Our thoughts on who should win the Ballon d'Or in a rare, competitive year for the top individual award in the game.
The 2018 Ballon d'Or will be awarded on Monday, when the top talents on the planet find out which one will take home world football's top individual prize. If prior 2018 awards that have already been doled out are any indication, then what has been a decade-long battle between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo may finally have a new winner for the first time since Kaká in 2007.
So who should win the honors, and what do we think about the voting process as a whole? Here are our thoughts on the field, the potential winner and our unofficial top 10 ballots:
CREDITOR: Luis, this year’s Ballon d’Or finally carries some intrigue. After 10 years of Messi and Ronaldo dominance, in which each winner was generally a consensus choice (aside from a tight vote in 2013), there’s at least a discussion to be had. Luka Modric has won UEFA and FIFA’s top player awards for the year, but there are candidates aside from him who all have arguments to make for the France Football voting electorate. Let’s run through some of the favorites and their cases. First off, the reigning champion and trophy-obsessed Ronaldo. Is he worthy of winning it again?
ECHEGARAY: Well, if we go by his Juventus cheerleaders (with manager Max Allegri and teammate Blaise Matuidi saying he should be the winner) you'd think so, and it can't be forgotten that he scored his 400th league goal this year–the first to hit that tally in Europe's top five leagues. But I think Portugal's exit from the World Cup and a slow start with Juventus at the beginning of this current season might not be enough for him to win. I think, no matter who you are, it's always going to be difficult to win an award when you move clubs and different goals and targets are set during the transition.
CREDITOR: What Ronaldo did in helping lead Real Madrid to another Champions League crown was incredible, there's no denying it. His scoring record (he scored in every group game, the last 16 and quarterfinals and had that goal vs. Juventus) speaks for itself. With Portugal in the World Cup, he was a menace vs. Spain and Morocco and then became less of a factor. The standard set for him (and Messi for that matter) is so unbelievably high, and if it weren't a World Cup year, the title would be all his.
But you know how this works. To the trophy-winning–or final-reaching–teams often goes the individual hardware. So what's your say on Modric, who played his usual vital role for Real Madrid and helped Croatia to its first World Cup final?
ECHEGARAY: Modric is such a perfect example of what we are talking about. As you said, being part of a Champions League-winning team last season with Real Madrid, along with the tremendous World Cup achievement (and winning the Golden Ball in the process) can't be ignored. I mean, we really can't forget the fact that Croatia–Croatia–made it to the World Cup final, and from an individual perspective, Luka Modric was the key reason for this.
But, if I am going to say Ronaldo probably won't get it because of his slow start to the season, then what do we make of the Croatian midfielder, who is practically a shadow himself right now?
Ultimately, it's this: Who made the most noise in 2018 and achieved the almost-impossible. It was Luka Modric. And he will probably win it. You raise another great point too–our barometer for Ronaldo and Messi is so high now that anything but a perfect season impedes anyone else from winning a title such as the Ballon d'Or. They are judged in a different way.
CREDITOR: No doubt. I would offer a caveat that slow starts to this season shouldn't necessarily overshadow earlier achievements. Especially after the long 2017-18 club runs going right into a World Cup, there's bound to be a dip in form. So regardless of Modric's play this season with Real, he's certainly the leader in the clubhouse. And as much as these awards should not be about lifetime achievement, you could argue that he's been overlooked as a member of the elite level for too long, that something like this is deserved on the whole.
But what about the team that Modric and Croatia fell to, in France? There are a number of potential candidates, when you look at Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and even Raphael Varane, who did the Champions League-World Cup double (and has three-time winner Michel Platini's backing). Do any make sense as a potential winner for you?
ECHEGARAY: Oh, Raphael Varane. How would I love to see you win this. Ha! But there's no way that's happening, because despite his incredible sense of leadership and rise as a dominant center back for two winning teams, these awards are ultimately judged by goals (no defender has won the award since Fabio Cannavaro in 2006). Mbappe made his global statement in Russia, but PSG bowing out of the 2017-18 Champions League in the round of 16 is going to leave a mark. He will win all the awards, but not just yet.
As for Antoine Griezmann? His goals for Atletico Madrid and France speak for themselves. His Europa League title and World Cup trophy and performance in Russia (where he won the Bronze Ball behind Modric and Eden Hazard as the competition's top player) do, too. So to me, out of any French player, he would lead the way, given his consistent productivity for club and country. But is it enough to win the award? I'm not sure.
CREDITOR: I'm not either. I kind of disagree with the argument that just because a team won a title narrows award winners down to that team. It should be a big factor, of course, but not the only factor. What about Mohamed Salah (Liverpool finished runner up in the Premier League and the Champions League, and he led Egypt to its first World Cup in 28 years), Kevin de Bruyne (Man City raced away with the Premier League title) and, oh, I don't know ... Messi? Barcelona nearly went unbeaten in Spain, and Messi was incredible throughout. It's amazing to me that we're talking about the top three players of the year and he's not part of the conversation. Because if that's the case, it's a very flawed conversation.
ECHEGARAY: I'm so glad you brought up La Pulga. Don't even talk to me about Messi. Any awards show that doesn't include him in a conversation is ... well, as you said, not a conversation. He is, to me, the best player in the world. And any kind of accolade needs him in the discussion. But the issue is that we're talking about an event that that is flawed, because to me, this is the point–awards shows in these categories don't always select the people who should be selected.
So my points are different from what I think and what is actually going to happen with Ballon d'Or. I don't necessarily think that award-winning teams are the end-all determinant to select a winner but I think that's how these awards shows do it. Does that make sense? So is Modric the best player in the world? No, of course not. Do I think he'll win Ballon d'Or? Yes.
CREDITOR: O.K. so taking everything into consideration–team achievements, individual ones, the World Cup, league play, Champions League play, etc.–who makes up your top 10? I'll go, in order: Modric, Ronaldo, Messi, Griezmann, Salah, De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Varane, Mbappe and Harry Kane.
ECHEGARAY: I'll go Modric, Messi, Ronaldo, Griezmann, Salah, Mbappe, N'Golo Kante, Varane, De Bruyne, Hazard.
CREDITOR: We'll find out the real winner soon enough.