First Ballon d’Or without Messi or Ronaldo in 11 years proof magic era is ending

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It’s fair to say that wacky French DJ’s attempt at raising a laugh by asking the inaugural winner of the woman’s Ballon d’Or to give him a twerk fell flat.

Flatter than a roadkill sandwich, in fact, when Ada Hegerberg demolished him with a single, contemptuous look.

But something else made that Paris ceremony feel anti-climactic and hollow — the absence from the front row seats of the two gods of modern football, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, for the first time in 11 years.

Because the breaking of their duopoly, with Luka Modric the first player outside of them to be named the world’s best since Kaka won in 2007, represents a shifting of the tectonic plates.

The big two had a Ballon d’Or strangehold for a decade, with five wins apiece
(Image: FIFA via Getty)

You sense that after a decade of letting nobody else in with a sniff, the powers-that-be have become bored with their dominance and decided their stars are on the wane, even if their stats, and our eyes, tell us they’re wrong (The fact the judges concluded there were four humans better at football than Messi last year proves this beyond doubt).

Only a fool would write off the chances of either taking the Ballon d’Or for a sixth time.

If Ronaldo wins the Champions League with Juventus and the Nations League with Portugal next year, he’d have a big chance of winning it again. If Barcelona are European champs and Messi puts on Argentina’s shirt again and lifts the Copa America, it would probably be his.

Ronaldo’s still superb but it feels like the days of the big two leaving the rest of football far behind are over
(Image: EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

But we’re in the land of “ifs” and “buts” now. They’re having to prove themselves to people.

The time has passed when the fight to be named the world’s best player was their own personal duel and we may never see the pair going head-to-head for that accolade again.

It feels like we’re done with choosing between the heart-stoppers and are back to giving it to the box-tickers. The one who did most for his club and country.

This year, that was Luka Modric.

There were four better male footballers on the planet than Messi last year, apparently
(Image: Getty Images)

It’s not all bad.

Maybe next year, with England joint-favourites to win the Nations League and our club sides highly fancied to win the European trophies, Harry Kane or Raheem Sterling could tick enough boxes to put them in contention.

Michael Owen won it in 2001 on the back of firing Liverpool to a cup treble and scoring a hat-trick for England in Germany, mainly because the judges like attackers and the stand-out player for that year’s European champions was Bayern Munich’s goalkeeper Oliver Kahn.

In 2014, when the Ballon d’Or shortlist put another Bayern keeper, Manuel Neuer, up against Messi and Ronaldo, Thomas Muller said it would be “boring” if his compatriot lost out. But he was wrong.

Seeing Luka Modric win gives hope to the likes of Raheem Sterling
(Image: AFP/Getty)

Football fans felt privileged to have a pitch-side view of the Messi/Ronaldo rivalry, because we’d never seen its like before.

In previous eras, there was no debate around the world’s best player. When Alfredo Di Stefano, Pele, Johan Cruyff and Diego Maradona were at their peak, they were regarded as being out on their own.

For a decade, we have had two all-time greats consistently entertain us at a barely credible level. This was football’s answer to Frazier and Ali, Borg and McEnroe, Spassky and Fisher, Ovett and Coe. A unique once-in-a-lifetime rivalry at the very highest level of the sport.

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We’re back choosing between the mere mortals now.

From the heart-stoppers to the box-tickers. From the coronation of the king of the world to just another awards ceremony.

As depressing as that French DJ’s sexist remarks were in Paris, the outrage means it will never be allowed to happen again.

The absence of Messi and Ronaldo from the seats in front of him was depressing precisely because we sense they may never be sat there together again.

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