Will Luka Modric win Ballon d’Or?

by Taylor Smith
on October 9, 2018
7

Minute Read

The shortlist for the 2018 Ballon d’Or was revealed on Tuesday. For those unfamiliar, the Ballon d’Or is awarded every year to the best soccer player on the planet. Cristiano Ronaldo won the award for the fifth time in his illustrious career last year, and the new Juventus star man is on the list once again in 2018. Ronaldo’s former club, Real Madrid, are represented a whopping 11 times on the 30-man shortlist. The French national team, who won the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, had 3 representatives. Another 11 players that play their club soccer in the Premier League in England cracked the list.

The full 30-man list is below:

  • Sergio Aguero, Manchester City (Argentina)
  • Alisson Becker, Liverpool (Brazil)
  • Gareth Bale, Real Madrid (Wales)
  • Karim Benzema, Real Madrid (France)
  • Kevin de Bruyne, Manchester City (Belgium)
  • Edinson Cavani, Paris St. Germain (Uruguay)
  • Thibaut Courtois, Real Madrid (Belgium)
  • Roberto Firmino, Liverpool (Brazil)
  • Diego Godin, Atletico Madrid (Uruguay)
  • Antoine Griezmann, Atletico Madrid (France)
  • Eden Hazard, Chelsea (Belgium)
  • Isco, Real Madrid (Spain)
  • Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur (England)
  • N’Golo Kante, Chelsea (France)
  • Hugo Lloris, Tottenham Hotspur (France)
  • Mario Mandzukic, Juventus (Croatia)
  • Sadio Mane, Liverpool (Senegal)
  • Marcelo, Real Madrid (Brazil)
  • Kylian Mbappe, Paris St. Germain (France)
  • Lionel Messi, Barcelona (Argentina)
  • Luka Modric, Real Madrid (Croatia)
  • Neymar, Paris St. Germain (Brazil)
  • Jan Oblak, Atletico Madrid (Slovenia)
  • Paul Pogba, Manchester United (France)
  • Cristiano Ronaldo, Juventus (Portugal)
  • Ivan Rakitic, Barcelona (Croatia)
  • Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid (Spain)
  • Mohamed Salah, Liverpool (Egypt)
  • Luis Suarez, Barcelona (Uruguay)
  • Raphael Varane, Real Madrid (France)

Obviously, this lengthy list will be whittled down over the next several weeks. Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have each won the award 5 times. However, with Argentina and Portugal both underwhelming at the World Cup, there is a very real chance we will have a new Ballon d’Or winner. Luka Modric, who led Croatia to a shocking appearance in the World Cup Final, won the FIFA Men’s Player of the Year earlier this year, marking the first time since 2007 that neither Messi or Ronaldo claimed the prize.

Could that be a precursor to Modric taking home the biggest individual award in world soccer? Let’s break it down.

Betting Odds

Here are the odds to win, per BetOnline:

  • Luka Modric -195
  • Cristiano Ronaldo +175
  • Kylian Mbappe +500
  • Antoine Griezmann +1000
  • Lionel Messi +1600
  • Mohamed Salah +2000
  • Neymar +3300
  • Harry Kane +3300
  • Kevin de Bruyne +5000
  • Paul Pogba +5000
  • Eden Hazard +5000
  • Gareth Bale +5000

Who Can We Exclude?

Most of the players on the list will be honored to have made it this far, but there are some names we can easily write off. In fact, we can write off just about all of them. There is almost no chance any of these goalkeepers makes the final cut. Lev Yashin, who won the award in 1963, is the only keeper to have ever done so. There will likely be a second at some point, but not this year. So, Alisson Becker, Thibaut Courtois, Jan Oblak and Hugo Lloris can be safely scratched off the list of viable contenders.

It’s a safe bet to suggest that a defender won’t win the award this year, either. So, better luck next year to Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo and Diego Godin. Complementary players like Ivan Rakitic, Roberto Firmino, Mario Mandzukic, Isco, Karim Benzema and Sadio Mane look like incredible long shots, as well.

Luka Leads the Way

We can pretty safely narrow the list to the candidates listed with betting odds above. As you can see, Modric is a heavy favorite to claim the Golden Ball for the first time. The 33-year-old Croatian took home the Golden Ball at the World Cup after leading Croatia to an appearance in the final as the tournament’s best overall player. Modric’s influence in the Cinderella side was plain to see. Just about nobody had the Croatians getting nearly as far as they did, and Modric deserves the lion’s share of the credit.

His World Cup exploits are the main reason he’s the early betting favorite, but let’s not forget the fact that he helped his club, Real Madrid, to a Champions League trophy for a third consecutive year. Los Blancos endured an underwhelming campaign under since-departed manager Zinedine Zidane in La Liga, but the fact that Madrid still managed to lift the most prestigious trophy in European club football is a testament to the overall greatness of the side. Modric definitely has more talent playing alongside him at Real than he does with Croatia, but the accomplishments speak for themselves.

