BY ADEBAYO OLODAN
World football governing body, FIFA on Monday released a 30-man shortlist for the 2018 Ballon d’Or with some regular names and surprise inclusions and exclusions.
As expected, five-time winners, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi topped the list. Also on the shortlist are; Harry Kane, Luka Modric, Eden Hazard, and PSG and France striker, Kylian Mbappe.
As observed, the list is dominated by players from the 2018 World Cup winning France squad and European Champions, Real Madrid.
Among the surprise exclusions are Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Barcelona’s Samuel Umtiti, United’s David De Gea, Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski, Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk, and Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic.
Also, there were quite a few surprise inclusions with the likes of Karim Benzema who scored five goals for Real Madrid and was omitted from the World Cup winning France squad. There is also a certain Luis Suarez of Barcelona on the list.
Taking a closer look at the 30 shortlist, two players; Raphael Varane and Luka Modric deserve the award and one of the two is expected to break the duopoly of Messi and Ronaldo, based on their form for club and country in the year and season under review.
Any name outside Varane and Modric for the Ballon d’Or award in Paris on December 3rd 2018, will be a huge surprise to football aficionados across the globe.
Raphael Xavier Varane: Varane is one of the very few players in the world to win both the UEFA Champions League and FIFA World Cup in the same year. The defender was phenomenal for Real Madrid in the 2017/18 UEFA Champions League and played a stellar role in their title win. He was solid at the back and formed a great partnership with Sergio Ramos.
Varane has a certain Jode Mourinho to appreciate for how fast his career has blossomed. At only 18, the defender was preferred for a first team spot ahead of highly experienced Pepe at Real Madrid. Ever since he was handed his debut in 2011/12 season by the Portuguese coach after being signed from French club, Lens, Varane has refused to look back putting in faultless performances in every game he has played, surprisingly, he is only 25 and could be around for another decade!
Varane’s value has skyrocketed after his stunning exploits at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The Real Madrid star was exceptional for France in the tournament and played a crucial role in their title success. He made seven appearances in the tournament and was one of their best players. Though Ballon d’Or’s history favours attacking players, the centre-back has every chance to win this one considering his achievements for club and country.
Luka Modric: Born in Zadar, Croatia on September 9, 1985, it took a remarkable season for this diminutive midfielder to beat Messi and Ronaldo to the 2018 FIFA Best Men’s Player Award. Modric was sensational for Real Madrid in the 2017/18 UEFA Champions League. Though the trequartista playmaker doesn’t score a lot of goals, he is known for his vision, precision in execution and tactical strategy. The former Tottenham start orchestrated Real Madrid’s midfield and was the engine room behind their stunning display. In 127 and 174 appearances he scored 13 and 9 goals for Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid respectively.
He did not stop with that. With two goals and an assist, Modric was unstoppable for Croatia in the 2018 World Cup. He led his national team to the finals of the tournament and even won the Golden Ball for his stunning exploits in Russia. With Modric already in his early 30s, there may be no better than for him to make history by denying Messi and Ronaldo the ward than now.
Kylian Mbappe: He may be only 19 but Kylian Mbappe is without doubt the latest sensation in world football at the moment. He became the second most expensive player in the world when he made a move from Monaco to Paris Saint-Germain during the summer of 2017. He was brilliant for PSG last season with 13 goals and eight assists in 24 Ligue 1 starts. He also added four goals in the Champions League.
Highly commendable was the role he played in ensuring France lifted the World Cup in Russia. He tormented defenders and formed a deadly partnership with Antoine Griezmann in Didier Deschamps’ team scoring four goals in 7 appearances. It was not a surprise that he was voted ‘The Young Player of the Tournament’ and was even shortlisted for the ‘Best Player’ award in Russia which eventually was on by Modric. Mbappe is surely one of the most lethal finishers in the globe at the moment and even if he does not win this particular Ballon d’Or award, the youngster has many years ahead of him and may only need to switch allegiance from the French League to the La Liga or Premiership to realise that soon.
Cristiano Ronaldo: The former Real Madrid star and the winner of 2017 Ballon d’Or award is one of the top contenders for the 2018 Ballon d’Or award. Ronaldo has won five Ballon d’Or awards in his illustrious career.
In 26 La Liga appearances last season, the Portuguese international scored 26 goals and created five more. He was absolutely ruthless in the UEFA Champions League.
In 13 appearances in the European competition, Ronaldo scored 15 goals and created three more. He finished as the top scorer in the tournament and led Real Madrid to their third consecutive European silverware. He also scored four goals in four appearances at the 2018 World Cup but was not able to take his team past the Round of 16. After struggling in his early days at Juventus, Ronaldo appeared to have found his form at the right time and if he continues scoring like he has done in recent weeks, the Italian club may land their dream Champions League title at the end of the current campaign.
Antoine Griezmann: Born on March 21, 1991 and raised in Macon, Griezmann like his French compatriot, Raphael Varane won two titles. He won the Europa Cup with his club, Athletico Madrid in addition to lifting the World Cup in Russia.
Though he was close to winning the award once (2016), Griezmann has never had it so good having scored four goals for France enroute their triumph in Russia.