It always comes down to this. Lionel Messi versus Cristiano Ronaldo. Today saw the release of FIFA’s 23-man shortlist for the esteemed FIFA Ballon d’Or award and the two superstars, of Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively, have won the past seven awards between them. This year, one of the greatest rivalries in sport looks set to add another chapter.

Real Madrid and Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo smiles after receiving the 2014 FIFA Ballon d'Or award for player of the year during the FIFA Ballon d'Or award ceremony at the Kongresshaus in Zurich on January 12, 2015. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

Real Madrid and Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo smiles after receiving the 2014 FIFA Ballon d’Or award for player of the year during the FIFA Ballon d’Or award ceremony at the Kongresshaus in Zurich on January 12, 2015. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

While FIFA’s preliminary roster is of course headed by Messi and Ronaldo, the list also includes a host of current icons; the likes of Sergio Aguero, Gareth Bale, Neymar Jr and Andres Iniesta. James Rodriguez, Thomas Muller and Luis Suarez have also made the cut, but this year – as in many previous years – it’s difficult to see past the current holder and his Argentinian counterpart.

Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi has been nothing short of phenomenal in 2015. Breaking long-standing records on what seemed a weekly basis during the 2014-15 season, Messi formed a formidable triumvirate with fellow shortlisted players Neymar Jr and Luis Suarez. The trio scored 122 goals between them – Messi himself netting the most with 58 – as Barcelona dominated both Spain and Europe. With Messi at the forefront, the Nou Camp side secured their 23rd La Liga title with a game to spare before adding the Copa del Rey. The 28-year-old’s incredible solo goal against Athletic Bilbao in the final may have been his best ever strike.

Barcelona then went on to win the coveted UEFA Champions League, ruthlessly dispatching Juventus in Berlin to become the first European club ever to win two trebles. Last time Messi managed such a trophy haul, he also took home the Ballon d’Or and as such it looks increasingly ominous for his competition this year.

We at Icons are immensely proud to be celebrating ten seasons of signings with Lionel Messi. Every piece of Official Messi Signed Merchandise is created under license by Icons Shop Ltd and now comes with an official Messi signed merchandise Certificate of Authenticity, which carries an image of Leo signing the product line. The full range is exclusively available on Icons.com.

Cristiano Ronaldo meanwhile can also reflect on yet another astounding year. In a season in which he led Real Madrid to the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League, the Portuguese trickster also became the highest goalscorer in the competition’s history with 82 goals. Just last week, he also had the honour of becoming Real Madrid’s all-time top scorer, his goal in a 3-0 league win over Levante taking his tally to 324 goals in 310 games. The name Cristiano Ronaldo is now forever etched into Real Madrid history and Icons is proud to say that in February 2015 we celebrated ten years of signings with the man himself.

This year’s shortlist throws up several dark horses in the form of Barcelona’s mercurial Andres Iniesta, Bayern Munich goal-machine Thomas Muller and Real Madrid speedster Gareth Bale, who led Wales to qualification for their first ever UEFA European Championships.

Brazilian wonderkid Neymar Jr, who Icons have been working with since 2012, is another who has a legitimate claim to the award. If 2016 doesn’t turn out to be Neymar Jr’s year, it’s likely the coming years will see the Barcelona star battle it out for the title with the likes of Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Real Madrid’s James Rodriguez. Icons have always prided ourselves on being able to spot the world’s best talent and it’s no surprise that nine of the last ten Ballon d’Or awards and fourteen of the last twenty have been taken home by our Icons players.  If Leo, Cristiano or Neymar Jr win, it will be a clean 10 out of 10.

This year’s winner will be announced in January and if Ronaldo manages to retain the award it would take his Ballon d’Or haul to four, level with Messi, while a victory for Messi would see the Barcelona forward edge ahead in the rivalry with five to Ronaldo’s three. Clearly, the race is very much on. In the meantime, be sure to check out signed memorabilia from Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar Jr, as well as our other shortlisted players, available right now on Icons.com – just in time for Christmas.

Finally, keep checking out the site and our social media around the New Year as we hope to have an exciting announcement about official FIFA Ballon d’Or products.

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