Before Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo came along, the most Ballon d’Or awards won by a single player was three – a feat achieved by Johan Cruyff, Michel Platini and Marco van Basten.
You don’t need telling that Messi and Ronaldo have completely rewritten football history and by 2018 they had been presented with that iconic golden ball five times each.
No one other than those two had won it since Kaka in 2007, creating an incredible and seemingly unbreakable duopoly of the highest individual honour in world football.
But it could not last forever and 2018 was finally the year it ended – even though Messi won again in 2019 – when Luka Modric was the grateful recipient of the Ballon d’Or.
It was no certainly no given that the Messi/Ronaldo dominance would end in 2018.
Messi had won a domestic league and cup double with Barcelona in Spain and collected a fifth European Golden Shoe as the continent’s top goalscorer. The fact that Argentina were knocked out of the World Cup at the last 16 stage was probably what mostly counted against him.
Ronaldo, meanwhile, won his third successive Champions League title with Real Madrid that year, scored only one fewer goal in all competition than Messi in the 2017/18 campaign and left the Bernabeu after nine years with an astonishing record of more than a goal per game for the club.
There was talk of Antoine Griezmann taking the crown for his achievements with France, winning the World Cup, or Kylian Mbappe for similar reason. Raphael Varane was the only player in 2018 to win both the Champions League and the World Cup that year.
But it was Modric’s impact for Real Madrid as they sealed that historic Champions League ‘three-peat’ and his talisman role for Croatia in reaching a first ever World Cup final – he was also presented with the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player – that sealed the deal.
It was testament to the midfielder’s influence on games without being physically dominant or a goalscorer, that he could still put himself at the forefront of people’s mind with his performances. But he was proud that the hard work he had put into his career had finally paid off.
“I’ve had to win many things to make it happen and only then others have realised that football is not just goals, goals and goals,” he reflected in a GQ interview published a few weeks later.
“All the recognition, such as the FIFA World Player or the Ballon d’Or, are worth much more when you are aware that nobody has given you anything.
“Nothing has been given to me by anyone, I’ve had to work for it.”