PARIS // The Manchester United winger Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi of Barcelona are the front-runners to win this year's Golden Ball, awarded by France Football magazine to Europe's top player. Ronaldo finished runner-up to the AC Milan midfielder Kaka last year, while the Argentina international Messi was third. Kaka was again among the 30 nominees released today by the magazine, but does not believe he will win the Ballon d'or this time around.
"I am realistic. This one won't be for me. It's a shame, but it's logical," the mercurial Brazilian said. "AC Milan did not have a good season." Kaka is tipping Ronaldo to replace him as Europe's most prized player. "My favourite is Cristiano Ronaldo," Kaka said. "He won two major titles with Manchester [Premier League and Champions League], and he scored a lot of goals." Ronaldo, 23, scored 42 goals in all competitions last term as the United winger swept all before them in their domestic league and in Europe's premier competition.
The Barca forward Messi, 21, has also been in eye-catching form for the Catalunya club, scoring several breathtaking individual goals and also helping Argentina beat Nigeria 1-0 to win the Olympic gold medal in Beijing in August. "He is the kind of player I really like," Kaka said. "Like Cristiano Ronaldo, he dribbles, he scores. Messi often does it all on his own." Liverpool's Fernando Torres is also among the nominees after helping Spain win Euro 2008, grabbing the only goal in the final against Germany.
Torres also scored 24 league goals in his debut season with the Reds. Karim Benzema of French side Lyon, one of only two French nominees along with the Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery, told France Football that Torres would get his vote. "He scores goal after goal," he said. *AP