Now is the time for Ballon d’Or 2018 hopefuls to start proving themselves

By Jonathan White Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/7 23:43:40

The international break is done, the European domestic game returns this weekend and the Champions League follows hot on its heels early next week. In other words, it's about time we ­started thinking of who is going to win the ­Ballon d'Or for 2018. That's not the one that will be announced in January - that will be the 2017 award and that is set to go to Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Portuguese has to be a strong ­favorite to hang on to his crown for the fact that he was the top goal scorer in the Champions League and part of the team that became the first to retain the trophy since it became the Champions League, plus Real Madrid also won the La Liga title for the first time in five years. That's all done, so the time to start thinking about 2018 is now.

There are three elements that will matter when the ballots are cast: the World Cup, this season's Champions League and the player's respective domestic championship, in that order. Looking back at the last decade the Ballon d'Or winners list reflects this. It was in 2007 that a pattern started to emerge: When the top scorer in the Champions League also won the tournament, they would win that year's Ballon d'Or, beginning with Kaka at AC Milan.

It's a pattern that has been long repeated by Ronaldo at Manchester United (2008) and Real Madrid (2014, 2016 and he is surely a shoo-in for 2017 after this year's Champions League triumph) and Lionel Messi at Barcelona (2009, 2011 and 2015). In the other years - when ­neither won the Champions League - it's still been the Ronaldo and Messi show.

In 2010, Messi won as Barcelona had won La Liga; in 2012, Messi won even though Real had won the league because he became the first player to hit 50 goals in a major European league; and in 2013, Ronaldo won even though Messi top-scored in La Liga as Barcelona won it because he scored a hat trick in the World Cup playoffs against Sweden to ensure Portugal were on the plane to Brazil. That is proof that international soccer trumps all.

Ronaldo, 32, and Messi, 30, may have had their way for the last nine years - it has been that long since anyone else has stood at the top of the podium - and it will be a decade come January. But time catches up to everyone. Russia 2018 is likely the last World Cup for both and as it stands, neither is sure of their country being there next summer. Argentina

are currently on course for a playoff against New Zealand, while Portugal are second on goal difference but play minnows Andorra before hosting group leaders Switzerland in the final qualifying game.

Brazil have already qualified and France, while not assured of making it, currently top their group. So Neymar, Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann can concentrate on making their mark on the continent when it kicks off this week. Never mind the World Cup, a Champions League win in May with PSG, Manchester United or Atletico Madrid would be worth its weight in gold come 2018 Ballon d'Or voting time.

The author is a Shanghai-based freelance writer.


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