The Ballon d’Or... could it really not wind up in the hands of Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi?
Mohamed Salah is polling very well in the fan vote.
Paul Pogba says he’s not deserving, but give it to N’Golo Kante, Raphael Varane, Kylian Mbappe or Antoine Griezmann.
And Griezmann thinks it has to be a Frenchman, saying, “In this best team in the World, there must be the best player in the world, right? ... But I think that a Frenchman must be Ballon d’Or.”
Then there’s Luka Modric, who won FIFA’s Best Player award.
[ PL ROUNDTABLE: The story so far ]
This year has seen more talk of a winner not named Messi or Ronaldo since 2010, when Messi pipped Andres Iniesta to the honor, or 2007 when Kaka finished ahead of the pair.
In fact, those are the only two years since 2007 that Messi and Ronaldo didn’t finish 1-2 in some order, with each claiming five Ballons d’Or.
Our esteemed editor, Joe Prince-Wright, has Ronaldo three and Messi four this year, behind World Cup winner Mbappe and World Cup finalist Modric.
And I get that, really I do. But is there any doubt that Messi and Ronaldo remain the two best players in the world? And is there a really an argument that any player had a better season that either one?
Let’s go strictly cosmetic stats to start to separate the goal producers, which leaves Kante, Modric, and others for another discussion.
Outstanding seasons, no doubt. Ronaldo still managed better than a goal-per-game while helping Real Madrid the first Champions League threepeat since the 1970s. Salah was the best part of the most scintillating non-possession based attack in the world. Griezmann and Messi’s numbers speak for themselves, while Mbappe -- sorry Joe -- for me sits a clear fifth.
For me, it’s 1) Messi, 2) Griezmann, 3) Ronaldo, 4) Salah, 5) Mbappe
For non-scorers, it’s 1) Kante, 2) Modric, 3) Kevin De Bruyne
Yes, we made it this far without mentioning KDB, or Eden Hazard, or Harry Kane!
This is most certainly the dawn of the post-Messi/Ronaldo era, but I don’t see the 10-year run atop the list ending this season.
Why? Because I cannot fathom a world in which the majority of voters don’t eyeball the game, take the smell test, and say two words.
Spending some time comparing my Top Four attackers on advanced stats site Squawka buttresses the gut feeling. While Salah was better than Messi in the Champions League -- the road perhaps a bit easier -- Messi was far superior to the field in league play.
Messi rates better in possession and defensive statistics, but here’s what I’d ask you to consider in assessing last season. Your favorite club earns a massive win against Barcelona, Liverpool, Real, Atleti, or PSG. Insert each players’ name, and which one feels more of an indictment on your win:
“Yeah, but (insert player here) didn’t play.”
EPILOGUE: For what it’s worth, there’s a huge sentimental part of me that says Griezmann’s continued stardom on an understated Atleti or Kante’s game-changing performance in three different champion midfields (Chelsea, Leicester City, France) should lift the trophy. But it’s going to go to one of the more prolific scorers... and that means Messi.