IF you asked most fans for a list, he’d been in the top two.
And probably, just, first in the majority of them.
Getty – Contributor7 Will Lionel Messi be on Ballon d'Or short list again?
Lionel Messi, alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, has dominated football for a decade.
The two greatest talents of a generation.
Arguably, the two greatest ever.
But not in 2018. Not this year.
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AFP7 Just the five Ballon d'Or gongs for Lionel Messi
AFP or licensors7 Cristiano Ronaldo has scooped it five times as well
Yes, both Messi and Ronaldo have scored goals, plenty of them.
The Argentine’s tally for club and country in 2018 is 42 goals in 48 games, 15 in 15 for Barca this term.
Ronaldo has been even more prolific, with 44 goals in 45 games, including that summer switch to Juventus.
Yet while both won silverware, Barca lifting La Liga, Real completing that unprecedented Champions League hat-trick, 2018 has not been about either of them.
It was about a player in Madrid’s white shirt, yes.
But more about what he did in red and white checks.
And it was about two men in royal blue.
Elite club football may be the pinnacle of the game but it is not the tip of the global passion.
Not in a World Cup year.
So when Messi’s penalty miss against Iceland, his brilliant goal against Nigeria, and creativity against France all added up to a last 16 exit from Russia for Argentina, he lost his “automatic” place in the world top three.
Getty Images – Getty7 Could there be a new sheriff in town in the form of Luka Modric
AFP or licensors7 Or how about World Cup winner Raphael Varane?
Likewise, his long-time rival, overshadowed by Gareth Bale in Kiev, remembered as much in Russia for the red card he should have got against Iran as his hat-trick in the draw with Spain.
Also on his way home before the quarter-finals.
We will not forget or dismiss either of them.
Indeed, watching Messi bewitching PSV this week, just as he led Spurs a merry dance at Wembley, you would have to be a fool to write him, or Ronaldo, out of the equation when the feats of the 2018-19 season come to be weighed up.
But while the voting panel for the Ballon d’Or is heavily French-accented – it is, of course, a prize invented and, now once again, administered by France Football magazine – that does not mean the rumoured top three is an illegitimate choice.
Luka Modric, already Fifa’s choice as the “Best”, may win this one as well.
But given the way France performed in Russia, it is hard to argue that Raphael Varane, their defensive kingpin who was one of the winners in Kiev too, deserves his place in the limelight.
Getty – Contributor7 After an incredible season at Liverpool, Mo Salah could be a contender
AP:Associated Press7 Eden Hazard's brilliance helped Belgium to third place in the World Cup
Likewise, the teenager with jet heels, vision and an eye for goal, Kylian Mbappe, whose smile lit up Moscow and beyond in June and July.
There could, too, have been a case for a few more.
Hugo Lloris, whose key saves against Uruguay and Belgium were so important.
Eden Hazard, the angelic touch that made the Red Devils something special.
Mohamed Salah, who carries the burden of representing the North African, Middles Eastern and Islamic world, as well as the hopes and dreams of the red half of Merseyside.
Even the fellow who left Russia with the Golden Boot, emerging as the best target man centre-forward in Europe if not beyond.
Though nobody at Spurs wants to think of Harry Kane going anywhere unless he is wearing a Tottenham shirt.
And that is why the omission of Messi is not an outrage, a scandal, a crime.
For the first time in 10 years, football actually had a choice.
It was not, from the get-go, Messi, Ronaldo plus one other.
One thing you can be sure of, mind.
If you even think about writing Messi off, you will be made to look very silly, very quickly.
He will be back. Probably this time next year….