While every sport has its own share of trophies and honors, very few can compare to the Ballon d’Or, presented annually to the best world’s best men’s soccer player. When you’re taking home a trophy won by the likes of Johan Cruyff, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo, you know you’re in good company.
This week, France Football and L’Equipe announced the finalists for the 2019 Ballon d’Or. Now that we know the eligible players, is there anyone who can keep Messi or Ronaldo from adding to their trophy case?
The history of the Ballon d’Or
Literally, “the golden ball,” the Ballon d’Or has been presented annually since 1956. During that time, however, the award has undergone some changes.
Historically, France Football presented the Ballon d’Or. In 2010, though, the award merged with FIFA’s World Player of the Year Award, becoming the FIFA Ballon d’Or. As of 2016, however, the awards have separated again; the Ballon d’Or stands on its own, as does the Best FIFA Men’s Player Award.
The decision process starts when France Football‘s editorial team creates a 30-player shortlist of finalists. A jury of journalists then convenes; each writer submits a ballot of five ranked players. Points are allotted based on those votes to determine the Ballon d’Or winner.
Messi and Ronaldo’s recent dominance
Despite the Ballon d’Or’s illustrious history, the recent past has been dominated by two men: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Since 2008, only one Ballon d’Or has gone to a player outside of those two; Luka Modric took home the 2018 title after Croatia’s run to the World Cup final. Ronaldo has won the award five times, lifting the trophy in 2008, 2013, 2014, 2016, and 2016; he’s also finished in second place an additional six times. Messi, on the other hand, has won the Ballon d’Or five times, and currently holds the 2019 FIFA Best Men’s Player title.
Is the reign of Messi and Ronaldo ending?
Unsurprisingly, Messi and Ronaldo’s names headline this year’s Ballon d’Or shortlist. Their shot at the trophy, however, has one main obstacle blocking the way.
There are arguments to be made for both Messi and Ronaldo—the former is singlehandedly keeping Barcelona afloat, while the latter led Portugal to a UEFA Nations League title—but neither of them is currently the betting favorite. While name recognition alone will probably carry both of them to a podium finish, all of the chatter is around Virgil van Djik.
The Ballon d’Or, like most sports awards, is biased towards attacking players who score goals and pile up assists, but the Dutch defender is simply too good to ignore. His move to Liverpool took the Merseyside club to the next level; in his first full season at Anfield, van Djik helped the Reds win the Champions League. The front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino may dominate the stat sheet, but the defender is arguably Liverpool’s most valuable player.
While it seems like the reign of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo may be ending, we won’t know for sure until the Ballon d’Or ceremony in December. But, if the past decade of soccer has taught us anything, it’s always risky to bet against the sport’s two biggest stars.