2018 Ballon d'Or Power Rankings After the World Cup
If the 2018 Ballon d'Or were awarded today, who would win it?
This is our second instalment of the year (you can read the first here) tracking players' likelihood of winning the award, and the week after the World Cup 2018's climax seems an appropriate time to do it.
Over the years, the formula for winning the Ballon d'Or has been ironed out, revealing three key tenets: performance, execution and reputation.
The first two are linked; you have to play consistently well, and you have to shine when the big stage comes calling. The most important games in the calendar—Champions League knockouts, World Cup contests—should be your stomping ground. The latter point is more of a qualifier; you need to be a big name to be considered.
Remember to consider all three tenets when assessing players' chances of winning the trophy—and don't underestimate that third one (reputation).
In ranking the players, we have taken into account solely what has happened from January to now. The Ballon d'Or is a calendar-year award, so whatever happened in 2017 is irrelevant. That means Cristiano Ronaldo's poor start to the 2017-18 season doesn't hurt him, while any player who enjoyed a fantastic World Cup gets a big stock boost.
10. N'Golo Kante, Chelsea and France
When N'Golo Kante plays badly, you notice immediately because he's one of the most consistent players in the world. You just don't expect it to happen, though, as he's a guy you feel you can rely on and his excellence is a given.
So when he was substituted after 55 minutes of the World Cup final—booked, struggling and off the pace—no one argued with Didier Deschamps' decision, but we were all left shocked at what we'd seen.
It was later revealed by Le Parisien (h/t Get French Football News) that he played with a stomach bug, which is believable because up until that game he had arguably been the best player at the World Cup.
Defensive players don't tend to get too much love in the Ballon d'Or stakes, and because Kante wasn't perfect all the way through the tournament, it probably shatters his slim chances of really challenging for the award.
9. Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City and Belgium
Like N'Golo Kante, Kevin De Bruyne only put in one poor performance for Belgium at the World Cup this summer; and like Kante, it was in his side's biggest game.
His struggles against France (actually caused in part by the Chelsea man) hurt his stock, and while he did go on to rip England apart in the third-place play-off, more fans will remember the former event than the latter.
But he had a very good tournament in Russia, adding it to an excellent half-season with Manchester City in which they continued to dominate in the Premier League and eventually tot up a whopping 100 points.
De Bruyne deserves a mention in the Ballon d'Or stakes and his reputation as one of the best in the world.
8. Eden Hazard, Chelsea and Belgium
His performances in Russia vault him into the Ballon d'Or conversation—not into the running but into an area where his name is discussed. He doesn't have the domestic success to really tussle with those ranked higher, with an FA Cup victory meaning little in these stakes.
But those who had forgotten how devastating his dribbling feet can be were reminded in Russia this summer. They were the sort of performances that would look at home at the Santiago Bernabeu, and with Real Madrid on the lookout for a Cristiano Ronaldo replacement, that should worry a few in west London.
7. Mohamed Salah, Liverpool and Egypt
Mohamed Salah's so good that even when unfit, unhappy and playing for one of the worst sides at the World Cup, he can score two goals and remind everyone of his excellence.
But impressive as that might be, the Egypt international has now lost ground in the race for the Ballon d'Or.
Since being ranked second in our first instalment of this series, he's been withdrawn early from the Champions League final (which his team went on to lose) through injury and failed to make it out of the group stage in Russia.
Crazy goal tallies in the Premier League and a night to remember against Manchester City in the Champions League quarter-finals can only get you so far. The harsh truth of Salah's season amid such a stellar cast of competitors is that he didn't win anything in 2018.
6. Raphael Varane, Real Madrid and France
Raphael Varane joined an exclusive club on Sunday, becoming just the ninth player to win the Champions League and the World Cup in the same year. He joins esteemed company such as Roberto Carlos and Christian Karembeu.
Defensive players rarely get the credit they deserve in the Ballon d'Or stakes so don't expect this feat to launch him into genuine contention for the award—if it did it would be great, but history suggests it's unlikely—but it's enough to put him in the conversation at least.
