After winning ten consecutive Fifa Ballon D’Or shields between them, this World Cup year presents a perfect opportunity to break the Ronaldo-Messi stranglehold on the most prestigious individual football accolade.
Not that there is anything wrong with soccer monopolies or duopolies. Glasgow rivals Celtic and Rangers have won the Scottish league title uninterrupted for thirty years and counting, yet Scots still enjoy their football.
No one begrudges Ronaldo and Messi. Their prolonged dominance of the beautiful game is a testament to an enduring spirit of self-motivation, determination and renewal. Except, their failure to stamp a mark on Russia 2018 opens the door for a new kid on the block to claim the annual accolade.
All of the ten-man short list for this year’s award had an outstanding season. When national team managers and captains, plus a selection of eminent soccer journalists make their choice soon, any of Raphael Varane, Eden Hazard, Harry Kane, Antoine Griezmann, Luca Modric and Kylian Mbappe will feel they are in with a genuine shout to break the CR7-Messi duopoly.
Using an elimination process, I have concluded that this year’s award belongs to Griezmann. True, Varane won the Champions League and World Cup but his numbers don’t add up for his to become the first defender since Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 to be bestowed with title of world’s best player.
Same applies to Eden Hazard, whose starring role in Chelsea’s FA Cup triumph and Belgium’s march to third place in Russia belies an underwhelming league season.
Until February, Messi was a cast-iron certainty to win his sixth Ballon D’Or. The Argentine genius’ goals and assists as Barcelona sewed up an eighth Primera Liga title in eleven years and third successive Copa del Rey, were mesmerizing. But he faded as the season wore on, and was absent without Leave as AS Roma knocked Blagruana out of the Champions League.
Inversely, Ronaldo’s numbers from January to June as Real Madrid lifted Big Ears were stunning. However, in a World Cup year, I can’t see Messi repeating his 2010 fate of beating then Inter Milan and Holland star Wesley Sneidjer, or for that matter Ronaldo toppling Bayern Munich’s Frank Ribery to the 2013 award.
In similar vein, Harry Kane’s World Cup Golden Boot and goals blitz with Spurs did not result in silverware. Which takes us to Kylian Mbappe, whose breakthrough season ended with glory in Russia. But in the cold light of day, a serious analyst has to consider Paris Saint Germain’s Champions League capitulation to Real Madrid with a whimper. Both Mbappe and Neymar could not stand out to be counted.
This leaves me with Modric and Griezmann. When I first saw Fifa’s shortlist, my first instinct was to say World Cup Golden Ball winner should get the accolade. His leadership in Croatia’s march to the semifinals and creativity as Real lifted Big Ears for a third year in a row was for the ages.
Nevertheless, Griezmann tops him. The Atletico Madrid front man carried his club’s goal scoring burden as they challenged Barca in La Liga. Besides, the Frenchman top scored in both Atletico’s successful Europa League and Les Bleus’ World Cup campaign.
*Hand the Ballon D’Or to Griezmann*