The 2018 Ballon d’Or winner will be crowned on Dec. 3 and rumours began to swirl around last week suggesting that the winner is based in the Spanish capital. It’s expected that one of Antoine Griezmann, Raphaël Varane or Luka Modrić will become the first player not named Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo to win the prize since 2007, but I like to think that France Football are instead planning to give it to another Madrid-based player.
What if they decide to award it to Lucas Hernández?
The 22-year-old wasn’t included on the 30-man shortlist for the award and the reality is that he won’t be starring on the front cover of France Football anytime soon, but if this really is a prize for efforts in the calendar year of 2018 then he needs to be in the conversation.
“Griezmann and Varane both won the European trophy they were involved in and also lifted the World Cup, so they have to be leading candidates” is a line that has often been spat out through excited teeth this Ballon d’Or season, but the same applies to Lucas and he hasn’t been mentioned. Did he not, like Griezmann, play in eight out of nine Europa League knockout matches? Did he not play alongside Varane in every match at the World Cup?
Of course, the Ballon d’Or shouldn’t actually just be about what your team has won. If that was the case then we’d be giving it to Dejan Lovren had the two main finals of 2018 ended differently. It has to also be an evaluation of individual performance, but Lucas has been outstanding from start to finish this year.
From the start of January up until he suffered a hamstring injury in mid-February, Lucas was part of an Atlético Madrid defence that conceded just one goal in seven LaLiga matches, while he spent spring pushing los rojiblancos toward Europa League glory. In addition to finishing the 2017/18 season with silverware, the Frenchman displayed his famous versatility by playing 20 of his 29 matches between January and May as a left-back, and only nine at his natural centre-back position.
Didier Deschamps then selected him as France’s starting left-back at the World Cup and he was magnifique, surprising many to become one of Les Bleus’ most important players. No player in his position had more assists (2), more aerial duels won (12), more fouls won (15), more tackles (16) or more clearances (18) in Russia.
There was little rest for him as he played all 120 minutes of the UEFA Super Cup win over Real Madrid in Estonia, exactly one month to the day after the World Cup final. His start to the main stretch of the 2018/19 season has been just as impressive, with a few more standout performances added to his collection along the way — all without having to pull out “World Cup fatigue” from the excuses drawer. There was the 2-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund when he led the centre of defence alongside rookie Francisco Montero to hold Europe’s scariest attack to a clean sheet. Or last Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Barcelona, when he was voted as los colchoneros’ best player on the night by MARCA.
Now that all is said and done and voting has closed on this year’s Ballon d’Or, has Lucas done enough to be considered the very best player in the world for 2018? Probably not. But has he been good enough to merit a place in the top half a dozen and to be in the conversation? Absolutely.