Luka Modric has broken the stranglehold of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi on the Ballon d’Or…but who will secure football’s most coveted individual prize for 2019?
For 10 straight years from 2008, only Messi and Ronaldo, with five wins apiece, lifted the Ballon d’Or which is awarded to the finest player during a calendar year. That stat is hardly surprising since the duo are generally considered to be neck and neck for the status of being the greatest footballer of all time.
But in 2018, which was a World Cup year, they were finally usurped. The Golden Ball instead went to Luka Modric who, like Ronaldo, had won the Champions League for the fourth time in five seasons with Real Madrid, but also inspired Croatia to reach their first ever World Cup Final.
Does that mean the domination of Messi and Ronaldo, who are now 32 and 34 respectively, is over for good? Well, it could certainly be difficult for them to get their hands back on the Ballon d’Or in 2019 when neither of the ‘big two’ has won the Champions League.
Instead, it was Liverpool who tasted glory at the home of Atletico Madrid – and a new favourite has emerged for the top individual award that will be presented as an extra-special Christmas present to the recipient.
Virgil van Dijk has transformed Liverpool’s defence since his £75million move from Southampton in January 2018. The giant Dutchman is an immoveable object in the Reds’ back line, proving impossible to dribble past in the Premier League, and despite costing his club a world-record fee for a defender he now looks an absolute bargain at the price.
Also, Van Dijk has played a key role in the Netherlands’ resurgence as an international team – they finished runners-up to Ronaldo’s Portugal side in the inaugural UEFA Nations League this year.
Messi is second favourite having been the clear top scorer in the 2018-19 Champions League, his 12 goals doubling Ronaldo’s total. At this stage, the Barcelona maestro is regarded by the bookmakers as the only serious challenger to Van Dijk for the Ballon d’Or.
Among the more credible outsiders are a cluster of Liverpool players – Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and goalkeeper Alisson, who also enjoyed a fantastic Copa America campaign with Brazil by keeping clean sheet after clean sheet.
Also worth considering is Kylian Mbappe. The Paris Saint-Germain striker is surely destined to win the Ballon d’Or one day and with his ability ceiling being so high, it is not out of the question that he could do something magical in the second half of 2019 to tip the scales in his favour.
2019 Ballon d’Or odds (all with William Hill)
8/11 Virgil van Dijk
6/5 Lionel Messi
16/1 Cristiano Ronaldo
16/1 Mo Salah
20/1 Kylian Mbappe
20/1 Raheem Sterling
33/1 Sergio Aguero
33/1 Antoine Griezmann
33/1 Harry Kane
40/1 Eden Hazard