That time of year is again upon us. Football’s ruling class are counting down the days to when they begin pulling on their extravagant suits and jetting off to attend glamorous ceremonies, which aim to recognise the crème de la crème of the game’s previous calendar year.
The various gongs on offer include the FIFA Puskás Award (goal of the season), the FIFPro World XI selection, and the FIFA World Coach of the Year award. In just five days’ time, however, the most highly anticipated of all will be revealed; the crowning of The Best FIFA Men’s Player of the year. 2015 saw FIFA and France Football’s merging agreement break down, and thus the Balon D’or and FIFA player of the year awards are now presented independently – with the former traditionally being issued in early December.
Ronaldo, Salah and Modric
Recent history has deemed the coveted accolade of being voted Men’s Player of the Year a certified two-horse race, with either Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi claiming glory five times each in the last decade, since Ricardo Kaká triumphed in 2007. This time around, however, the status quo has been disturbed. FIFA’s preliminary shortlist for those in contention to be designated the world’s best has been whittled down to three finalists – and for the first time in ten years, that final three does not include a certain Lionel Messi. The podium will instead be made up by Ronaldo, Mohamed Salah, and Luka Modrić.
Last season saw Ronaldo find his form later than we are used to, but he undoubtedly made up for his slow start. The man from Madeira bagged twenty-six goals in twenty-seven league games, and a further fifteen in thirteen Champions League appearances. His blistering form aided Los Blancos in securing their third consecutive European Cup, as well as the Spanish Super Cup and UEFA Super Cup.
Mo Salah is another of FIFA’s finalists whose efforts last term make his place at the top table virtually indisputable. The Egyptian installed fear into the hearts of defenders in the premier league and on the continent alike. His unbelievable campaign saw him break the record for goals in a thirty-eight-game season – finding the net thirty-two times in thirty-six domestic appearances. Salah was the star man during Liverpool’s immense run to the Champions league final, before being forced off with injury following a clash with Sergio Ramos. The 26-year old carried his immense league form into Europe with him and reaped the rewards with a further ten goals. The ‘Egyptian King’ ultimately earned the titles of both Premier League Golden Boot winner, and PFA Player of the Season.
1 goal and 6 assists
The third and final man vying to step up on stage in London and claim the individual honour is Croatia’s Luka Modrić. This is the name that probably shocked fans the most when the final three was confirmed. Since his time at Tottenham Hotspur, Modrić has slowly and surely worked his way to the forefront of a pool of extremely talented, technical midfielders, and is amongst the very best in his position.
Across all competitions last season, the ex-Spurs man averaged a general passing accuracy of 90%, and a passing accuracy of balls into the final third of 84% according to Opta data. The issue with Modrić receiving a nomination of this level, which comes to mind when I see the names of the players FIFA have omitted, comes in the form of how infrequently the midfielder directly left a mark on games via the scoreboard. For a man so diverse in the centre of the park – a return of one goal and six assists in twenty-six league games does not demand world leading status. A further eleven European matches only yielded a further single goal and assist.
Modrić has indeed played some stunning football in previous months and has often been delightful to watch for both club and country, yet when sheer passing ability is being used as the key reason a player deserves to be ranked higher than Lionel Messi, questions need to be asked. I do not view Messi’s omission as illogical based on his reputation alone, but on the fact that the Argentinian contributed thirty-four goals in thirty-six outings in Barcelona’s title winning rampage last season, as well as supplying twelve assists – whilst also frequently delivering the goods in Champions League competition.
No Messi, really?
On top of a La Liga win, the widely considered G.O.A.T helped Barça obtain a Spanish Cup. Messi is already displaying his brilliance this season too, summarised by his Champions League hat-trick against PSV this week, which included a twenty-five-yard freekick.
Many would counter argue that a player’s ability should not be judged simply on goals and assists, but when a footballer such as Lionel Messi is boasting statistics like he achieved last season, it must take something extremely special to push them aside.
Modrić won the Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup with Real Madrid in 17/18, earned the UEFA Best Player in Europe award, captained Croatia to their first ever World Cup final and returned home from Russia with the Golden Ball award. Although significant, competition success does not solely decide the validity of an individual’s claim to an award like Men’s Player of the Year – as Frank Ribery will remember well from when he was pipped to a Balon D’or by Cristiano Ronaldo despite winning everything available to him in 2013.
Is Luka Modrić about to cause an upset to Ronaldo and Co.? Has he done enough to be rated as highly as he is this year? The footballing community appears divided, but it seems absurd that a player who hasn’t scored less than 40 goals a year for 9 consecutive seasons should lose out to someone whose arguable biggest achievement is losing a World Cup final.
Image credit: Getty