Ask any kid born during the turn of the millennium or a couple years before who is currently the greatest footballer in the world, and you are almost guaranteed to get two names instead of one: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. This is because since 2008 till date, both have interchanged the Ballon d’Or between them.
Former Brazilian playmaker, Ricardo Kaká was the last player to win the award in 2007. Since then, in-between the six-year merging of the award by France Football with FIFA to become The FIFA Ballon d’Or from 2010-2016; between several gifted stars with different measures of grace and pedigree, guile and wizardry being involved in football, only one thing has stayed the same in football’s fight for individual supremacy: the duopolistic stranglehold on the Ballon d’Or by Ronaldo and Messi. Alongside these winnings, almost all known records have tumbled in their wake while legends of the beautiful game have been effortlessly eclipsed.
Ronaldo and Messi. Photo: AFP
Ronaldo and Messi. Photo credit: AFP
But for the first time, 2018 seems to be the year the world of football gets a new king. I mention this with every sense of awareness to the ridiculousness of the many times we have written these superhumans off only to be forced to swallow our words in utter silence to their mythological phoenix-like abilities.
In the 2017/2018 season, Ronaldo scored 44 goals in 44 games on his way to leading Real Madrid CF to an unprecedented third consecutive UEFA Champions League title, and the fifth of his career—the most ever won by a player in the competition’s history. However, he was outshone in the final by teammate Gareth Bale who scored two spectacular goals. But even Bale somehow outdid himself with another injury at the most crucial period of his national team’s season as Wale failed to qualify for the FIFA World Cup.
Ronaldo’s eternal rival, Lionel Messi meanwhile in his 54 domestic and European matches for FC Barcelona managed to smash in 45 goals, guiding the Catalan side to a La Liga and Copa del Rey double as he claimed another Pichichi title, and just added the Spanish Super Cup to his trophy haul. However, his club season will be judged by an abysmal run to the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League which ended spectacularly in Rome.
Both, however, had World Cup tournaments they would rather forget as they failed to get past the second round—Ronaldo to Uruguay and Messi to France and a Kylian Mbappé masterclass.
Mentioning Mbappé, the youngster did his chances for future domination in football no harm with an electric performance which culminated in him winning the FIFA World Cup, notching four goals in the process including one in the final to become the first teenager since the great Pelé in 1958. He would be recognised with the FIFA World Cup Best Young Player Award, to add to his French domestic treble.
The player of the tournament, Luka Modrić, often overshadowed by Ronaldo and Real Madrid’s galactico frontline has come into his own in recent years by dictating play, driving the offensive line coinciding with Madrid’s dominance in Europe. He is really one of the favourites for the Ballon d’Or not just for his club performances in the past year but winning 3 Budweiser Man of The Match awards by notching important goals and assists on the way to dragging an average Croatian side to the FIFA World Cup final—their first ever. Despite losing to Mbappé’s France in the final, he still won the Adidas Golden Ball as the best player of the tournament.
Antoine Griezmann, another World Cup winner, added to his Europa League title with the Adidas Bronze ball and Silver Boot in the same tournament Neymar Santos Jr., even though he started the season strongly before his season-ending injury in February, exited with such ridiculous theatrics to all but end any chance of winning the award this year.
Eden Hazard won the FA Cup with Chelsea FC before leading Belgium to third place at the FIFA World Cup, finishing with the Adidas Silver Ball as the second best player of the tournament. Other footballers like Harry Kane, Kevin de Bruyne, and Mohammed Salah’s record-shattering maiden season with Liverpool all have a chance to usurp Ronaldo and Messi this season.
But whether this is the first time someone breaks the duopolistic hegemony or not, the end is inevitable though, and biological evidences attest to this as Ronaldo turns 34 in February while Messi will approach his 32nd year shortly after.
It is a new era in football and this time, it is led by young sensations who are ready to replace the older generation even if those humongous boots are both Ronaldo’s and Messi’s. As much as both dread the possible inevitability to the end of their dominance in the beautiful game, this could be the beginning of the end for Ronaldo and Messi.