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When Cristiano Ronaldo made a strong case to win the 2018 Ballon d'Or award

Elvis Ume O
ANALYST
Feature
Timeless

Luka Modric (L) and Cristiano Ronaldo
Luka Modric (L) and Cristiano Ronaldo

Luka Modric became the first Croatian player to win the Ballon d'Or in 2018, defeating his nearest rivals Cristiano Ronaldo and Antoine Griezmann to be named the best player in the world. The Real Madrid midfielder polled a total of 753 points, while Ronaldo (478) and Antoine Griezmann (414) completed the top three.

The 2018 edition of the Ballon d'Or was significant in many ways, the most prominent being that it marked the first time in exactly a decade that neither Ronaldo nor Lionel Messi won the award. It also birthed the addition of the Ballon d'Or Feminin and the Kopa Trophy (for the best women's player and male under-21 player respectively).

Modric was not a universally acclaimed choice for the Ballon d'Or, and there was understandably a lot of furore generated over his receipt of the accolade. While it might be wrong to dismiss his claim outright, many believe Ronaldo was a more worthy recipient of the award.

Here, in conclusion of our series highlighting players who were controversially denied Ballon d'Or wins in the decade between 2008 and 2018, we make a case for why Ronaldo and not Modric was the more deserving winner of the 2018 Ballon d'Or.

The actual 2018 Ballon d'Or winner

Modric was one of the stars as Real Madrid won the Champions League in 2018. He followed that up by captaining Croatia to their best-ever finish at the World Cup, where they were runners-up to France in Russia.

Modric weighed in with two goals and an assist at the Mundial and was voted as the best player of the tournament, beating Antoine Griezmann and Eden Hazard to the Golden Ball.

For his efforts at the World Cup and Champions League, Modric was named the FIFA and UEFA Best Men's Player, before he wrapped up the year with his maiden Ballon d'Or triumph.

The case for Ronaldo

Ronaldo inspired Real Madrid to a third consecutive Champions League trophy
Ronaldo inspired Real Madrid to a third consecutive Champions League trophy

Real Madrid made history when they became the first side to retain the Champions League in 2017. They then took it one step further by achieving the three-peat in 2018. And one man stood above all others in terms of contribution to this record-breaking feat.

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The Madeira native scored 15 goals and assisted a further three from just 13 matches to help Zinedine Zidane write his name into the record books. Although he failed to score in either the semifinal or final, without Ronaldo's output Real Madrid would not have made it that far.

His most important contribution came in the quarterfinal, where he scored a brace to inspire Los Blancos to a 3-0 victory in the first leg against Juventus. He then held his nerve to convert a last-minute penalty in the return fixture at the Bernabeu.

While taking nothing away from Modric's world-class abilities, it is very tenable that Los Blancos would have won the Champions League even without him. His return of just one goal and assist each from 11 matches wasn't the most impressive.

While other midfielders like Kevin de Bruyne at Manchester City and Sergio Busquets at Barcelona are central to how their teams play, Modric augments but does not define Real Madrid's playing pattern.

It is easy to argue that goalscorers get undue credit at the expense of their teammates in other positions. And while this might be true to some extent, Ronaldo is deserving of every encomium showered upon him for his performance at Real Madrid.

The Portuguese international made his teammates at Real Madrid and not the other way around. The proof of this lies in the fact that none of them (except for Karim Benzema) has quite been able to match their previous levels since he departed.

With the issue of the Champions League sorted out, many would point to the World Cup as proof of Luka Modric's justification. And while there might be merit to this point, it does not entirely hold water.

Luka Modric won the Golden Ball at the 2018 World Cup
Luka Modric won the Golden Ball at the 2018 World Cup

For starters, some players such as Kylian Mbappe, Eden Hazard and Antoine Griezmann could genuinely claim to have outperformed Modric at the Mundial.

Furthermore, unlike previous Ballon d'Or winners in World Cup years - such as Fabio Cannavaro (who marshaled an Azurri defense that conceded just one goal from open play at the 2006 World Cup), or Ronaldo de Lima and Zinedine Zidane (who each capped off fine World Cup displays with braces in the finals of 2002 and 1998 respectively), Modric didn't put up any such standout displays in Russia.

By contrast, although he was eliminated without much fanfare in the Round of 16, Ronaldo has his 'OMG' moment in his very first match of the 2018 World Cup - when he scored a tremendous hat-trick against Spain.

After 10 years of unfettered dominance over the Ballon d'Or by Ronaldo and Messi, there was a widespread call for a new face to emerge. And many hold the view that Modric was the beneficiary of this need for a breath of fresh air.

Being the biggest football tournament in the world, it stands to reason that the World Cup should be used as the yardstick in determining the winner of the Ballon d'Or. But the fact that the Mundial had been ignored when awarding the winner in both 2010 and 2014 makes the decision to revert to type in 2018 that much more questionable.

Many opine that Ronaldo would have retained the Ballon d'Or in 2018 had he remained at Real Madrid. But this view will forever remain in the annals of the many 'what ifs' of football.

They say hindsight is 50/50, and less than 12 months on from his Ballon d'Or triumph Modric became the first man in history to not be nominated to defend his crown. Meanwhile, Ronaldo is firmly among the favorites for the award.

It is a tad unfair to suggest that Modric was undeserving of the 2018 Ballon d'Or. But on the strength of performances in the calendar year, Ronaldo was several notches above him and a more worthy recipient of football's most prestigious individual award.

Also check out: Seria A table Champions league top scorers Champions League Schedule

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