Why it should have been Messi and not Ronaldo in the top 3 of the Ballon d'Or rankings
The year 2018 will always be remembered as the year when the decade-long duopoly of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi on the Ballon d'Or finally came to an end. Luka Modric claimed the prize this year, becoming the first player since Kaka in 2008 to do so.
But 2018 will also be remembered as the year when the Ballon d'Or lost some of its credibility. That's not due to the fact that Modric won it, but because how Messi, despite his brilliant season, was totally overlooked by the jury.
In the Ballon d'Or rankings, the presence of a player from the French national team was justified given that France won the 2018 World Cup. Also, it is so tough to argue that Modric did not deserve the Ballon d'Or considering his contribution in Real Madrid's Champions League triumph and how he led Croatia to the World Cup final.
But the most surprising thing was the inclusion of Ronaldo in the Top 3. There is no doubt that both Ronaldo and Messi had terrific seasons, with Messi winning the La Liga and the Copa Del Rey scoring 45 goals, while Ronaldo won the Champions League and scored 44 goals.
But the Ballon d'Or is given to the individual player who has been the best in throughout the season. And between Messi and Ronaldo, it was pretty clear the that Argentinian had been the better player than the Portuguese in 2018.
The reason that many have given as to why Ronaldo is in the Top 3 is that he was the top scorer in the Champions League and that he helped Real Madrid win their 3rd consecutive Champions League as well. But if we carefully look at the Champions League results, there is ample evidence that Madrid's win was not down to him; rather, it was the overall solidity of his team in crucial times that helped him stand on the winners' podium.
In the 2016-17 Champions League it could very well be said that Ronaldo was their talisman, but not in the 2017-18 season. He did lead the team to the quarterfinals, but he was rather mediocre in the two legs against Bayern Munich in the semi-final and against Liverpool as well in the final.
The former Manchester United winger missed many chances in the crucial games against Bayer Munich and Liverpool, hardly created any chance for his teammates, and was not even remotely involved in any of the goals scored.
Karim Benzema's first goal against Bayern in Madrid involved 28 passes between the Madrid players, but surprisingly Ronaldo was the only one not involved in any of those 28 passes.
The crux of this argument is that Ronaldo clearly failed to turn up for the Los Blancos in the semifinals and finals of the Champions League. At that time it was players like Bale, Benzema, Ramos, Modric, Marcelo, Navas, and Varane who stepped up for Real Madrid.
Some might say that it was only a matter of three games. But the Champions League is a tournament of 13 games in which even a single defeat could mean an exit for any team. Thus those three games mattered a lot, especially since they were the semi-finals and the finals.
Even if we consider that he had a good World Cup, that would still not be a good reason as to why he was second in the rankings. Raphael Varane should have been second in that case, as he won the World Cup and the Champions League too.
Ronaldo's total tally of 44 goals in the 2017-18 season was outmatched by Leo Messi as he scored 45 goals. Thus, from no point of view was his inclusion in the top 3 justified.
His Champions League triumph to a large extent was down to his teammates, as he blanked during the crucial games. There were players who had a better World Cup than him, and he finished second in the golden boot race as well.
Although Ronaldo's inclusion may not have raised many eyebrows, the exclusion of Messi from the Top 3 has upset many people in the football community. Even former Real Madrid and Spain manager Vicente Del Bosque said that the award would lose all its value if Messi was not there.
Before we jump into why the Argentinian deserves to be in the Top 3, we should also consider the circumstances in which he led FC Barcelona to the LaLiga and Copa Del Rey trophies.
In Zinedine Zidane's Real Madrid he faced probably the best Real Madrid team in his career, a team that had just won the LaLiga and the Champions League. And to make matters worse Barca's second best player Neymar also left the team, leaving it up to Messi to solely lead the team against the Los Blancos.
Even Neymar's replacement Dembele was largely absent and ineffective due to his injury problems, while Coutinho came late in January and it took him some time to settle in the team. Suarez was also struggling to find his best form.
Against this backdrop, the Argentinian managed to boss the LaLiga for the Catalan giants by being the top scorer with 34 goals and topping the assists charts as well with 12 assists. As per Opta stats, he created 82 chances for his teammates and did 269 dribbles as well.
Messi completed 5.6 dribbles per 90 minutes and was the third-best dribbler in Europe. He scoring in big games against teams like Real Madrid, Chelsea, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid. And although Barca faced only one defeat in the LaLiga, that defeat came when Messi wasn't playing.
Not just statistically, but the amount of influence Messi has on the pitch can hardly be matched by any player. We never see a strike player who can drop so deep in the midfield and in nearly every match run at the opponents.
The confidence he can give to any team cannot be calculated statistically. Even with an Argentina squad that had only good attacking players, many were expecting Messi to guide them to the trophy simply due to his brilliance. The same cannot be said for Ronaldo's Euro 2016 winners.
The only player who could come close to Messi in terms of stats was Mo Salah. But his efforts had no end result as Liverpool finished trophy-less while Messi won the LaLiga as well as the Copa Del Rey.
Also, it should be considered that LaLiga is a very competitive league unlike the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 where the likes of Bayern Munich and PSG rarely face any major threat to their domestic crowns. Performing at such a high level consistently in a competitive league is no easy task, but Messi managed to do so.
The Barca youth academy product also managed to guide his team to the quarterfinal despite their stumbles in that tournament.
Ronaldo was given undue preference at this year's Ballon d'Or, there's no doubt about that. Whether that was due to his huge fan base or media image or some other reason, is not clear.
On the other hand, deserving players such as Messi, Kante and Varane, who don't publicize their achievements, were left out by the voting committee without reason.
A player like Messi finishing 5th in the race despite his incredible achievements has just made the Ballon d'Or lose a major chunk of its credibility. If the trend continues, the award could well become a joke in coming years for the football community.