Paris is up for a great Monday (December 2) night as Argentina legend Lionel Messi and USA women’s World Cup superstar Megan Rapinoe are tipped to bag honours at the 2019 Ballon dOr awards.
It would be a shocker to the football fans if Rapinoe departs the Chatelet Theatre without the women’s prize after being the driving force on and off the field for the United States as they retained their title.
For Rapinoe even her supposed rivals are rooting for her but the suspense surrounding the men’s winner remains intact, 12 months after Croatia’s Luka Modric claimed the crown thanks to his exploits in dragging his country to the World Cup final and winning the Champions League with Real Madrid.
Modric’s win marked the end of a decade in which Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo had won the Ballon dOr five times each, but the smart money now is on the Barcelona man claiming number six.
There are 30 nominees in total for the prize, organised by France Football magazine and voted for by 180 journalists from around the world.
The case for Van Dijk
Among the names is Ronaldo, as well as several of the stars of the Liverpool side who won the Champions League, chief among them Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk.
At one point he looked like the favourite, but Messi already pipped him to FIFA’s The Best title in September.
“In matches that are close and intense, having Leo (Messi) is always a big advantage,” said Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde after the 32-year-old scored a late winner against Atletico Madrid on Sunday.
Messi top-scored in La Liga last season with 36 goals as Barcelona won the title. He did not have a great Copa America with Argentina, but his genius is undeniable.
“If you give the Ballon dOr to the best player of this generation then you should give it always to Lionel Messi. That’s how it is,” admitted Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.
“But if you give it to the best player of last season, then it was Virgil van Dijk. I don’t know exactly how it will work but that is how I see it.”
The value of individual honours in football is debatable, and the timing unsatisfactory, coming midway through the European club season.
Yet surely nobody could suggest Rapinoe would not be a deserving winner of just the second women’s Ballon dOr, an award voted for by a panel of 48 journalists.
Norway’s Ada Hegerberg won it in 2018 but will not retain her title after missing the World Cup.
Among the stars of that tournament to be nominated are Englands Lucy Bronze, Netherlands striker Vivianne Miedema, Australias Sam Kerr and the USA trio of Alex Morgan, Rose Lavelle and Tobin Heath.
However, Rapinoe, the 34-year-old feminist icon and outspoken critic of US President Donald Trump, should add this honour to those of Golden Boot winner for top scorer and Golden Ball for best player at the World Cup.
Even her supposed rivals seem to be rooting for her. “She does lots of things off the pitch, but I think she is the favourite to win the Ballon dOr mainly down to her performances during the World Cup,” Bronze told France Football.
(With inputs from agencies)