With the Ballon d’Or odds now revealed, it seems like the ritual question of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo may finally be given a rest this year.
Messi is cast adrift in 4th place at 12/1, even with La Liga and Copa Del Rey crowns to his name last season. Domestically, the diminutive genius had the most goals, assists, chances created and dribbled completed – though it seems not to have counted for much.
Cristiano Ronaldo is a strong 1/4 favourite, but could be looked upon as the reason why Real Madrid’s title challenge fell short. A five game suspension for shoving over a referee in the Spanish Super Cup doesn’t look good. Yes, he may have won the Champions League, but was outshone in the final by Gareth Bale and a Croatian wizard named Luka Modric.
Modric could be the man to break Ronaldo and Messi’s duopolistic stranglehold on football’s greatest individual prize. Guiding his nation to a World Cup final, the modest maestro may have a chance. The bookmakers have the Russia 2018 Golden Ball winner sitting second at 4/1, with Golden Boy Kylian Mbappe at 9/1 following his exploits with France.
If the Croat is to secure the prize, he will be one of a few select players to hit the heights from a nation perhaps not perceived as a footballing powerhouse. Here are eight players that have gone before Modric in achieving such a feat.
1. 1963: Lev Yashin
Still the only goalkeeper to lift the prize, Soviet Union stopper Lev Yashin was crowned the greatest player on Earth back in 1963. Spending his whole twenty year career with Dynamo Moscow, the man nicknamed ‘Black Spider’ appeared in four World Cups with his nation.
Even though the Soviet Union reached the semi final in 1966, Yashin’s international glory came six years prior, as part of the team that won the 1960 European Championships in France. The flat cap wearing goalkeeper also saw victory in the 1956 Olympic Games held in Australia.
Famed for his imposing presence and reflex saves, Yashin reportedly recorded over 270 clean sheets and a ridiculous 150 penalty saves in his career. In 1963 he beat AC Milan playmaker Gianni Rivera and Tottenham Hotspur striker Jimmy Greaves to the now illustrious prize.
2. 1964: Denis Law
A year later it was Scotsman Denis Law who brought home the Ballon d’Or while plying his trade at Manchester United. The Aberdeen born forward scored 171 goals in 309 appearances for the Red Devils, and these exploits were one of the main reasons for his success.
With Jimmy Johnstone of Celtic finishing third in 1967, and Liverpool’s Kenny Dalglish runner-up to Michel Platini in 1983, Law is still the only player north of the border to have been awarded such a trophy.
Winning by 18 points ahead of nearest rival Luis Suarez of Internazionale, Law’s goalscoring saw him net 29 times in 44 games. Not quite up to today’s phenomenal standards, but you didn’t often get red carded for trying to absolutely clatter somebody in 1964.
3. 1968: George Best
The Northern Irish genius took home the Ballon d’Or in 1968. To many, it was surprising that it was the only time George Best won the award, with his technical wizardry humiliating defences domestically and on the continent.
The third and final member of the United Trinity to win the honour, Best followed in the footsteps of the aforementioned Denis Law, and Bobby Charlton (1966). While in Manchester, the Belfast boy was part of the most feared attack in global football. Sir Matt Busby had created something special only ten years on from the horrors of the Munich Air Disaster.
His finest goal may have been against Spurs in 1971, yet his most famous came against Benfica in the 1968 European Cup final. One apiece going into extra time at Wembley, Best calmly rounded the keeper to slide home as Man Utd ran out 4-1 winners.
4. 1977: Allan Simonsen
Diminutive forward Allan Simonsen took home the 1977 Ballon d’Or in one of the most tightly contested votes ever. The Danish maestro beat Kevin Keegan to the crown by three, and Michel Platini by four points respectively.
A member of Borussia Monchengladbach’s golden era, Simonsen helped Die Fohlen to the Bundesliga title and a European Cup final. Although they were to fall at the hands of English champions Liverpool, the Dane did manage a goal in a 3-1 loss.
Winning UEFA Cups two years each side of the European Cup final appearance, Simonsen was a key figure in his seven year spell at the German club. After signing for Barcelona, the Vejle born man scored an equalising goal in the 1982 Cup Winners Cup final, as the Catalans went on to beat Standard Liege 2-1.
5. 1994: Hristo Stoichkov
In 1994 Bulgarian maverick Hristov Stoichkov had the honour of lifting the Ballon d’Or. Soundly beating Italian duo Roberto Baggio and Paolo Maldini, the Barça forward went one better than his second place finish in 1992.
Part of Bulgaria’s ’94 World Cup side, Stoichkov scored against Gemany in the quarter-final as his nation surprised the holders, and the world by reaching the semi-finals.
A member of Johan Cruyff’s ‘dream team’, he linked up with Romario to lethal affect and was a mainstay of the ’92 European Cup winning side that beat Sampdoria 1-0 in the final, before embedding himself as a Camp Nou favourite when lifting the ’94 La Liga title.
6. 1995: George Weah
In January of this year, ex-world player of the year George Weah assumed office as president of Liberia. Now the most important man in his country, he has long been the most adored. Taking home the 1995 Ballon d’Or while playing for AC Milan, Weah the player was a force of nature.
Having previously represented French giants Monaco and PSG, the Liberian was tasked with filling the void of Marco van Basten. Not known for being an out-and-out goalscorer, Weah was lauded for his athleticism, dribbling skills and pace.
Weah became the first player to win the Ballon d’Or born outside of Europe, after the rules of eligibility were finally changed. The Liberian sensation saw off competition from German Jurgen Klinsmann and Finish midfielder Jari Litmanen to lift the coveted prize.
7. 2003: Pavel Nedved
The second Czech player to win the Ballon D’or after Josef Masopust (1962), Pavel Nedved took home the honour in 2003. The midfielder is best known for his eight year spell with Juventus, after signing in controversial fashion from rivals Lazio.
Nedved was a key member of the side the reached the 2003 European Cup final, though he was forced to watch on from the sidelines through suspension. His performances throughout the season were nothing short of sensational though, with his wizardry helping wrap up the Serie A crown for I Bianconeri.
The Czech saw off Thierry Henry and Paolo Maldini to win this award, proving a noble successor to Zinedine Zidane’s throne. A talented two footed maestro, Nedved was known for his elite level passing range, dribbling and versatility.
8. 2004: Andriy Shevchenko
2004 saw Andriy Shevchenko become the third Ukrainian to win the Ballon d’Or, after Oleh Blokhin (1975) and Igor Belanov (1986). However, both of those successes came under the banner of the defunct Soviet Union.
The AC Milan striker found the net 24 times in 32 domestic games that season against what was, at the time, some of the toughest defences in world football. The fifth top scorer in European competition ever, Shevchenko sits behind only Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Raul, and Filippo Inzaghi. Not bad company.
Shevchenko bettered Portuguese playmaker Deco, and Brazilian flair fiend Ronaldinho for the coveted prize, helping his club team win Serie A. Spending seven years in Milan, the Ukrainian notched up 127 goals, and is still Derby della Madonnina all-time top scorer with 14 strikes.