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Last month Real Madrid and Croa­tia mid­fielder Luka Mo­dric was awarded the Bal­lon d’Or, the first player not named Lionel Messi or Cris­tiano Ron­aldo to be given the award since 2007. The 33-year-old is also the first Croa­t­ian player to be given the prize since the

Balkan na­tion achieved its in­de­pen­dence in 1991. There is no ques­tion that Mo­dric is a won­der­ful, el­e­gant player, or that he had a stun­ning 2018. The mid­fielder won his third Cham­pi­ons League on the spin with Real Madrid, and in­spired his coun­try to the World Cup fi­nal.

What is less unan­i­mously agreed is the de­ci­sion to give the Bal­lon d’Or to Mo­dric, with Ron­aldo’s sis­ter bizarrely blam­ing the mafia for the loss while Messi fail­ing even to reach the top three was greeted with howls of de­ri­sion from his many fans around the world.

There is some merit to their com­plaints though. If the Bal­lon d’Or is in­tended purely to re­ward in­di­vid­ual ex­cel­lence, the sta­tis­tics are very much on the side of the two men who have dom­i­nated vot­ing for over a decade. In the 2017-18 sea­son, Ron­aldo scored 54 goals in 55 games and pro­vided 11 as­sists. Messi man­aged 46 goals with one game fewer, and pro­vided 18 as­sists. Mo­dric, mean­while, got five goals and 11 as­sists in his 59 games for club and coun­try.

Many would ar­gue, with some jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, that the Croat was a key man in teams which achieved ex­tra­or­di­nary suc­cess — but what, then, is the point of hand­ing out in­di­vid­ual awards in a team sport? Mo­dric wouldn’t have been in the World Cup Fi­nal

were it not for a late Mario Mandzu­kic win­ner against Eng­land, and it was Ron­aldo’s goals which fired Madrid to their Cham­pi­ons League tri­umph. Is Messi to be pun­ished for play­ing in an in­sipid Argentina team over the sum­mer?

The Bal­lon d’Or, and in­di­vid­ual awards in gen­eral, have come to mean far more over re­cent years, fu­elled in part by the duel be­tween Messi and Ron­aldo. It’s widely ac­cepted that Ney­mar moved to Paris Saint-Ger­main in the hope of win­ning the Bal­lon d’Or, while Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappé and An­toine Griez­mann have also openly cov­eted the prize.

A sim­i­lar phe­nom­e­non has played out in the world of ten­nis, with the ‘Big Four’ of Roger Fed­erer, Rafa Nadal, No­vak Djokovic and Andy Mur­ray com­pet­ing not only for Grand Slams, but to be world No. 1. That makes sense in an in­di­vid­ual sport, but what value does an in­di­vid­ual award have in a team sport like football?

A microcosm of this in­creas­ing in­di­vid­ual focus in football can be seen with a visit to the Ju­ven­tus mu­seum in Turin. In the gallery are the Bal­lons d’Or of two club leg­ends, Omar Sivori and Pavel Nedved. The for­mer’s is a small, plated football on a var­nished wooden plinth. The Czech, how­ever, was awarded a huge, glit­ter­ing tro­phy which one would strug­gle to life above one’s head. Nedved was, of course, the ul­ti­mate team player, and one sus­pects he’d trade that tro­phy for the Cham­pi­ons League he missed out on in 2003. And yet the di”er­ence in the tro­phies is telling.

There are other is­sues with the Bal­lon d’Or, and sim­i­lar tro­phies like FIFA’s The Best awards. For one, the tro­phy al­most al­ways goes to at­tack­ing play­ers. Lev Yashin re­mains the only goal­keeper ever to have been given the Bal­lon d’Or, while Fabio Can­navaro was the last de­fender to win it back in 2006.

In some re­spects a cre­ative mid­fielder like Mo­dric win­ning is a pos­i­tive step, but what of Xavi Her­nan­dez, An­drea Pirlo or Pep Guardi­ola? Other play­ers never to win the prize in­clude Paolo Mal­dini, Gian­luigi Bu”on and Ryan Giggs.

Is Bu”on a bet­ter player than Messi? It’s a ridicu­lous ques­tion, given their re­spec­tive roles have ab­so­lutely noth­ing in com­mon. So why then do we ac­cept an award be­ing given to the no­tional ‘best player in the world’ ev­ery year?

Fans will re­mem­ber Messi, Ron­aldo and Mo­dric for the play­ers they were and the tro­phies they won as part of a team, not how many times they were given a some­what ar­bi­trary in­di­vid­ual prize, based on cri­te­ria which are at best un­clear and at worst un­fair.


‘Luka Mo­dric is the first Croa­t­ian player to be given the prize’

ABOVE:Luka Mo­dric won the 2018 Bal­lon d’Or

‘The tro­phy al­most al­ways goes to at­tack­ing play­ers’ ABOVE & BOT­TOM LEFT: Can­navaro was the last de­fender to win the Bal­lon d’OrBOT­TOM RIGHT:The tro­phy it­self has changed since Omar Sivori won it in 1961

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