Since 2008, the award has been dominated by Lionel Messi (winner in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012) and Cristiano Ronaldo (winner in 2008, 2013 and 2014) and invariably it is likely to be a straight shoot-out between the two to collect the most prestigious individual award in the game once more.
However, although those two are virtually guaranteed of being numbers one and two once more, there remains plenty of other outstanding individuals who deserve their place in the limelight and on the shortlist, too. The 23 players, who have been recognised as the best footballers on the planet this year, will be whittled down to just three on November 30th, ahead of the showpiece event on January 11th.
- Yaya Toure (Manchester City and Ivory Coast)
The midfield powerhouse has been somewhere near his best in the opening weeks of the current campaign. However, he struggled to reach his best form in the 2014/15 campaign, as City relinquished their Premier League title.
He did, however, finally get his hands on an African Cup of Nations, as he captained his country to a 9-8 penalty shoot-out win over Ghana in Equatorial Guinea back in February.
- Gareth Bale (Real Madrid and Wales)
The only British representative on the list, Bale endured a difficult season last term as he frequently came under criticism from the expectant Madridista fan base at club level and La Liga betting fans in general. He has looked more comfortable playing for Rafa Benitez this term, scoring twice and registering three assists in five league games.
His seven goals for Wales over the last year, meanwhile, fired his country to the European Championships next summer, their first major tournament since 1958.
- James Rodriguez (Real Madrid and Colombia)
After sparkling for Colombia at the 2014 World Cup, Rodriguez became the latest Galactico to join Real Madrid last year, when he joined in a big-money move from Monaco.
Although he has struggled with injuries during his time in the Spanish capital, Rodriguez has still largely impressed following his move and should he steer clear of injury problems in the future, could well feature higher up this list in the coming seasons.
- Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich and Holland)
The fleet-footed Dutchman would most likely be higher up, were it not for the various injury problems he has suffered over the last few months.
Injuries have restricted him to just 11 Bundesliga appearances this calendar year. However, his return of eight goals in that time proves that he remains an outstanding player when fit. His reputation hasn’t been overly sullied by the Netherlands failure to qualify for Euro 2016 meanwhile, as he missed their last two matches.
- Toni Kroos (Real Madrid and Germany)
The World Cup-winning midfielder took the fairly brave step to leave the comfort of Bayern Munich to join Real Madrid last year and while he is yet to lift any silverware with Los Blancos, he has made a positive impression and forged an excellent partnership with Luka Modric.
His passing accuracy of 93% from seven league games so far this season highlights how effective he is in the deep-lying playmaker role for his club.
- Karim Benzema (Real Madrid and France)
Benzema has cemented his place as a key member of Real Madrid’s starting XI over the last 12 months, proving himself to be an extremely effective machine for Ronaldo’s goals.
This season, meanwhile, he has taken over the goal scoring mantle from the Portuguese, scoring six goals in six La Liga matches, while he also recently ended a lengthy goal drought for his country.
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG and Sweden)
The mercurial Swede was heavily linked with a move away from the Parc des Princes over the summer, after he enjoyed another prolific campaign in 2014/15, scoring 19 goals in 24 games as they romped to the French league title.
Unfortunately for English Premier League football betting lovers, he remained in Paris past the summer and has continued to be a reliable source of goals for Laurent Blanc’s men, netting six from six this term.
- Andres Iniesta (Barcelona and Spain)
Another player who regularly finds himself on the Ballon d’Or shortlist is Iniesta, who was voted the second best player in the world in 2010 and the third best two years later.
He could well be in with a shout once more, as he captained Barcelona to a second treble in six seasons, while his importance to the Spanish national team remains undiminished.
- Arturo Vidal (Bayern Munich and Chile)
It has certainly been an eventful year for the midfield enforcer. He played a starring role for Juventus as they lifted a domestic double and reached the Champions League final, before he helped Chile to a first ever tournament win in the Copa America on home soil this summer.
Following his excellent performances, he was snapped up by Bayern Munich to replace the outgoing Bastian Schweinsteiger, and he has been ever-present for Pep Guardiola’s side this term as they have won nine games from nine in the Bundesliga.
- Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona and Croatia)
For a relatively small country, Croatia currently possess an abundance of outstanding midfield talents, and Rakitic has emerged as unarguably the best of the bunch, after he played a key role in Barca’s treble winning campaign.
Rakitic, who captained Sevilla to a Europa League title the season before, opened the scoring within the first five minutes of the Champions League final against Juventus and has enjoyed a stellar year for the La Liga giants.
- Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City and Belgium)
Discarded by Jose Mourinho in 2013, De Bruyne set about proving his old manager wrong by performing brilliantly for Bundesliga underdogs Wolfsburg last season, providing an outstanding 20 assists in the 2014-15 season; giving daring Bundesliga betting fans a chance at more profit.
Such form resulted in a big-money move to Manchester City in the summer, where he has slotted in seamlessly, scoring three goals and providing three assists in five Premier League games.
- Paul Pogba (Juventus and France)
The 22-year-old would most likely have been higher, had it not been for Juventus’ recent patchy form at the start of the current campaign. Like Vidal, Pogba was an essential cog in Juve’s machine last season, as they surprised everyone to reach the final of the Champions League for the first time since 2003.
