Luka Modric's Ballon d'Or triumph on the back of a stunning year with Real Madrid and Croatia marks the end of an era for world football's most coveted global prize.
For the first time since Brazil midfielder Kaka won in 2007, a man other than Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo has been crowned the best male footballer in the world. Indeed, Messi missed out on a top-three place for the first time since 2006.
Both superstars remain somewhere close to the peak of their powers and may well find themselves back at the summit 12 months from now.
Nevertheless, Modric breaking the Messi-Ronaldo streak means the Ballon d'Or now looks more of a possibility for other players shining at the elite level. We look at six who, if everything falls into place, could take home the trophy in 2019.
The next winner of the Ballon d'Or after Messi and Ronaldo not being called Neymar means the best-laid plans of the world's most expensive footballer have already gone awry. There have been moments of magic since his arrival at Paris Saint-Germain but also a frustrating World Cup. The processional nature of Ligue 1 means Neymar's 2019 hopes largely rest upon how much of an impression PSG can make on the Champions League. If Thomas Tuchel's side is to go all the way – it is yet to confirm progression from the group stage – and Neymar follows that up by leading Brazil to Copa America glory, he will have significant substance behind his claims.
Neymar's ambition is arguably hindered by Mbappe who, if this year's Ballon d'Or rankings are anything to go by, means he is not even the best forward plying his trade in Paris. Since bursting onto the scene with Monaco in 2016-17, teenager Mbappe has consistently thrilled admirers with pace, power and lavish skill. His demolition job on Argentina proved the stand-out individual showing in France's World Cup triumph. It feels like a case of when and not if Mbappe gets his hands on the trophy.
Of course, Mbappe might have at least one of his France international team-mates to reckon with. The best placed is Griezmann. He followed a brace in Atletico Madrid's Europa League final win over Marseille with four in Les Bleus' World Cup campaign. It meant a second podium finish in three years in the Ballon d'Or – if Atletico Madrid can prevail in an eminently winnable LaLiga or reach a Champions League final at its home stadium, Griezmann will be heading for the top step.
Manchester City is setting a furious pace in its Premier League title defence. Kevin De Bruyne was the standout in its record-breaking campaign but, in the Belgian's injury absence this time around, Sterling has propelled himself to top billing. Eight goals and six assists so far give him a claim over being the outstanding player in England's top flight this season. Guardiola is right to identify Sterling's ample room for improvement. Should he score the goals to help City win an as-yet elusive Champions League before propelling England to an inaugural Nations League crown, the 23-year-old would certainly be in Ballon d'Or contention.
A scarcely credible haul of 44 goals in all competitions for Liverpool last season means Salah could perhaps feel aggrieved over only being sixth in the final reckoning this year. The Egypt forward has quietly chalked up nine this term without yet hitting his best form. Liverpool is clinging manfully on to City's coattails in England – if Salah can crank through the gears and inspire a famous title triumph his star will never have been higher.
As demonstrated by Modric, a Ballon d'Or winner does not have to bolt youthfully from the pack. A willingness to reward a career-long body of work could stand Suarez in good stead. His brilliant hat-trick as Messi sat out the recent Clasico thumping of Real Madrid underlined the striker's enduring quality. Breaking Los Blancos' grip on the Champions League will no doubt be a priority before Suarez leads a talent-stacked Uruguay generation at the 2019 Copa America. Like Modric's Croatia, it is probably its last tournament as a much-celebrated collective – as such, victory would resonate all the more strongly.
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