and Messi, and you can expect the pair to exploit their status for all it is worth because they obviously know that their time at the top cannot last forever.
Before they fade from the stage, I sincerely hope that they can have the chance to share the top individual prize, just once, and share in the glory that each of them has earned, and can stand together at the awards ceremony instead of taking turns as usual. They deserve it!
Many of their records will never be broken, and many of their highlight-reel goals will never be forgotten, and no individual trophy will ever change that for either man.