Modric’s former teammate in Spain, Cristiano Ronaldo, comes in at a distant second at +175 here. Ronaldo is looking to take home his third consecutive trophy. He did so back in 2016 after helping lead Portugal to a shocking win at Euro 2016 in France, and his exploits with Real Madrid doing the double in the league and in Europe propelled him to win the award in 2017, as well. However, Portugal’s aforementioned struggles at the World Cup coupled with his departure from Real may have him on the outside looking in. Ronaldo is always worth a flier bet, especially given the inherent value here at +175, but he’s not my favorite value bet on the board.

My favorite value here is Kylian Mbappe at +500. Mbappe was the breakout young star of the ‘18 World Cup. The Paris St. Germain man was an absolute terror flying down the pitch for opposing defenses, and he won the tournament’s Best Young Player award. He has scored 8 goals in 14 appearances for France in the year 2018, which is a stellar track record. He spent last season on loan with PSG, where he emerged as a prolific partner up front for Edinson Cavani. Mbappe scored 13 times in 27 appearances last term. So far this season, he has already scored 8 times in 5 appearances in Ligue 1. He is a bona fide superstar, and now he’s a household name. I love the value here at +500. There is a Ballon d’Or in Mbappe’s future, so why couldn’t he win this year?

Mbappe is even drawing favorable comparisons to Ronaldo. Antoine Griezmann, his teammate with France, recently said, “Kylian reminds me of Cristiano when he was in Manchester. Cristiano was the guy out wide, doing a lot of dribbling and occasionally scoring. He was not looking for goals, though. When Kylian does what Cristiano did in Madrid, thinking only about scoring, then he will do the same. He will be scoring 50 goals per season.” High praise, indeed.

What About Messi?

Interestingly enough, you can get Lionel Messi, arguably the best player in the history of the sport, way down at +1600 to take home the Ballon d’Or for the sixth time. All the Argentine did last season was score 34 goals in 36 appearances in the league in helping Barcelona to a La Liga title for the ninth time in his career. Still only 31, there is little reason to believe Messi can’t continue to put up gaudy numbers on a yearly basis.

However, the World Cup factors hugely into the Ballon d’Or mix every 4 years. Argentina were one of the most disappointing teams in Russia this summer, and Messi understandably shoulders plenty of the blame. He managed to help them get out of the group stage, but the Argentines were summarily beaten 4-3 in a knockout round thriller by Mbappe and France. Many had Argentina tabbed as a potential champion, so a round of 16 defeat was a huge disappointment. Despite his domestic title with Barca, Messi is understandably a long shot for the Ballon d’Or.

England?

As mentioned previously, 11 of the players on the 30-man shortlist ply their craft with clubs in England. The player with the best odds to take home the 2018 Ballon d’Or is none other than Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah. Prior to the World Cup, one could have safely wondered whether the little Egyptian may have been one of the odds-on favorites to win it.

Salah was stellar in his first season with Liverpool last term. He helped Jurgen Klopp’s side make a shocking run to the final of Champions League. In the process, Salah set a new Premier League record by scoring 32 goals in domestic play. He also became the first player in the history of the Premier League to take home 3 Player of the Month awards in the same campaign. In all, Salah found the back of the net 44 times last season for the Reds. He was named PFA Player of the Year as a result.

However, Salah and Egypt struggled mightily in Russia and failed to get out of their own group. Liverpool also didn’t win any trophies last season, which doesn’t help his case. Salah’s individual numbers stand out above just about every other player’s from last season, but the relative lack of team success domestically, in Europe and at the World Cup may hurt his case. He’s a viable flier at +2000, but nothing more.

Kevin de Bruyne of Manchester City and Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur are also legitimate candidates. De Bruyne was the best overall player for City in their record-setting Premier League campaign last season, and he additionally led Belgium to a third-place finish in Russia. Kane was his usual goal-scoring self for Spurs, and he was captain of an England side that made a shocking fourth-place run at the World Cup. I don’t think either player’s individual case is as strong as Salah’s, though, and the betting odds reflect that.

Of the Premier League representatives with decent odds, I think Salah is your best bet.

Final Call

All indications are that this award is Luka Modric’s to lose. I think Mbappe is where you want to wager if you want someone with better profit potential, though. Ronaldo is always in play at +175, while Salah at +2000 looks like the best punt option on the board. I’ll rank my favorite overall Ballon d’Or bets as follows:

  1. Luka Modric -195
  2. Kylian Mbappe +500
  3. Mohamed Salah +2000
  4. Cristiano Ronaldo +175
  5. Kevin de Bruyne +5000
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