Fresh company has emerged for holder Cristiano Ronaldo after the 2017/18 UEFA Player of the Year’s three nominees were announced on Monday night.
Three-time winner Cristiano Ronaldo’s stellar exploits for Real Madrid – before this summer’s defection to Juventus – and Portugal maintained his status as the only ever-present in the final reckoning, since 2010/11’s inaugural running.
But rather than usual nemesis Lionel Messi of Barcelona and Argentina, new faces were present. These were former club-mate and Croatia metronome Luka Modric, plus Liverpool and Egypt’s unstoppable Mohamed Salah.
The winner is set to be announced on August 30 in Monaco, prior to the UEFA Champions League’s group-stage draw. But we’ve had a look at the trio’s outstanding campaigns and tried to pick out who we think deserves the continent’s top individual gong.
A new appreciation emerged in 2017/18 for one of football’s most-refined talents.
Modric has long been the conductor for club and country from centre midfield.
Particularly for Madrid, this came in a deferential role to the irrepressible Ronaldo. Yet much of the credit for 2017/18’s third-successive UEFA Champions League was handed to Modric.
Where partners Toni Kroos and Casemiro floundered early on, the 32-year-old was a beacon of consistency.
The squat support act’s ascension to centre stage accelerated at World Cup 2018. As the pivotal figure for Croatia as skipper, the 32-year-old’s comfort in possession and desire to accept responsibility guided Zlatko Dalic’s underdogs to defeat in the final against France.
Apt reward came with FIFA’s Golden Ball, for player of the tournament.
It was a similar story in the Champions League. Wales forward Gareth Bale struck twice in the final and Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius endured a personal disaster, though it was Modric’s artistry which ensured the Premier League side were kept, largely, at arm’s length.
Honours: UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, Spanish Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup, FIFA World Cup runner-up
Win percentage: 59.3
Punishing consistency had come to define Ronaldo throughout his ground-breaking career.
This image was maintained at continental and international levels. But in La Liga, ‘CR7’ rode a rollercoaster.
Hampered by an early suspension, he struck just once in his first eight top-flight appearances as Madrid’s title defence floundered.
In contrast, his final 14 matches produced 22 strikes.
These trademark flourishes were found with frequency elsewhere, in yet another campaign laden with goals, records and trophies.
Ronaldo’s perfect free-kick against Brazil’s Gremio in Abu Dhabi ensured the FIFA Club World Cup was retained.
In the Champions League, the 33-year-old forward became the first man in the competition’s history to net in 11-straight games.
This run would consequentially continue in the semi-finals against future employers, Juve. One of football’s great goals was produced with Turin’s bicycle kick, a place in the final then being earned in nerveless and dramatic fashion thanks to a deciding 93rd-minute penalty in the return leg.
A hat-trick against Spain when World Cup 2018 began was the last personal highlight of another bravura season.
Honours: UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, Spanish Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup
Win percentage: 62.5
A superstar was born at Anfield in 2017/18.
Salah arrived there that June off the back of another fine season for Roma, but with doubts to assuage after a miserable short spell at Chelsea earlier in his career.
Any questions were emphatically answered by the Egypt forward.
The 26-year-old would go on to notch 44 times for his new outfit, coming just three shy of the legendary Ian Rush’s club-record seasonal benchmark. His 32 Premier League efforts also broke the division’s individual season record.
Only an early – and controversial – shoulder injury during defeat in the Champions League showpiece caused by a collision with Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos can sully any memories.
This would impact a World Cup campaign he earned with October’s 95th-minute penalty against DR Congo. This ended an expectant nation’s 28-year wait to compete.
Again, the shoulder problem would cast a shadow. But in two Group A-defeats, he struck twice when clearly unfit.
Salah became the poster boy for manager Jurgen Klopp’s relentless Reds and the crown jewel in an electric front line. Majestic goals against Roma and Manchester City in Europe showcased a talent of rare aplomb.
Honours: UEFA Champions League runner-up
Win percentage: 51.7
Three outstanding candidates, but only one UEFA award to win.
Salah was unstoppable in 2017/18, though a failure to lift any silverware counts against him in this rarefied arena.
