Golden Boys

Have we come to the end of the Messi-Ron­aldo in­di­vid­ual award era?

Global Times - Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Pete Reilly

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.

Photo: IC

PSG striker Kylian Mbappe (right) cel­e­brates his goal with team­mate Ney­mar dur­ing their French Ligue 1 match against Lyon on Mon­day in Paris.

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