Our in-house football expert selects his top seven candidates for this year’s soccer world cup Player of the Tournament.
Players are often criticised for going missing in the big games for their respective clubs, now, at international level, there is no time for off-days. It’s the biggest stage of them all. It’s the soccer world cup.
The era of the Brazilian Ronaldo, Oliver Kahn, Zinedine Zidane and Diego Forlan is all behind us now. And it showed in 2014, when Lionel Messi claimed his first Golden Ball award, with the Argentine maestro currently at 8/1 to bag back-to-back accolades.
No player has ever won the Adidas Golden Ball consecutively, or even twice for that matter, hence why we’ll be looking at other candidates, as well as Messi, who cannot be ruled out.
Starting off with the tournament favourites, Brazil, and their superstar, Neymar Jr. The world’s most expensive footballer will be well-rested ahead of this year’s soccer world cup after picking up an injury for Paris Saint-Germain back in February.
It will also mean that Neymar will be raring to have a go at defenders and remind the footballing world what an icon he was on course to be. He has, however, been criticised for playing for himself instead of his teammates, but under the tutelage of coach Tite, times have changed, with Neymar linking up much more with the likes of Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho. Brazil are almost guaranteed to make it through to the latter stages of the tournament so that immediately will boost Neymar’s chances of claiming the Golden Ball.
Lionel Messi (8/1)
Now if ever there was a footballer that could take the soccer world cup by storm, it’s Messi. The living legend will captain his country, Argentina, and will have the weight of a nation on his shoulders. If Messi plays well, Argentina will buzz. That showed in 2014 when he guided his team to a place in the final, losing to Germany in extra-time.
Messi was still the star of the show and will be looking to set another record of winning the Adidas Golden Ball award twice in a row – a feat never achieved before. If Messi’s first trophy at international level is the soccer world cup, being the Player of the Tournament is almost a certainty. With the Argentine wizard guiding Barcelona to a comfortable league title, he’ll surely feel that he can keep that momentum up and steer his nation to a top finish.
Antoine Griezmann (16/1)
From being one of the unluckiest footballers alive, Antoine Griezmann is now considered as one of the best players on the planet. The French international missed out on winning the league title a couple of years ago with Atletico Madrid, he then lost in the UEFA Champions League final, while also suffering defeat in the UEFA Euro 2016 final. It may be bad luck, it may be a curse, but Griezmann is certainly ready to lead his nation to success.
Many regard ‘Griezy’ as the third best player behind Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and with the two iconic greats reaching the end of their careers, this is the perfect platform for the French superstar to shine. He claimed the Golden Boot award in the 2016 Euro’s, so there’s no doubting that Griezmann can do it at club level and at the world stage.
Kevin De Bruyne (25/1)
After a superb 2017/18 season with Premier League champions, Manchester City, Kevin De Bruyne will be looking to showcase his talent globally in the red and black colours of Belgium. De Bruyne stands out amongst many superstars in the Belgian team, and if the Red Devils are to stand any chance of winning their first ever soccer world cup, they’ll need the City playmaker to be at his usual best.
The 26-year-old has the ability to boss the game in midfield, tracks back when necessary, and plays those mesmerizing passes to unlock the opposition defence. Personally, I feel De Bruyne should have walked away with England’s PFA Player of the Year award, but that’s another whole debate on its own.
Cristiano Ronaldo (16/1)
This article would never be the finished product if the world’s greatest ever footballer didn’t get a mention. Yes, I said it. GREATEST EVER. Ronaldo’s presence on the pitch just brings shivers down defenders’ spines, and even when the Portuguese superstar is having an off-day, he is still a nightmare for the opposition. Ronaldo just needs one chance to break your heart, and given the opportunity, CR7 will make no mistake.
Unlike Messi, Ronaldo has won a trophy at international level, and we all know he has a knack of popping up with some individual awards as well. For that reason, we simply cannot look past him at 16/1. Portugal have arguably the most challenging group alongside Spain, Morocco and Iran, and we all know how much Ronaldo loves a big occasion, so the tougher the task, the more I’d expect him to be up there.
Mesut Ozil, Toni Kroos (33/1 & 50/1)
The bookmakers have been very generous when it comes to Germany ahead of the soccer world cup. The first German in the betting for the Player of the Tournament is at 25/1, and that’s Thomas Muller, leaving the likes of Mesut Ozil and Toni Kroos further down the betting list. Personally, I’m going to have to immediately rule out Muller getting the Golden Ball award, but to have the above-mentioned duo at 33/1 and 50/1 respectively seems a bit absurd.
Firstly, Ozil is not the same player he is at Arsenal. When he puts on the national team shirt, we see a much more energetic playmaker, who has more desire and shows more fight. Kroos is another player who can take a game by the scruff of its neck. The 28-year-old box-to-box midfielder is a three-time consecutive winner of the UEFA Champions League, and a current World Cup winner. Germany’s style of play, from what we’ve seen over the years, involves team play, togetherness and no standout individuals, despite all the big-name players on show. That probably explains the prices of 33/1 and 50/1, but still ones we cannot just ignore so easily.
Verdict: Neymar (8/1)
There’s plenty of hype around Neymar, and rightfully so. There simply cannot be another winner of the Adidas Golden Ball. As much as I adore the likes of Ronaldo, Messi and Griezmann, Neymar’s name might as well be engraved on the trophy as we speak.
Brazil are playing the best football they’ve played in years and being the tournament’s favourites, they’re almost guaranteed to make it far in the World Cup. At 8/1, Neymar is my prediction to claim the competition’s best individual accolade.