Once again it was both an enormous honour and a daunting task to be Australia’s judge for the 2019 Ballon d’Or.
I’m sure you’ll understand it’s a difficult, subjective task that will always derive debate but I assure you I poured over plenty of information and vision before casting my votes.
It’s a relieving feeling to get four of the five players in their correct finishing positions and landing the winner, that’s for sure. Sterling was my outlier but I’ve explained why I had him in below.
It’s worth noting the Ballon d’Or is to be judged on 2019 calendar year output only.
Here’s my rationale!
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1. Lionel Messi
It was a really tough call in my mind between Messi and Virgil Van Dijk for top spot this year and one I deliberated on for a while. Ultimately I went for Messi to win his first Ballon d’Or since 2015 because what he does – scoring the amount of goals in the manner in which he does – is quite simply the most difficult thing to do in the game. We can fall in the trap of thinking that what Messi does is ‘normal’ because he’s done it for so long. It’s not. And when he’s gone, we’ll realise that very quickly. He’s scored 45 goals in 2019, an insane amount including plenty free-kicks, en route to leading Barcelona to the La Liga title and yes while he fell short in the Champions League the sheer brilliance of his output on the pitch was, in my mind, a level above what anyone else was able to produce.
2. Virgil Van Dijk
It’s hard to recall a defender having as influential a year in world football than Van Dijk did for Liverpool over the course of 2019 and he would be a worthy winner of world football’s most coveted award and the first centre back to do so since Fabio Cannavaro in 2006. Defensive quality in a side is so often about a team’s overall structure yet Van Dijk seemed to almost single-handedly turn the Reds into a defensive force due to his mere individual presence. A major reason why they were able to win a sixth European Cup, lose only one game in the league all last season and be clear at the top in this campaign. Clearly the best defender in the game.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo
It says a lot about the quality of the two men in front of him that CR7 is placed third after netting 36 goals in 2019 and leading both Juventus to yet another Serie A title and Portugal to the inaugural UEFA Nations League crown. His goal tally was boosted by a couple of big hauls in easy wins for his nation but like Messi, lets not take his stats, his brilliance and his immortal status for granted. He seemed to lack that consistent bit of magic that Messi provided over the past 12 months or that massive trophy that Van Dijk helped inspire but it was yet another remarkable 12 months from a footballer as fine as we have ever seen.
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4. Raheem Sterling
This is where it got tricky for me. I chopped and changed between Sterling, Mane, Mbappe and Lewandowski for fourth and fifth. In the end Sterling got the nod in fourth place after a year in which he became Manchester City and England’s most dangerous attacker with 42 goals in total and plenty of assists. He would be the main man as City won a treble of trophies domestically including the Premier League as he was named the prestigious Football Writers player of the year.
5. Sadio Mane
Mane started 2019 with a bang as he took over from Mo Salah as Liverpool’s key contributor in attack as they would clinch European Football’s highest honour. Scored 33 goals from a wide attacking position, was the joint winner of the golden boot in the Premier League and also led Senegal to the final of the African Nations Cup. An extraordinary year where he elevated himself as one of the best few attacking players in the world.
In the inaugural Yashin award for best goalkeeper in the world I had the winner in Alisson first, followed by Jan Oblak after another clean-sheet laden year at Atletico followed by Ter Stegen. I’m surprised Oblak wasn’t top three but Emerson also had an amazing 12 months.