Have we come to the end of the Messi-Ronaldo individual award era?
The nominations for the Ballon d’Or were revealed by France Football on Monday and there are not too many surprises in the 30 names on the list. That’s because they are led, once again, by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, the two stars who have shared the honor for the last 10 years. The RonaldoMessi hegemony stretches beyond the France Football award.
Since Ronaldo won the Ballon d’Or for the first time in 2008 while he was still a Manchester United player, the pair have lifted this title and the FIFA World Player of the Year award too. During the five-year period that FIFA and France Football combined for the FIFA Ballon d’Or it was also won by one of the two talismans. This year it might be different.
Modric breaks the dominance
During the 2018 FIFA The Best Awards, where The Best Men’s Player, a direct replacement for the FIFA World Player of the Year, is named, it was Ronaldo’s long-standing Real Madrid teammate Luka Modric who took the honor and broke the duo’s dominance of every global player accolade for the first time in a decade.
The maestro led Croatia to their first-ever World Cup final in Russia this summer and won the vote decided by his fellow international team captains, their coaches, a select group of journalists and the public.
Modric outperformed both Los Blancos teammate Ronaldo and Barcelona rival Messi in the World Cup, with Croatia finishing runners-up while neither Portugal nor Argentina made it past the round of 16. Add to that, he was in the Real Madrid team that won a preposterous third UEFA Champions League crown in a row and it is fair to say that he deserved to break up the unholy union.
Since the Ballon d’Or was first handed to England’s Stanley Matthews in 1956, there has never been a period of sustained dominance by one, never mind two, athletes as Ronaldo and Messi have treated us to for the last decade. This is unprecedented and unparalleled. It may also be over.
While Modric deserves the accolades for a stellar domestic and continental season, this is of course a World Cup year and the greatest prize in the game hangs heavy come voting time. The Croatian conductor edges even the great Messi and Ronaldo in that regard.
Since 2012 he has matched Ronaldo for trophies as his Real Madrid teammate but it is only this year that his name has been mentioned as topping the ballot, but he is the same age as the Portuguese and it is unlikely that he will win any of these individual accolades again.
Modric is the favorite for the nod from France Football, just edging evergreen Ronaldo, France stars Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe, and Messi in the eyes of the bookmakers.
Who comes next?
Ronaldo is 33 now while Messi is 31. Despite their ageless accumulation of goals and garlands, they are not going to go on forever. This season both may finish as champions, of course, Messi at Barcelona and Ronaldo at new club Juventus but Modric has already proved that even with the game’s two greatest players, all things come to an end. The question then is who comes next? Modric is 33 and can not be expected to continues apace, certainly not until Croatia win the European Championship in 2020. It is time for a younger man to stake his claim. Atletico Madrid forward Griezmann has staked his credentials already, to the point where Ronaldo’s former Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos found the Frenchman’s self-comparisons to Ronaldo and Messi to be laughable. What the 27-year-old has argued more convincingly since is that this year’s Ballon d’Or should go to a member of the France squad that lifted the World Cup in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium in July. “We are world champions, we’re part of the best team in the world,” the striker told France Football ahead of the announcement of the shortlist. “I think that a Frenchman must win the Ballon d’Or this year.” The players among that 30-man shortlist that fit the bill are Griezmann himself, Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, Champions League-winning Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane, Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante and PSG attacker Mbappe. Ramos has critiqued Griezmann well enough but, of the others, Varane might be deserving. Sadly he is ruled out on account of being a defender – Fabio Cannavaro was the last to bother the top three of a vote when he won it in 2006 – while Pogba has more to come and the unflashy Kante will continue go under the radar.
A matter of time for Mbappe?
Mbappe though is one to keep an eye on. The Young Player of the World Cup, he has continued this season as his last two have finished. He scored four goals in 13 minutes last weekend as PSG trounced Ligue 1 rivals Lyon and cemented their place at the top of the table. Ronaldo won his first Ballon d’Or at age 23 while Messi was 22 when he took his debut nod before embarking on a run of four straight (combined FIFA Ballon d’Or crowns included). Mbappe is 19. Mbappe’s clubmate Neymar is 26 and was expected to step out of Messi’s shadow when he moved from Barcelona to Paris but is now being pushed out of the limelight by a teenager who won’t be 20 until December. There’s a new dawn on the horizon when it comes to the best player on the planet and at this rate it will pass Griezmann and Neymar by. If Mbappe doesn’t win this year, it is surely just a matter of time – and the end of the Ronaldo-Messi era might also be the start of an age where a player beats their totals of five each. Lucky us.
PSG striker Kylian Mbappe (right) celebrates his goal with teammate Neymar during their French Ligue 1 match against Lyon on Monday in Paris.