FIFA Best Player 2018: Ranking the 10 Nominees

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Will Cristiano Ronaldo defend his crown?

Ever since FIFA and France Football went their separate ways, there have been two awards given out for the best player in the world - the Ballon d'Or and FIFA's 'The Best'. Although weirdly named, it is new on the scene and it does seem like one that fans do look forward to with interest.

Last year saw Cristiano Ronaldo beat Lionel Messi and Neymar to win his second award. Will he make it a three-peat this year as well?

With the FIFA World Cup also coming into the picture when votes are cast, there is some serious competition for the award this year. We've ranked the players who are favourites to win the trophy in September after FIFA announced the list of nominees.

Note: Achievements between 3 July 2017 to 15 July 2018 are considered. Votes by fans and key members of the football community are tallied to declare the winner.

#10 Raphael Varane (Real Madrid / France)

Raphael Varane won the World Cup with France

Sadly, such awards rarely go to defenders - especially when the fans have a say. The last defender to win the Ballon d'Or or World Player of the Year was Fabio Cannavaro who captained Italy to a World Cup triumph in 2006.

Raphael Varane did win the World Cup with France and the UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid (his third consecutive European title and fourth overall). At the age of 25, he has already won 16 trophies!

The Frenchman was the perfect foil for Sergio Ramos in Real Madrid's defence while his sturdy performances at the World Cup made him a suitable partner for the more adventurous Samuel Umtiti.

Calm and composed in the back-line, Varane rarely put a foot wrong as Real beat top league champions from Europe such as Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, and Juventus on their way to the final.

With France, he helped Les Bleus keep a clean sheet against Uruguay and Belgium in the knockout stages, even managing to open the scoring against a tough Uruguayan defence.

His presence in set-pieces on both ends of the pitch was arguably why he was one of France's best players and deservedly gets a nomination.

#9 Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur / England)

Harry Kane was the top goalscorer at the 2018 World Cup

Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane has come a long way since his breakthrough season in the Premier League. Back then, he was tagged a one-season wonder and wasn't expected to repeat those heroics.

He has since averaged 33 goals a season with the Spurs and last season saw him score 41 goals in all competitions - including a career-high 30 goals in the Premier League.

Although he missed out on the Premier League Golden Boot, he made up for it by winning the Golden Boot at the World Cup with six goals.

There was some criticism, though, because he wasn't able to find the back of the net much n open play (two goals came from set-pieces while three were penalties). But when the likes of Messi and Ronaldo miss penalties at the World Cup, one can't complain.

Nevertheless, he hasn't done enough to win the award yet and a lack of any trophies or even a runners-up medal will not help his chances either.

#8 Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City / Belgium)

Manchester City v Huddersfield Town - Premier League
Kevin De Bruyne won the Premier League title with Manchester City

Manchester City would not have broken records in the Premier League if not for the man who made them tick from midfield - Kevin De Bruyne.

Pep Guardiola had a decision to make when he started both the Belgian and David Silva together and the two no.10s played dove-tailed beautifully without getting in each other's way.

8 goals and 16 assists in the league saw City race away to the Premier League title with a record haul of 100 points. De Bruyne was in the running for the Player of the Year award to until a certain Egyptian forward hit the form of his life.

At the World Cup, Belgium experimented with De Bruyne's position a bit but he delivered when it mattered most with a fine long-range goal to knock the stuffing out of Brazil - a goal that eventually sealed Belgium's progress to the semi-finals.

#7 Eden Hazard (Chelsea / Belgium)

Eden Hazard captained Belgium to a third-place finish at the World Cup

It is safe to say that Eden Hazard did not have the best of seasons with Chelsea. As defending champions, the Blues finished outside the top four and failed to qualify for the Champions League.

But Hazard was the only spark in a team that was clearly on the decline. The Belgian had 12 goals and 4 assists by the end of the season but at least he had an FA Cup winners medal to show for it as his goal saw the London side beat Manchester United 1-0 in the final.

Putting the disappointing season behind him, Hazard then led a very talented Belgium side - their Golden Generation - at the World Cup, and the Red Devils had a successful campaign.

Roberto Martinez's side finished third with Hazard contributing with three goals in Russia - including one in the third-place playoff. But he won't go down in history for those goals alone.

Hazard was unplayable at the World Cup in most of the games and nobody completed more dribbles than the Chelsea forward. 40 successful dribbles at 6.7 per game - both tournament highs.

His performances could even lead to a Chelsea exit with Real Madrid waiting to sign the Belgian talisman.

#6 Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid / France)

Antoine Griezmann led France's attack in their successful World Cup campaign

Antoine Griezmann may not have gone home with the Golden Boot at the World Cup. With 4 goals and 2 assists, he was one of France's best players.

But he will be happy nonetheless, having led Les Bleus to their second World Cup title. France coach Didier Deschamps experimented with formations but Griezmann had a free role in and around the final third that allowed the attack to flow through him on numerous occasions.

Three of his goals came in the knockout stages and it was his penalty that saw France take the lead before the half-time break, effectively changing the game and allowing them to win 4-2.

That's not all. With 29 goals for Atletico Madrid, he was a driving force in their Europa League campaign, as the Rojiblancos lifted the trophy with a win over Marseille in the final where he grabbed a brace.

He was also one of the top goalscorers in the competition with six goals having taken part only in the latter stages of the tournament.

