Way-Too-Early Predictions on Who Will Win the 2019 Ballon d'Or
Fresh off the back of Luka Modric being crowned the 2018 Ballon d'Or winner, we've wasted no time in starting a new conversation: Who seems likely to be in the running for the award in 2019 as the best male player at a European club?
It is, of course, way too early to be discussing such things. It's a calendar-year award, so there hasn't been a ball kicked or an action taken yet that will even count towards the trophy. But it's a fun exercise.
It essentially involves projecting based on what tournaments there are in 2019 and which teams you feel are going to enjoy success, and then nominating the key players likely to be involved. 2019 is not a FIFA World Cup year, so we won't have to factor that in.
The most prestigious international competition will be the Copa America, followed by the UEFA Nations League finals, but how much weight will they carry? Nothing close to the World Cup, so the Champions League will likely be the key to hauling in this award.
Each player listed will have a reason or two as to why they're being nominated, so you can see the logic applied in each selection. If you think we've missed someone, or have a bold call that could shake up the running, let us know in the comments section.
10. Bernardo Silva, Manchester City
It's a left field shout on face value, but Bernardo Silva has a chance to win five trophies in 2019. He could haul in four with Manchester City, and then he'll head to the UEFA Nations League finals and play a key part for hosts Portugal.
What helps his case is that he has become an important cog for both club and country in 2018, and that should extend into the following year.
At City, he has stepped into the void Kevin De Bruyne's injury created and performed incredibly well; for Portugal, he's a leading light whether Cristiano Ronaldo is present or not.
If he keeps his performance levels this high and his teams go on to succeed, Bernardo will be one of the most influential footballers in 2019.
9. Luis Suarez, Barcelona
Luis Suarez has played a lot of football in an aggressive way. Many believed that would take a toll on his body in the same way it appears to have done with Alexis Sanchez, but this season the Uruguay international has played at a high level regardless.
His speed and dribbling abilities may be on a downward arc, but his appreciation for space and attacking positional play is only getting better. Add those smarts to an attack with Lionel Messi in it, and it's no wonder Barcelona are putting teams to the sword.
No player other than Messi will win the Ballon d'Or if Barcelona have a successful year, but Suarez might well be the one highlighted as next in line in that scenario, especially if he has a good Copa America with Uruguay.
8. Paulo Dybala, Juventus
Cristiano Ronaldo will always draw focus wherever he goes. It's a handy trait, as not only can he handle the increased attention, but it also allows others to bloom around him.
One player who will undoubtedly benefit—and has already begun benefiting—from this is Paulo Dybala. Over the last few campaigns, it's fair to say he has wilted a little when the spotlight has settled on him, but with Ronaldo present, that won't happen, allowing him to work his magic from stage right.
This season's Champions League has seen him explode into life on several occasions, and playing off Ronaldo has given him the spaces he just loves working in.
As crucial as Ronaldo will be if Juventus win club football's top honour this term, Dybala will also have a big say. Dybala could play a part in Argentina's Copa America campaign.
7. Antoine Griezmann, Atletico Madrid
As long as the Ballon d'Or is at least part-popularity contest, Antoine Griezmann will likely find himself in the running.
He's a likable character and a fun guy with an impish streak who plays football with a smile. That's surprisingly important in these stakes.
He also happens to be a superb footballer, often showing up at crucial moments on the big stage. 2018 was a successful year for him, hauling in the World Cup and the Europa League, and Atletico Madrid will feel capable of going one better and winning the Champions League if the chips fall their way.
That would put Griezmann in a strong position with regard to this award.
6. Raheem Sterling, Manchester City
This will most likely be a divisive choice, but we're at the point where you can no longer disregard Raheem Sterling's growth as a footballer and the production he churns out under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
More than a simple finisher, he's showing an immense understanding of where to move, when to move there and what effect that can have on opposing defences. He also provides occasional reminders that he can simply do it all himself, too, like against Shakhtar Donetsk in November.
If what he's doing right now continues into 2019, he could set goal and assist records in England.
At the rate he's going, which is basically to either score or assist (or do both) in every game he plays, he will naturally become a candidate for top individual awards should City lift the Champions League trophy or if England wins the UEFA Nations League.
5. Kylian Mbappe, Paris Saint-Germain
Kylian Mbappe's star is rising so fast that it's impossible to forecast exactly when he'll reach the very top. All we know is that, injuries permitting, he will reach that level.
Like Antoine Griezmann, Mbappe has the popularity contest nailed: Everyone loves him. His childlike grin and Donatello nickname (sourced from one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) endear him to the general public, and his proclivity to leave defenders in his dust and finish emphatically ticks the other boxes.
His chances of winning the Ballon d'Or likely hinge on Paris Saint-Germain getting to the semi-finals of the Champions League at least, but based on their win over Liverpool last week, that doesn't seem too crazy a shout.
4. Neymar, Paris Saint-Germain
Neymar joined Paris Saint-Germain to escape Lionel Messi's shadow and become a genuine contender for the Ballon d'Or. Now in his second campaign in the French capital, it's time for him to start proving why we should consider him worthy.
With Real Madrid and Barcelona in weaker states than in previous years, other sides (including PSG) will rightly see 2019 as the ideal chance to break a Spanish winning streak that spans the last five tournaments.
Using the Champions League group stage so far as evidence, it's fair to say Neymar will have to work very hard to drag PSG to the summit next year.
With a defence far from capable of keeping the best at bay for 90 or 180 minutes, they will need to outscore teams to succeed, and that's the scenario in which Neymar shines. He will also have a chance to shine with Brazil in the Copa America.
3. David Silva, Manchester City
It's the midfield that powers Manchester City's brilliance, and this season—thanks in part to successive knee injuries suffered by Kevin De Bruyne—David Silva has been the man dictating and directing in there.
He's on course for what could well be his best season in football. He's scoring more than usual and creating just as much. That has led to more and more people noticing just how fantastic he is, with his popularity surely at an all-time high.
If City can make the Champions League splash they are so clearly capable of, Silva will be key to it, and that puts him in a strong position to earn individual recognition.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo, Juventus
Cristiano Ronaldo will be looking to make it four straight Champions League victories in 2019, earning his first one for Juventus in that run.
Given the overwhelming strength his team are showing and the relentlessness to their winning behaviour, that achievement could well be on the cards.
He is more than pulling his own weight in that setup, too. Last week, he became the quickest player to 10 goals in Bianconeri history—this despite some early Serie A jitters.
Ronaldo will also have the chance to impress in the UEFA Nations League should he return to Portugal duties in 2019, and another piece of silverware with the Selecao won't hurt his chances.
1. Lionel Messi, Barcelona
In a situation where we are, for all intents and purposes, attempting to judge that which has not yet happened, it felt prudent to stick the best player in the world at No. 1. Makes sense, right?
After all, it is Lionel Messi who is more likely than anyone to provide jaw-dropping moments—ones that decide games of magnitude—and single-handedly lead his team to glory.
Barcelona are one of the three strongest sides in Europe right now. Their performances, form and established squad strength place them in the top bracket, and it's foreseeable that they win the Champions League.
If Messi's team wins club football's biggest prize and he plays as he usually does, few will be able to argue against the Argentinian's case as the winner of next year's Ballon d'Or. If Leo returns to Argentina duty and can lead La Albiceleste to Copa America gold after finishing as runner-up three times, that will only strengthen his case.