There was hardly any neutral who didn’t love Atletico Madrid’s 2014 La Liga triumph, the unheralded side who had spent most of the previous decade as the butt of all jokes, rising to power, a bit like Jon Snow in R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones (minus the stabbing and resurrection).
The previous season, Atleti had left Real Madrid on their own Bernabeu turf and walked away with the Copa Del Rey, and barely a year later the next location of their triumph was at the Nou Camp, Barcelona this time the team who watched as Diego Simeone’s team became league champions. It was an outcome that sent shockwaves and joy in the world, neither Barcelona nor Real Madrid were Spanish champions for the first time in a decade.
Everyone loves a dynasty being halted, a duopoly coming to a stutter at least, not least in football. Many enjoyed Chelsea winning the Premier League in 2005, ending the ten-year run of ‘either Arsenal or Manchester United’, just as many loved Manchester City triumphing in 2012, ending the swapsies between Chelsea and United, and Leicester’s story of 2016 still writes itself. Change at the top is always seen as better in football.
So, when Luka Modric walked off with the Best Player in the Champions League season of 2017/18 award in August, many were hoping the Croat would top it off with FIFA’s The Best top gong, as well as the Ballon D’Or. So far, it’s two out of three, the man who inspired Croatia to first ever World Cup final in the summer becoming the first man since Kaka in 2007 that isn’t Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo to be crowned the best player in the world. That raises the question of whether Modric’s year of domination spells the beginning of the end for Messi and Ronaldo.
The World Cup in Russia went some way to prove that Messi and Ronaldo may well be in the embers of their hegemony, both players skippered their respective countries out of the tournament on the same day, suffering last-16 exits, while the likes of Modric, Kylian Mbappe and Eden Hazard would go on to at least the semi-finals. Those two are one of the players tipped for future best player in the world awards, and having watched Modric displace the incomparable Argentine and Portuguese duo, their time will be projected to come even sooner.
Perhaps the world is starting to move on past the Messi-Ronaldo era, the Argentine national team won with comfort for the first time in a while in their last international, with Messi not in the side, while Real Madrid are starting to look more of fluid side with Ronaldo having departed. It’s too early to discard the duo, though, Real Madrid might look like more of a complete team without CR7, but there are games in which they have struggled this season, and could have done with a walking goal-scoring statistic like their all-time top scorer, while Barcelona still look far from their best without Messi in the side.
But perhaps it’s a measured process, Ronaldo may still be goal-scoring machine, and able to command a fee of 88million at the age of 33, but is becoming increasingly dispensable, while Messi may still be more of all-rounder, but his influence is dipping, as it inevitably would. Those two still have a fight in them, but as Modric’s accomplishment has shown, are there now better fighters?