He appears to have been weighed down by the increased responsibility on his shoulders this term, but there remains little doubt in Serie A betting fans’ minds that he is one of the most gifted young players around.
- Javier Mascherano (Barcelona and Argentina)
Famously picked by Roy Hodgson as his player of the year in 2014, Mascherano has continued to be an influential presence for both club and country over the last 12 months, helping Barca win the treble and taking his country to a second placed finish at the Copa America.
Now regarded exclusively as a centre-back, following his conversion from midfield since joining Barca, Mascherano is the only defender on the list, which in some ways suggests the award’s format could be in need of altering in the future.
- Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal and Chile)
The diminutive winger became the second player in consecutive summers to swap life at one of La Liga’s big two for Arsenal, and the Gunners supporters will be delighted he did so, as he has scored 12 league goals this calendar year and helped them win the FA Cup.
Alongside Vidal, meanwhile, Sanchez was the key man for Chile as they were crowned South America’s best team, scoring the winning penalty in the final against Argentina.
- Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich and Germany)
Such has been the ridiculous form of his teammate at club level that Robert Lewandowski, Muller’s sensational performances in 2015 have often been somewhat overlooked.
Nevertheless, opposition defenders will have to be on their toes when Muller is around, as he has been prolific in recent months, scoring nine goals in nine league games for Bayern this season. The 26-year-old is as reliable as they come and is undoubtedly one of the first names on the team-sheet for club and country.
- Sergio Aguero (Manchester City and Argentina)
This is another player who has been plagued by injury throughout his career; it would be a delight to see how many goals Aguero could score if he were able to play for the duration of a league campaign.
His tally of 20 goals in 26 league games in 2015 highlights the fact that Aguero is deservedly regarded as one of the finest goal scorers on the planet and his latest injury setback came at the worst possible time, after he struck five goals in his last game for City against Newcastle.
- Eden Hazard (Chelsea and Belgium)
Premier League betting fans will agree that this season has been one to forget for Hazard so far, however his brilliant displays for the Blues last term, carried them to a first Premier League title since 2010, as well as to a League Cup, meaning his nomination is richly deserved.
Recognised as the best player in the Premier League by a comfortable distance last season, Hazard will be looking to reach the levels he set in 2014/15 for the remainder of the year to give him an outside hope of featuring in the top three.
- Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich and Germany)
After playing a starring role in Germany’s World Cup win, Neuer was rated the third-best player in the world for 2014, which is frankly a ridiculous achievement for a goalkeeper, such has been the lack of recognition they have received down the years.
Largely credited with modernising goalkeeping in recent years, Neuer was in exceptional form once more for Bayern last season, helping them to yet another Bundesliga win. However, he may find it harder to break into the top three this time around.
- Neymar (Barcelona and Brazil)
Following an indifferent start to his Barcelona career in the 2013/14 season, the Brazilian superstar showed everyone just how great a talent he is last season, as he formed a formidable front three for his club, alongside Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi.
Tipped by many to become the world’s best when Messi and Ronaldo reach the ends of the careers, Neymar has started the current campaign in exceptional fashion, scoring eight in seven league matches for the Blaugrana.
- Luis Suarez (Barcelona and Uruguay)
Suarez endured a slightly slow start to his career at the Nou Camp, struggling to get going in his early games for the club at the tail end of 2014, after he had missed the first eight games of the season through suspension.
However, when he did get going at the turn of the year, he was outstanding, giving the side a focal point through the middle which allowed Messi to drift out to the flank and cause havoc. He gave his side their crucial second goal in the Champions League final and has become a hugely influential figure of Luis Enrique’s men.
- Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich and Poland)
If the award was based on this season alone, it would be hard to look any further than Bayern Munich’s number nine, as he has been the outstanding player in Europe so far this term.
The prolific frontman has registered 22 goals in 16 games for club and country since the campaign started, including logic-defying five goals in nine minutes during Bayern’s 5-1 win over Wolfsburg last month. Sport betting fans who’ve stayed on Lewandowski’s side this have not regretted it. If Lewandowski can maintain his rich vein of form until the end of the season, he may well be in with a shout of winning the Ballon d’Or next year.
- Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid and Portugal)
Now 30 years old, Ronaldo shows no signs of slowing up as he plundered an outrageous 48 goals in 35 league games last season, while he currently has six from eight so far this term.
He has now scored a phenomenal 325 goals in all competitions for the club since joining from Manchester United in 2009, and has recently overtaken Raul as their all-time top goal scorer in history. It will be a close call to see whether he can scoop a third successive Ballon d’Or.
- Lionel Messi (Barcelona and Argentina)
Another who suffered in 2014, Messi was back to his spell-binding best for Barcelona last season, after being switched to a roaming right wing position under Luis Enrique. He has scored 31 goals in 28 league games this calendar year and has provided 13 assists in that time, demonstrating that he is well and truly back to his best.
The one blot on his 2015 copybook was failing to win the Copa America with Argentina and it would be a huge shame if he was unable to win anything with them during his playing career.