It’s anyone’s guess who’ll win the Ballon d’Or this year with Cristiano Ronaldo, Mohamed Salah and Luka Modric being the three finalists.
Lionel Messi isn’t contesting the award for the first time since 2006, leaving the door wide open for a newcomer to break the long-running dominance held by himself and Ronaldo.
In truth, few would be surprised if the Portuguese claimed the honour for a third consecutive time and took his overall tally to six – crucially, one more than his Argentine rival.
But given the quality of his fellow nominees for the 2018 edition, Ronaldo certainly shouldn’t be preparing his acceptance speech just yet.
Salah and Modric have both enjoyed incredible seasons in their own right – so much so that some believe factors beyond the pitch could be at play if the Juventus star wins yet again.
Sergio Ramos is convinced Modric has done enough to win, yet fears he won’t get the recognition his performances warrant.
“We will see [who wins The Best],” the Real Madrid captain said when asked whether the Croatian should pip his rivals to the crown, per ESPN.
“There are few players that I am as proud of having in my team as him.
“He is a great friend and a great player. He is one of the few players who [if he wins] would make me as happy as if they had given it to me.
“Maybe there are players with more marketing, with a bigger name but Modric deserves that award.
Although Ramos insists otherwise, it’s easy to assume his comments about the power of a strong off-field image were aimed at Ronaldo.
When asked if that was the case, he replied: “No. But since there is nothing that defines the prize, everything adds up [to Modric winning the award].”
Modric’s peers have been blown away by his sparkling form for both club and country, regardless of their allegiances.
Speaking about the midfielder and Andres Iniesta at a press conference after the Russia 2018 group stage, Ivan Rakitic said: “It seems like both of them are from a different planet and they came to play football with us mortals here. Both of them are among the best players ever in their positions.”
Giving similarly high praise, club colleague Casemiro told reporters after the 2017 FIFA Club World Cup final: “I’ve said it before: Modric is almost on the same level as Zidane was. And Zidane was one of the best players of all time. They see things that we wouldn’t even see in slow motion.”
It seems as if there was ever a time Ronaldo could lose out in the race for the highest individual honour in football to someone other than Messi, this is it.