On December 3rd 2018, Luka Modric was crowned winner of the FIFA Ballon d’Or, beating out Cristiano Ronaldo and Antoine Griezmann to the award. In doing so, Modric ended the ten year reign of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo winning the award.
Immediately following the announcement, there were plenty of couch fans jumping on Twitter to say how unworthy Modric was of winning the coveted award. The usual argument was, “Modric only scored three goals and had five assists on the year.”
To say the least, I think that argument is a bunch of crap. In the modern game, it seems the media and fans only seem to value those who score goals. While scoring goals is important, it is not the only facet of the game. There are eleven players on the field for a reason, they all have an important job to do for the team.
There are plenty of players on the field who never get the proper praise and recognition that they deserve. Without a doubt, the two positions that come to mind are goalkeeper and full back. Being a goalkeeper, I can tell you one of two things. First, your full backs are the most important players on the field. If you have full backs that resemble Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, who go wandering up the yellow brick road with the ball, lose possession and never come back, your job as a team becomes all that much harder. The ideal fullback forme is Phillip Lahm, never worries about getting forward and scoring goals. His main priority and focus is right where it should be: defending. Bayern were successful for many years not because of Schweinsteiger, Klose, Muller, Ribery or Robben, it was for the defensive soundness that Lahm brought to the back of the Bavarian defense.
Secondly, the goalkeeper will make or break most teams. If you have a great goalkeeper, it allows for your team to be more adventurous when attacking and not have to worry as much as you know your goalkeeper will save most shots thrown their way. It allows the team to play more aggressive defensively, which in turn creates more turnovers and chances going the other way.
Goalkeeper in essence is the last line of defense. There is no retreat, and no surrender for them. It is a position which no sane person volunteers for, you have to be missing a few screw upstairs to play goalkeeper as well. It is the one position on the field too, that you could do 100 things right in game, but your one mistake will be talked about more than the 100 things you did right.
Having known all the aforementioned, this brings us back to the original point. What does Modric’s win mean for football?
Well for starters, it makes up for all the years non-forwards were shafted out of the award. Manuel Neuer was a heavy favorite to be the first goalkeeper since Lev Yashin in 1963 to win the Ballon d’Or for his incredible performances in Germany’s world cup winning campaign and his extraordinary Bayern Munich season. He ended up finishing third behind Lionel Messi and winner Cristiano Ronaldo.
Andres Iniesta in 2010 was also another huge snub finishing behind his Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi. Iniesta was instrumental in Spain’s victorious world cup winning campaign, scoring the goal that brought home the world cup for La Furia Roja.
But without a shadow of a doubt, Wesley Sneidjer not bringing home the award in 2010 for winning the treble with Inter Milan and leading the Dutch to the world cup final, is the biggest robbery the game had seen. It wasn’t the fact that he didn’t win the award, it was the fact that he wasn’t even on the podium. Xavi and Iniesta surely belonged there, but Messi didn’t. Scoring a ton of goals because of the other two on the podium do all of your dirty work does not constitute winning the Ballon d’Or.
Modric winning the Ballon d’Or wasn’t an upset, it was what should be expected of the award, giving it to the best player in the world that year. Just because he didn’t score 50 plus goals and flex his abs on television for all the world to see doesn’t mean he wasn’t deserving of the award, he was. He was instrumental in the center of the park for Real Madrid’s unprecedented third consecutive Champions League title. He led Croatia, a country of a little more than four million people, to the World Cup Final in one of the most shocking runs to the Final the game has ever seen.
Luka, thank you for ending the reign of Messi and Ronaldo. The Beautiful Game needs to be about every player on the pitch, not just those up top scoring goals