Monday night saw Real Madrid and Croatia midfielder Luka Modric win the coveted Ballon d’Or. Previously known as the European Footballer of the Year award (before it was merged with the less recognized FIFA player of the year), the prize is widely considered the World Player of the Year award. It marks the first time since Brazilian ace Kaka won the award in 2007 that the honor has gone to someone other than Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi.
Ronaldo finished runner-up in the voting while French World Cup winners Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe finished third and fourth, with Messi only fifth. There is inevitably been an outcry at Messi not winning, let alone finishing fifth.
A True Great
Modric is a worthy winner of this award. He was fabulous in midfield as Real Madrid won their third straight Champions League title in May. He was selected for the Champions League Team of the Tournament for the fourth time in five seasons. He went on to be the outstanding player of the World Cup as Croatia made it to their first ever final. Although the Ballon d’Or is awarded to the best player playing club and international football, the World Cup inevitably plays a key part in picking the world’s best player every fourth year.
Modric ran the show as Croatia pounded Messi’s Argentina 3-0, scoring his team’s brilliant second while Messi hid on the wing as a virtual spectator. Croatia was the best team of the group phase, and while they rode their luck in the knockout phase, he was again man of the match as Croatia edged England in the semifinal. Modric has been among the world’s elite midfielders for over a decade, and when he hangs up his boots, he will be remembered as one of the all-time great central midfielders.
The Spell is Broken
There’s no doubt that Messi and Ronaldo are the two most gifted players of their generation, arguably two of the best ever to play the game. Over the last decade though, there have been others who might have had a chance to break the streak. Look at the claims of Barcelona’s Andres Iniesta and Xavi; they are without question the greatest midfield duo in the history of club or international football. They were equally important to Messi in Pep Guardiola’s brilliant Barcelona team. That combination led Spain to two European Championship titles and the 2010 World Cup, with Iniesta grabbing the only goal of the final. That wouldn’t matter, as their fellow professionals never voted Xavi higher than third in the Ballon d’Or and Iniesta only finished runner-up to Messi.
There are others over the last decade with strong claims to having deserved at least one Ballon d’Or, most notably Dutch winger Arjen Robben. He guided his nation to a World Cup final and Bayern Munich to the 2013 Champions League title. Then there’s Robben’s club mate Manuel Neuer, who won every goalkeepers plaudit available as Germany stormed to the 2014 World Cup, but only came third in the Ballon d’Or.
It’s worth remembering prior to Messi and Ronaldo, nobody had won this award more than three times. Johan Cruyff, Marco Van Basten and Michel Platini all claimed a hat trick of wins during their careers. Further down the list Franz Beckenbauer, Ronaldo, Alfredo Di Stefano, Kevin Keegan and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge won it twice whilst among many other greats Bobby Charlton, Zinedine Zidane, Lothar Matthaus, Stanley Matthews and George Best won it once each.
End of an era?
While some have protested at the unfairness of the result, others claim this represents the dimming of the light for Messi and Ronaldo. That seems fanciful, Messi is still playing incredible football and Ronaldo has new club Juventus eight points clear in Serie A. It’s also looking like Ronaldo could add what would be a record sixth Champions League medal to his bulging collection.
There are new threats with Eden Hazard has been outstanding in the Premier League and seems destined at some stage for The Bernabeu, whilst Mbappe and Neymar have been tearing it up at Paris St Germain. Whilst the duopoly has been broken don’t be surprised to Messi or Ronaldo claiming a sixth Ballon d’Or this time next year.
Picture Credits: Hindustantimes, Malaysia Gazette,