The most anticipated individual football award of the year, the Ballon D’or has been announced. Congratulations to Luka Modric for being the first player that isn’t Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo to win the coveted award since Kaka, way back in 2007.
Due to the unrivalled dominance of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the last 10 years, the appearance of the Premier League in the Ballon D’or is very scarce to say the least. What you may be more surprised at is the fact that only two Premier League players have ever won the award. Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United won it back in 2008, whilst Michael Owen was crowned the best footballer of 2001 when he was with Liverpool. Quite a staggeringly low number for arguably the greatest domestic league in world football.
So how did the Premier League fare this year? Four players made the top 10 ranking, however none made the top 5. Mo Salah was the highest placement at 6th, followed by Eden Hazard in 8th, Kevin De Bruyne in 9th and Harry Kane in 10th. N’Golo Kante, Paul Pogba, Sergio Aguero, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, Alisson Becker and Hugo Lloris also made the top 30 shortlist.
Some may argue that this year’s standings are somewhat surprising, and maybe, unfair. Take Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest footballer ever, who only finished a lowly 5th (by his extremely high standards I must add). The first time he has finished outside the top three since 2007. This was in a season where he won both La Liga and the Copa del Rey.
It seems that there is one glaringly obvious factor that influences these standings that occurs but once every four years. Football’s greatest award, the World Cup. Modric had an unbelievable season, not only did he win the Champions League with Real Madrid but he also made the World Cup Final, the first time in Croatia’s history. Luka was a major driving force in the run to Moscow and even won player of the tournament. The remainder of the top 5 that haven’t been mentioned also won either the Champions League or World Cup.
Mo Salah had an undoubtedly incredible 2018. He finished as the Premier League top scorer with 32 goals, breaking the previous record for goals in a 38 game season (31). He also helped propel Liverpool to their first Champions League final since 2007. However, Egypt were never expected to excel at the World Cup and so Salah crashed out in the group stage. He did still manage two in two though. Maybe in a different year when the World Cup didn’t take place, Salah may have finished higher on the board. Again, Harry Kane also had an incredible year, his 30 goals was somewhat overshadowed by Salah’s 32 but he did make the World Cup Semi-finals with England, finishing as the Golden Boot winner of Russia 2018.
The Premier League appears to not be regarded as highly as it once was. The dominance of English teams in Europe just isn’t what it perhaps should be. Barring Liverpool last season, the last time an English team made the Champions League final was Chelsea in 2012. If you ask someone what the best teams in the world are, they’ll likely say Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus or Bayern Munich. This seems to have a major role in determining the Ballon d’Or winner, despite this being an individual award.
On the other hand, the teams mentioned above do contain some of the most fantastic players in world football right now and you can’t really disagree with that. Messi and Ronaldo haven’t been the top two best players in the world because they play for Barcelona and Juventus (previously Real Madrid) respectively, they play for those teams because they are the best players in the world. Would the likes of Mo Salah and Eden Hazard have the same impact if they went abroad to such teams? Take Gareth Bale for example, whilst an outstanding player, he did not have the same impact that Ronaldo did when he transferred over to Real Madrid.
It must also be said that the Premier League was the highest contributor to the top 10 finishers along with La Liga (4) and made up 11 of the top 30. These players just miss out on the best of the best, and perhaps rightfully so. If the Premier League can establish itself in Europe, there’s no reason why in the coming years we could see the likes of Salah, Kane, De Bruyne and Hazard break into the top five and who knows, maybe beyond that still.