Varane's World Cup quarter-final and semi-final performances were sensational, scoring in the former and defending like a demon in the latter, and he was France's best defender in a strong unit.
It helps you forget about some slightly indifferent form for Real Madrid this year, where Sergio Ramos probably did more in the run to the Champions League than the 25-year-old.
5. Antoine Griezmann, Atletico Madrid and France
Antoine Griezmann’s last six weeks of football have brought wild success, beginning with a Europa League victory for Atletico Madrid and culminating in a World Cup win with France.
Add that to the fact he's a big personality—his cheeky grin makes him a popular character with many—and you might even start to consider him a dark horse for the 2018 Ballon d'Or (if there is such a thing).
The fact his World Cup performances were a little spotty and difficult to judge at times will likely be forgotten soon for two reasons. First, he played very well in the final, leading him to third place in the Golden Ball stakes and secondly because his goal (four) and assist (two) tallies validate his efforts at a glance.
4. Lionel Messi, Barcelona and Argentina
That Lionel Messi—probably the best player in the world—has such a weak case for the 2018 Ballon d'Or (by his standards) right now is strange. It almost makes a mockery of the award itself in some ways.
The problem he faces is that he doesn't have the requisite team-based success to back up his prodigious talent and excellent performances.
Argentina were terrible at the World Cup, suffering from issues not even Messi could paper over with his brilliance; and while Barcelona did do a domestic double in 2017-18, the fact they dropped out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage probably stuck a fork in his chances.
He's still Messi, though, so he remains a top-five contender.
3. Kylian Mbappe, Paris Saint-Germain and France
Consider Kylian Mbappe firmly in contention for the Ballon d'Or.
His performances for Paris Saint-Germain this year have been good, passing both the eye test (leaving defenders in his dust) and the numbers test (11 goals and three assists for a winger is wonderful going).
Add that to winning the World Cup with France, scoring in the final, winning Best Young Player and producing a headline performance against Lionel Messi's Argentina, and you have a recipe that might just land him the award if people are feeling generous.
2. Luka Modric, Real Madrid and Croatia
Had Croatia won the World Cup, Luka Modric would have topped this list.
He's an extremely popular player—regarded as the best central midfielder in the world by many—and with both a Champions League and a World Cup win under his belt, his case for the award would have felt unbeatable.
The problem is Croatia didn't win the World Cup; they lost in the final to France. Modric's individual performances were recognised with the Golden Ball ward, but you get the feeling it probably still won't be enough to wrestle things in his favour.
It's a shame, as his consistently high level in Russia wowed us all, directing and conducting his nation from midfield, while his influence for Real Madrid is pretty similar.
Modric's case is the strongest we've had in years for a player not named Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo, Juventus and Portugal
In Cristiano Ronaldo's opening World Cup match, he scored a magnificent hat-trick against Spain. If the nature of his goals didn't impress you, the nature of his performance did: He was perfect, linking play with flicks and galloping forward at a speed long believed he wasn't capable of reaching any more.
It was impossible not to think "here we go." Ronaldo—on the big stage and in fine physical form—was going to take over in Russia.
But barring the first five minutes of his next match against Morocco, we wouldn't see him move through the gears again. In fact, he missed a penalty against Iran that would have secured first place in Group B for Portugal. In the round of 16 against Uruguay, he was held at arm's length and became ineffective.
Due to how the World Cup final panned out, though, Ronaldo is still likely in pole position to win the Ballon d'Or. You get the feeling Croatia needed to beat France for Luka Modric to win this award, or Kylian Mbappe needed to score a blazing hat-trick that took the wheels off the Vatreni's defence.
Ronaldo's case to win the Ballon d'Or right now rests on his crucial goals against Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus in the Champions League—including that overhead kick—his blitz against Spain in the groups and the fact Lionel Messi didn't make a splash in Russia.
It's probably strong enough.
All statistics via WhoScored.com