The Ballon d’Or is football’s most prestigious award that any player could hope to win in their career. Only true legends of the game are worthy of officially being viewed as the best player in the world for that particular season. Earning this title isn’t something which is easy to obtain with some top players never quite making the cut; Thierry Henry, Andres Iniesta and Paolo Maldini are just a few of the players that fit into this category.
In recent times, since 2007 in fact, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have completely dominated, winning the award 5 times each. It’s fair to say that the debate over who is truly the best player in the world is exclusively between these two who are simply a class above the rest. This could be part of the reason why some other top players of the Ronaldo-Messi era missed out on the award, and understandably so. However, you have to wonder why this has suddenly changed. Both players are still at the peak of their game constantly putting in impressive performances, racking up goals and breaking endless amounts of records. It’s not as if they are past their best and that a different player is now of a higher standard. Yet, for the first time in 11 years, neither Messi or Ronaldo won it with Madrid’s Luka Modric claiming the top spot.
A World Cup year does often have an impact on the Ballon d’Or and so it should, but perhaps not to the extent it has this time round. Whilst the World Cup is arguably the tournament every professional dreams of winning the most, you have to remember that, even if a nation progresses all the way to the final, they are only playing a total of 7 games. Luka Modric managed to achieve this putting on outstanding performances throughout the entire tournament before losing to France in the final. Croatia were the shock side with no one expecting them to get as far as they did perhaps making their achievement all the more impressive. Yet, Modric’s World Cup campaign has almost led to the entire domestic season being overlooked. Did Modric really perform better than Messi and Ronaldo, undoubtedly the best players in the world, across an entire year of club football rather than just in an international competition which is over within a matter of weeks? You have to feel that the World Cup won Modric this award. That view is evidenced by the fact that Messi was supposedly only the 5th best player in the world for the 2017-18 season, beaten by Ronaldo and, you guessed it, two French players who just so happen to be World Cup winners.
It was not just the standings for the award that made this year’s Ballon d’Or somewhat of a joke. Anyone who had any sort of interest in who was going to win would most likely have known the result before it was even announced. A leaked image showed the list of players in the running for first place right the way down to 30th just hours before the ceremony was to begin. With any sort of social media leak there’s always the possibility that it’s completely false, made up by some nobody looking for a bit of publicity. That was not to be the case with the true results matching exactly what was shown in the leak. It clearly wasn’t just us spectators who were already aware of who was going to win either, but the players as well. Messi and Ronaldo didn’t even attend the ceremony whilst Neymar stayed at home finding publicly streaming a video game to be a better use of his time.
One thing the 2018 Ballon d’Or did seem to have going for it was that it was to be the first time a female player was to become a winner of this award. With the women’s game now being more popular than it has ever been before, it’s about time a female player was given this illustrious title just like the men have been for over 60 years now. Lyon’s Norwegian striker Ada Hegerberg would have been excited to receive her well-deserved reward but her moment in the spotlight was overshadowed by host, Martin Solveig’s, sexist comments. Whilst any male winner would have been profusely praised or perhaps questioned about their fondest moment from that year of football, for example, Hegerberg was completely disrespected when Solveig asked if she knew how to ‘twerk’. The French DJ has since apologised on Twitter claiming it was a joke and that it was an invitation to dance to a Sinatra song that was playing, or something? Given that the the ceremony is such a public event there must have been a significant amount of planning and rehearsal to ensure everything would run smoothly. This must mean that either Solveig did properly pre-plan this question and was incapable of coming up with something more suitable to ask the best female player in world football despite the extensive preparations, or it wasn’t in the script and he was just so irrational that he didn’t realise how big of a mistake asking such a sexist question would be. Regardless, it was a huge blunder from the host which only further contributed to the ceremony becoming a real embarrassment.
You have to feel some sympathy for both the male and female winners on the night. Hegerberg is a top quality footballer in her own right, deserving much higher levels of respect than she was shown when being presented with her award. Much like her, Luka Modric is also a player who demands similar respect. Whilst he is not necessarily a truly deserving winner given the quality of Messi and Ronaldo, he is unquestionably one of the best central midfielders in the world. You can’t help but think that the 2018 Ballon d’Or will be remembered for the complete mess it became rather than for who were crowned the winners. The achievements of top-class players shouldn’t fade into the background of what was, overall, a fairly catastrophic 2018 Ballon d’Or.