For the first time in a decade, the Ballon d’Or was not won by either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, the twin giants of the modern footballing epoch.
While Ronaldo finished runner-up, Messi was not even included in the final three for the first time since 2006 and neither player — nor fellow global icon Neymar — was in attendance in Paris to see Luka Modric being bestowed with the prestigious award at the ever-gaudy gala evening.
But what were they up to instead?
Roughly 10 minutes after Modric was announced as Ballon d’Or winner, Messi posted on his Instagram story — not to congratulate his contemporary on a splendid year — but to share a captionless photo of himself at home with his kids, Thiago and Mateo.
— BarcaTimes (@BarcaTimes) 3 December 2018
On the other hand, Ronaldo sat back and remained silent as his family and friends did all the talking on the Juventus man’s behalf. Speaking before the ceremony, Juve captain Giorgio Chiellini was positively gushing with praise as he did his best to talk his teammate up.
“Our self-confidence has grown and Cristiano is the cherry on top,” Chiellini rhapsodised. “Cristiano improves us on a day-to-day basis and he works in an incredible way, which we had been lacking, and he’s an example.
“He’s giving us what [Andrea] Pirlo gave us domestically back in 2011, whereas Cristiano’s giving us that edge in Europe. He’s different — he improves those around him.
“There are these world class players who make all of those around him play well and Ronaldo is one of these. He’s also filled the void that [Gianluigi] Buffon left in terms of his personality.”
High praise indeed.
Ronaldo’s sister, Katia Aveiro, took to Instagram to post a photo of her brother’s 2017 Ballon d’Or win accompanied with a spiky message that read: “Best in player in the world…for those who know football, that is.”
Meanwhile, Ronaldo’s other sister, Elma Aveiro, was even more critical of the Portuguese star’s snub, posting a similar photo on Instagram along with a diatribe that encompassed talk of a “world full of rot,” the influence of the mafia and the destructive nature of money and greed.
“The power of God is bigger than all that rot,” she wrote. “God takes his time but doesn’t fail.”
Elsewhere on social media, the Portuguese Football Federation made a point of saluting the player they believe to still be the best in the world — well they would say that, wouldn’t they?
— Portugal (@selecaoportugal) 3 December 2018
Miguel Paixao, a close friend of Ronaldo, maintained the party line by accusing France Football of a “huge lack of respect” in steadfastly denying his pal the chance to win a sixth Ballon d’Or.
“The truth is that nobody scored more goals in the 2017-18 campaign than Cristiano Ronaldo, with 54 official goals,” Paixao moaned. “He was the best goal scorer in the Champions League for the sixth consecutive year with 15 goals.
“He won the Champions League, the FIFA Club World Cup, the European Super Cup, the Spanish Super Cup. He scored a hat trick against Spain at the World Cup.
“Among all the candidates for the Ballon d’Or award, nobody has had a more impressive start to the season with goals, assists and great performances than him. Against these facts there are no arguments.”
Nobody puts Cristiano in the corner.
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A CEREJA NO TOPO DA VERGONHA E DO ROUBO… Só Faltava mesmo isto!! Absolutamente inacreditável o que foi feito, este ano, a grande falta de respeito porque quem realmente dentro das 4 linhas fez mais do que o suficiente para ser considerado o melhor mais uma vez. Muitos vão dizer que digo isto apenas por ser amigo, mas não, Mais do que isso, sou justo, e não me esqueço dos factos. Factos esses que falam por si e que, por mais que não quisessem que o @cristiano ganhasse , não poderiam nunca, mas mesmo nunca, passar por cima dos números reais da história do futebol e claramente fechar os olhos a quem realmente foi o melhor do mundo em mais uma época. A verdade é que: | ⚽ – Ninguém marcou mais em 2017/18 do que o Ronaldo, com 54 golos oficiais; | ⚽ – Foi o melhor marcador da Champions League pela 6.ª vez consecutiva, com 15 golos; | 🏆 – Conquistou Champions League, Mundial de Clubes, Supertaça Europeia e Supertaça de Espanha; (marcando golos decisivos) | ⚽ – Protagonizou o feito mais assinalável e memorável do Mundial 2018, com o hat-trick frente à Espanha; | ⚽ – Tornou-se o primeiro jogador do Mundo a marcar em fases finais de 9 grandes competições consecutivas de selecções; | ⚽ – Tornou-se o primeiro jogador do Mundo a ultrapassar a marca dos 400 golos oficiais nas 5 grandes ligas europeias; | ⚽ – Marcou em Turim, ainda pelo Real, o melhor golo do ano e provavelmente o melhor da história da Champions League; | ⚽ – Entre todos os candidatos à Bola de Ouro, nenhum está a ter um arranque de temporada tão esmagador, com golos , Assistências e grandes exibições ; caso consigam contrariar estes dados apresentem .🤷🏻♂️ Contra factos não há argumentos #CR7 #TheBestEver Uma coisa é certa, ainda vão ter que “aturar” o melhor de sempre por muito tempo ☝️🙌🏻💪. A história continua 😀🙌🏻🤴#CR7 #TheBest #ProudOfYouBro #Living7egend #NadaContraoGrdJogadorModric #MasContraFactosNaoHaArgumentos 🤷🏻♂️☝️🤜🏻🤛🏻
Among all this conjecture and opprobrium, you may well be wondering what became of Neymar on Ballon d’Or night.
Having washed up way down in 12th in the official award poll, the Brazilian also chose to give the gala a wide berth despite it taking place in the very city in which he lives.
While Paris Saint-Germain strike partner Kylian Mbappe at least showed his face at the Grand Palais — and claimed the Raymond Kopa Trophy for best under-21 player — Neymar instead stayed home and played video games.
— DEXERTO Call of Duty (@DexertoIntel) 3 December 2018
Indeed, while Modric was busy being crowned the best player in the world, Neymar was deeply entrenched in a Call of Duty live-stream on Twitch.
Far be it from us to criticise, but for a man who seems so utterly desperate to win a Ballon d’Or at some point, he might want to re-think his priorities.
ESPN FC’s Spain correspondent Adriana Garcia contributed to this article