Messi and Ronaldo are done with us when they decide
Background photo: Roberto: CC By SA 4.0
While 2018 may be gone, the memories will last for a very long time. From Real Madrid's record third consecutive UEFA Champions League triumph to France conquering the world in Russia, 2018 made its mark on history.
Real Madrid superstar Luka Modric also made history during the year, becoming the first player other than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to win the coveted Ballon d'Or after ten years, breaking the long-standing duopoly that began in 2008.
The Croatian midfielder wasn't the only one in the picture. While he successfully defeated Cristiano Ronaldo to claim the Ballon d'Or accolade, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, and Mohamed Salah all ranked ahead of Lionel Messi, prompting outrage among loyalists but also the notion that the Messi/Ronaldo era had seen its end. It was time for new stars to pick up the baton and run.
Whether we like it or not, though, media and fans do not dictate football; players do. The new campaign wasn't long underway when it became apparent that the Argentine and Portuguese had no plans to vacate their shared penthouse.
Ronaldo has quickly established himself as the most impressive scorer in Serie A following his move to Juventus during the summer transfer window. The Portuguese mocks the Italian top flight with his unimaginable exploits in front of goal. He's beaten keepers 14 times himself and set up teammates for another half-dozen, sending the Bianconeri nine points above the competition in first place.
In La Liga, Messi has been in a class of his own, producing exceptional performances and firing Barcelona in front as the Catalan giants push for a long-overdue treble. Il Maestro currently tops La Liga and Europe with 16 league goals. In four Champions League appearances, he has six more goals. But it isn't all about him. He's created a dozen goals for teammates.
Both superstars are the driving force behind their respective clubs' domestic dominance and presence in the Champions League Round of 16. Considering the statistics and analyses, those who called time on Messi and Ronaldo have been put in their place. Some will argue the next generation is putting up numbers to rival the duo and for the most part that is true.
Background photo: Roberto: CC By SA 4.0
Kylian Mbappe and Neymar find themselves directly between Messi and Ronaldo when you sort according to how many goals per minute each player either scores or creates. Of course, the two rely on each other for many of those goals, an advantage no one else on the short list enjoys and which will likely split the vote for each. Although Mo Salah nips Ronaldo in goals, neither he nor Antoine Griezmann produces at a rate to match the Real Madrid and Manchester United legend. Remember, too, that Ronaldo is posting his numbers in Serie A, where defence reigns supreme.
The reigning Ballon d'Or winner, Modric, doesn't appear in the above graphic simply because, as a deep-lying playmaker, his performance is measured in different terms than the rest. Real Madrid's current struggles suggest his influence is not as significant as it was in 2017/18.
Who exerts the most influence on his team's success should be the determining factor in Ballon d'Or voting. As the metronome in Croatia and the Merengues' amazing success last term, Modric's influence made him an arguably deserving recipient.
Looking at the early candidates this term, Griezmann simply is not the driving force behind Atletico Madrid's success. He shares the scoring load with Diego Costa and it is Diego Simeone's collective defence that powers Los Colchoneros. Similarly, Mo Salah is reliant on attacking partners Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane at Liverpool, not to mention the Premier League's best defence with Virgil van Dijk at its heart. Finally, unless the Ballon d'Or voters decide as one that either Mbappe or Neymar would be just as productive alone, Messi and Ronaldo hold the inside track to claim the next honour. They remain the most potent attackers in Europe and their influence is clear. Barcelona and Juventus rely on them more than they rely on their teammates. It has always been so at the Nou Camp whereas Juventus signed Ronaldo to carry them to the Champions League glory he continually denied them while in the Spanish capital.
Both are in their 30s. Neither is done. While it may take a Barcelona/Juventus final in the Champions League to sway those voters who still want to dictate the narrative, it should be clear to any objective viewer that we remain firmly in the Messi/Ronaldo era. Long may it last.