#5 Mohamed Salah (Liverpool / Egypt)

Liverpool v Brighton and Hove Albion - Premier League
Mohamed Salah won the Premier League Golden Boot for the 2017/18 season

For a long time, it seemed like the Premier League record for most goals in a season would never be broken. Alan Shearer (Blackburn Rovers), Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United), and Luis Suarez (Liverpool) had all scored 31 league goals in a season but no more.

Then came Mohamed Salah. Not many expected the Egyptian forward to impress immediately given his travails at Chelsea a few years ago but he was on a mission to silence doubters.

Under Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool scored 84 goals (second only to Manchester City) with the trio of Salah, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mane working wonders.

Also read: How Jurgen Klopp created the best attacking trio in Europe at Liverpool

With 32 goals, Salah walked away with the Premier League Golden Boot. He also led the Reds to the Champions League final with 10 goals (the same as Firmino and Mane) - second only to Ronaldo.

Sadly, a shoulder injury in the final prevented Liverpool from repeating their 2005 success as an early substitution saw the Reds lose their main attacking threat before surrendering to Real Madrid.

It prevented Salah from playing the first group game at the World Cup and even though he scored in the next two games, Egypt weren't good enough to progress to the knockout stages.

#4 Luka Modric (Real Madrid / Croatia)

Real Madrid v Liverpool - UEFA Champions League Final
Luka Modric won his fourth Champions League title with Real Madrid

To really understand how important Luka Modric is to Real Madrid, watch games when he has been absent from the starting lineup. Real struggle to move the ball forward and his presence in midfield is the final piece in the jigsaw that has made this European-trophy-winning machine run so smoothly.

Teams have won three European trophies in a row before but it is unprecedented in the Champions League era. And Modric's skills on the ball, his passing range, and general ability to find space in crowded areas is what made Real so dangerous on the ball.

It was the same with Croatia as well. Playing in an advanced role for his country, Modric was the orchestrator-in-chief for the side that made history by qualifying for the final for the first time ever.

It was his goal that put a nail in Argentina's coffin while his all-round displays (including crucial goals in two penalty shootouts) saw him win the World Cup Golden Ball award, even though he would have liked to go home with the World Cup trophy instead.

#3 Lionel Messi (Barcelona / Argentina)

Barcelona v Deportivo La Coruna - La Liga
Lionel Messi was the top goalscorer in Europe in 2017/18

Was there a better goalscorer in club football last season? Nope! Lionel Messi was on top of his game as Barcelona won La Liga (almost unbeaten) and the Copa del Rey to seal yet another double.

There was a lot of disappointment when they were knocked out of the Champions League but Messi was a force to reckon with in La Liga.

How much did he dominate the Spanish top flight? 33 goals (1st), 12 assists (1st), 84 chances created (1st), 174 successful dribbles (1st).

In a league as technical as La Liga, Messi was virtually unstoppable and rescued Barcelona even when he was rested and came on as a substitute when things weren't going their way.

At the World Cup, though, he was let down by a poor squad and an even poorer coach in Jorge Sampaoli who had no clear plan and experimented way too much. Messi did score to drag them to the knockout stages but they were beaten by a France side who were superior in many aspects, evident from their eventual win.

Also read: Lionel Messi's Sisyphean Task Highlights Argentina's Bleak Road to Recovery

#2 Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain / France)

France v Croatia - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Final
Kylian Mbappe - a world champion at 19

Kylian Mbapp's achievements in the past one-and-a-half years with Monaco and PSG is evidence enough that he can no longer be counted as a breakout star. But on the international level, the World Cup was his tournament.

It takes greatness to be compared with Pele at such a young age but so far he has already mirrored the Brazil legend's career path on the world stage. Pele was the first teenager to win the World Cup and Mbappe has only followed in his footsteps.

What's more, he even scored in the final - just as Pele had done. But his performances right from the group stages to the knockout stages showed he was Les Bleus' focal point of attack.

With four goals - including a brace against Argentina and the knockout punch in the final, Mbappe walked away with the Best Young Player award.

Oh, and this was all after he had won a domestic treble with PSG having scored 21 goals in the 2017/18 season.

He is only 19!

#1 Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid / Portugal)

Real Madrid v Liverpool - UEFA Champions League Final
Cristiano Ronaldo lifted his fifth Champions League trophy this season

Say what you will about the Portuguese forward, but the Champions League is one competition that he can now call his own. To be the top goalscorer for one or two seasons makes you world class. To do it for six seasons in a row is unheard of!

Yet again, Ronaldo was the Champions League's top goalscorer with 15 goals as Real Madrid accomplished the three-peat and won their fourth title in five seasons.

He had struggled in La Liga in the first half of the season but exploded into life at the turn of the year to finish second on the goalscoring list behind Messi.

And at the World Cup - a tournament where he had previously scored just one goal per edition - he kicked things off with a superb hat-trick against Iberian rivals Spain. His late free-kick saw Portugal level the score at 3-3 and it set the tone for the World Cup.

Ronaldo eventually finished with four goals in the tournament as Portugal were knocked out by a much stronger Uruguay but, as the skipper, he had done more for his country in this edition than his two previous campaigns combined.

But his overwhelming popularity with Real Madrid fans (and now Juventus after his transfer) will mostly see Ronaldo win this award yet again.

Also read: What is Cristiano Ronaldo's Best Position at Juventus?

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Edited by Rohith Nair
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