As captains of their respective national teams, both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were given votes in deciding The Best FIFA Men’s Player 2018. It’s an award that the two have dominated — in it’s various guises — ever since Kaka was named FIFA World Player of the Year back in 2007 (Messi finished second and Ronaldo third that year).
But the pair’s grip on one of the game’s biggest individual prizes came to an end yesterday with Luka Modric receiving 29.05 percent of the vote (Ronaldo finished second with 19.08%, Messi fifth with 9.81%).
It’s since been revealed who both Messi and Ronaldo selected as the top three players on the planet in 2018, and their selections reveal a lot about the teammates and opponents they currently admire.
Messi’s top three was heavily influenced by the World Cup, and if you want to argue that the World Cup is just a fraction of the footballing calendar year, you well and truly do not get it. Messi, on the other hand, gets it, and he went toe-to-toe with two of the World Cup’s best performers, giving him a front row seat to Argentina’s decimation.
No. 1 for Messi was Modric, a player he’ll be lining up against for the seventh straight year in LaLiga. But Modric almost certainly earned Messi’s vote after the Argentine watched him incinerate La Albiceleste’s midfield in Nizhny Novgorod. You could argue that it was Modric’s finest performance of the tournament (and that’s certainly saying something).
No. 2 for Messi is in a similar vein: It’s 19-year-old French phenom Kylian Mbappe, who also had his finest game of the tournament against Argentina — that blistering 4-3 Round of 16 match in Kazan. Who can forget the PSG forward’s brace, or the scorching run that led to Antoine Griezmann’s opening penalty.
And No. 3 for Messi is actually a first — the Barcelona captain elected Ronaldo, putting him in his top three for the first time in eight eligible years of voting. Perhaps it’s because Ronaldo has left Real or perhaps it’s a simmering of animosities now that both are in their early 30s, but, as Jose Mourinho would say, respect, respect, respect.
'Respect!' Jose Mourinho's had it with his press conference pic.twitter.com/JytoDhBVXE— B/R Football (@brfootball) August 27, 2018
Ronaldo’s own top three is also enlightening. Fans and advertisers and shoe manufacturers don’t want to see a defender win, but when the likes of Ronaldo, Modric and Hugo Lloris all name Raphael Varane as the player of the season, you remember that defenders are very important people too.
I’m not sure how a 25-year-old with four Champions League titles and a World Cup does’t factor into any conversations whatsoever with regards to who’s good at football, but that’s Varane’s cross to bear.
It says a lot that Ronaldo went with Varane one and Modric two — the training ground battles between the Portuguese forward and the French center half must’ve been absolutely epic at Cuidad Real Madrid.
For No. 3, Ronaldo went with Antoine Griezmann. A Messi slight? Perhaps, but the Frenchman just got better as the World Cup progressed (including a near-perfect display of how to operate as an attacking midfielder against Uruguay in the quarters and a wonderful final), and he helped Atletico finish above Real in the LaLiga table, a remarkable achievement that we really take for granted at this point — who else remembers when Atletico went on a six-game winning run and Griezmann was named LaLiga’s Player of the Month for February while scoring nine goals? Messi would’ve been canonized.
It all just goes to show that 2018 was one helluva year for footy and that individual award ceremonies aren’t worth losing your humanity over.