Ronaldo was, again, the most-productive performer for the continent’s s champion club. It would be unfair, however, not to overlook his domestic travails in the opening half of the campaign.
This leaves Modric. When Madrid stuttered out the blocks, he valiantly tried to lift them back to their best.
At the World Cup, he was unquestionably the globe’s great performer. Qualification enough to be rightly considered as UEFA’s Player of the Year.
Ronaldo – the winner in each of the last two years – and Modric both starred for Real Madrid as the Spanish giants won the Champions League for the third year running, while the latter also won the Golden Ball for the best player at the World Cup after inspiring Croatia on their run to the final.
Meanwhile, Egyptian star Salah scored 10 times as Liverpool made it to the Champions League final, before losing 3-1 to Real in Kiev.
Salah was forced off with a shoulder injury in the first half of that game after a clash with Real defender Sergio Ramos.
He also netted 32 goals in his debut Premier League season, with that tally a record for a 38-game campaign.
Lionel Messi came fifth in the voting by a jury of 80 coaches from clubs who played in the Champions League and Europa League, as well as 55 journalists representing each UEFA member nation.
The Barcelona star came second to Ronaldo last year but also failed to make the final three-man shortlist in 2016.
Atletico Madrid’s France star Antoine Griezmann, who scored twice as his club beat Marseille 3-0 in the Europa League final, just missed out in fourth.
The winner will be named, along with the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year, in Monaco on Thursday, August 30, the same day as the draw for the Champions League group stage.
The nominees for the women’s award are France’s Amandine Henry and Norway’s Ada Hegerberg, who both won the Champions League with Lyon, and Denmark’s Pernille Harder, who lost in the final with Wolfsburg.
United were architects of their own downfall at the Amex Stadium, making mistakes in the build up to the two opening goals scored by Glenn Murray and Shane Duffy.
Romelu Lukaku briefly halved the deficit but a clumsy challenge from Eric Bailly allowed Pascal Gross to restore Albion’s two-goal lead with a penalty, before Paul Pogba converted an inconsequential stoppage-time spot-kick.
United manager Mourinho blamed individual errors for the surprise defeat and feels it could be damaging for morale.
“The confidence of the players, I think you are right,” replied Mourinho, when asked if it would be difficult to raise the spirits of his team.
“It’s not just the players, I think every person in every job makes a mistake, he’s not happy, self esteem goes down a little bit more, confidence levels, that’s human nature.
“If you ask me if my players are, in this moment, happy, I don’t think they are.”
Brighton, who beat United 1-0 in May to make sure of their top-flight status, repeated the trick by blowing away their opponents in the opening 45 minutes.
Striker Murray took advantage of shoddy defending to superbly flick home the 25th-minute opener, and centre-back Duffy converted two minutes later after the visitors failed to clear a corner.
Lukaku’s close-range header looked like it could inspire a fightback, but Gross’ spot-kick, after he was felled by a clumsy challenge from Bailly, secured the three points just before the break.
Pogba, captaining United, made the scoreline more respectable with almost the final kick of the game following Duffy’s foul on substitute Marouane Fellaini.
Mourinho refused to openly criticise his players, saying he had been too honest in the past and suggesting the defeat was sufficient ammunition for journalists.
“I think this game today, if I was in your position, would give me (enough) material to speak about it or to write about it,” added Mourinho, addressing the media.
“Don’t expect me to speak with you about it because you and your colleagues they were really critical with me in previous seasons (when) I was probably too honest, too open in my analysing.
“Expect from me to be really happy to say after Leicester (a 2-1 win), A, B, C, D, amazing performances, this and that; don’t expect me to go in the other direction.”
Brighton boss Chris Hughton was pleased to record another memorable victory over United and bounce back from last weekend’s disappointing defeat at Watford.
“Very proud of the performance, particularly the reaction from last week,” said Hughton.
“The tempo of the game was very good and I must admit, even if we hadn’t got the result, I would have been really delighted with the way our team played the game and the levels that we got to, to try and get a result.
“And I would like to think that most people watching the game would look at it – I know once it’s a big-six team that others will look at it a little bit different – that we were good, as opposed to United being poor.”