The official closure of the 2018/19 football season is almost upon us with the African Cup of Nations the final international tournament still to be running.

Each club’s season has been analysed as well as the nations that competed in the four continental tournaments during 2019, with particularly scrutiny being placed on the world’s top players ahead of the naming of the next Ballon D’Or winner.

Bookies are already setting their favourites, and with Luka Modric breaking the Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo dominance last year, 2019 could be another year with a new winner.

Messi went to the Copa America with Argentina looking to finally break his international duck and clinch his first trophy with his country, and after a stumbling start the Albiceleste were made to settle for a bronze medal after losing to eventual champions Brazil in the semi-finals.

The award for the world’s best footballer continues to be a debate of strictly individual talent versus the team success that particular player was able to harvest, and Argentina’s failure to win means that Messi won just La Liga last season as Barcelona lost in the Copa del Rey final and were of course stunned by Liverpool’s Champions League semi-final second leg comeback.

La Liga for Barcelona is something of a mere formality and it is expected year on year that they are achieving more than simply just that, with the Champions League being the most coveted prize of all.

And it is for this reason that the bookies currently have a host of Liverpool’s top talents at the top of their list, one of which is Mohamed Salah.

The Reds’ Egyptian King broke into the top three last year after his recording breaking goal tally in the Premier League and will undoubtedly have his name amongst the favourites again after helping his side to a sixth Champions League crown as he scored in the final.

But Salah failed to back that up with his country as Egypt were dumped out of their home African Cup of Nations after a shock 1-0 loss to South Africa. This opens the door for his Reds teammate Sadio Mane to lead Senegal to a first AFCON trophy.

Alisson Becker and Roberto Firmino enjoyed a fantastic end to their already successful season as they won the Copa America with Brazil, with the former wrapping up a hat-trick of Golden Glove awards after keeping the most clean sheets in the Premier League, Champions League and the Copa.

Legendary goalkeeper Lev Yashin remains the only gloveman to claim the honour, and perhaps Alisson is now in as good a position as any other keeper has ever been to win it.

A possible long shot could be Bernardo Silva who enjoyed his best season as a professional footballer, winning Manchester City’s player of the season as he helped the Citizens to the famed domestic quadruple.

The 24-year-old’s success did not end there though as he played a key role in guiding Portugal to lift the inaugural UEFA Nations League title, rounding put a trophy-laden season for him that could have every chance of ending with the Ballon D’Or on his top shelf.

The current favourite is back in Merseyside, however, and it is Liverpool’s imperious Dutch centre back Virgil van Dijk.

Jurgen Klopp’s record defensive signing claimed PFA Player of the Year honours, the first defender to do so since John Terry 14 years ago and was unanimously Liverpool’s best player of the season as he transformed their defence on the way to lifting the European Cup.

Van Dijk also steered the resurgence of the Netherlands national team who, after missing the last two major tournaments, qualified for the first UEFA Nations League Finals.

No defender has won the Ballon D’Or since Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 after he had lifted the World Cup with Italy, and it could be time to buck the trend and give it to a defender once again after van Dijk’s stellar campaign.

 

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Nick Hughes
nick.hughesy6@gmail.com