Buck The Trend: Could Raheem Sterling Become England’s First Ballon d’Or Winner Since Michael Owen?
Luka Modric broke the Lionel Messi and Cristiano duopoly a few months ago when he won the 2018 Ballon d’Or following a stunning season in which he won the Champions League with Real Madrid, then skippered Croatia to their first ever World Cup Final.
Prior to Modric’s deserved success, you’d have to stretch all the way back to 2007 to see when a player that isn't a footballing God - Messi or Ronaldo - last won the coveted award: Kaka.
From an English perspective, it’s been what feels like an eternity since Michael Owen, then of Liverpool, saw off competition from Raul and Olivier Kahn to claim the 2001 gong. Since then only midfielders Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard have featured on the podium, second and third respectively in 2005.
The history books also inform us that a player from these shores has only stood at the summit of this particular category five times since the inaugural award was handed out in 1956: Stanley Matthews (who won the first award), World Cup winner Bobby Charlton (1966), Kevin Keegan back-to-back prizes in 1978 and 1979, and of course the aforementioned Owen.
It is worth noting that originally the honour was only allocated to players from Europe, then between 1995 and 2007 it opened up slightly to all players from European clubs. So, no English player has been pictured with the prestigious accolade in its global form.
But, could that change this year?
Step forward Raheem Sterling.
“There is a lot more to come...Professionally it would be to win the Champions League and be on the podium for the Ballon d’Or, and personally making sure my mum and family are happy is something I want to maintain – I want to keep smiles on their faces,” Sterling recently told complex when asked about his goals for the future.
The Manchester and England winger has enjoyed an exceptional start to 2019.
Sterling has a dozen goals to his name since the turn of the year, more than City teammate Sergio Aguero, Liverpool star Mo Salah, and a certain Ronaldo.
Seven of those goals have come in the last two weeks alone, which includes hat-tricks against Watford, then for England last night when Gareth Southgate’s men ran riot against the Czech Republic in their Euro 2020 opener.
In the process, Sterling became the first England player this century to score a hat-trick for club and country (@OptaJoe).
Obviously, we’re only a few months into the year meaning there’s still a feast of football to be played. However, the signs so far are extremely promising.
Sterling could end the current campaign as a quadruple winner. Man City have already hoisted the League Cup - he scored the winning penalty in spectacular fashion - they are in the semi-finals of the FA Cup, Champions League quarter-finals, and if they win their game in hand they are back at the summit of the Premier League.
If Pep Guardiola’s men go all the way in those remaining three competitions then an unprecedented quadruple is complete. Fans could even call it a quintuple, of sorts, as City did win the Community Shield back in August. That’s five trophies out of a possible five.
That would tick all Sterling’s boxes from a club perspective but what about on the international scene?
As mentioned, we’re only one England game into the year but Sterling has already bagged a hat-trick, while you’d expect him to add to his overall Three Lions tally (seven) against Montenegro on Monday.
The current year may not feature one of the traditional major tournaments - World Cup or Euros - but in June we can look forward to the inaugural Nations League Finals. England face Holland in the semi-finals, and if successful, either hosts Portugal or Switzerland in the Final.
We are being presumptuous here but it’s not exactly out of the question to envision Sterling winning the quadruple and then Nations League over the course of the next three months. Wow, what a thought.
Let’s remember that Messi and Ronaldo are both shining brightly as always this year.
Messi’s Barcelona are on course to win La Liga, they are also in the Champions League quarter-finals, and Copa del Rey Final, and he has the Copa America to look forward to this summer.
Ronaldo, who like Sterling has the chance to win the Nations League, is drawing closer to a debut Serie A success with Juventus, who face Ajax in the last-eight of the Champions League.
However, it would be incredibly difficult to look past the achievements of Sterling - if all goes to plan - when coaches, captains, and journalists cast their votes towards the end of the year.