In 1982, Adidas introduced a Golden Ball award to honour the best player at the World Cup.
Since then, we’ve had nine winners:
- 1982 — Paolo Rossi (Italy)
- 1986 — Diego Maradona (Argentina)
- 1990 — Salvatore Schillaci (Italy)
- 1994 — Romario (Brazil)
- 1998 — Ronaldo (Brazil)
- 2002 — Oliver Kahn (Germany)
- 2006 — Zinedine Zidane (France)
- 2010 — Diego Forlan (Uruguay)
- 2014 — Lionel Messi (Argentina)
So, what does the Golden Ball’s history tell us about this year’s award?
Seven of the nine winners were finalists, with only Schillaci (1990) and Forlan (2014) claiming the gong having lost in the semi-finals.
it’s fair to say that Belgium’s defeat to France has seriously hindered Eden Hazard’s hopes.
That leaves us with five prime candidates, according to the bookies:
- Kylian Mbappe (France)
- Harry Kane (England)
- Luka Modric (Croatia)
- Antoine Griezmann (France)
- N’Golo Kante (France)
You might think that France’s status as favourites to lift the trophy would benefit their three ‘nominees’.
However, only three of the nine Golden Ball winners (Rossi, Maradona and Romario) lifted the World Cup trophy in the same year.
Recent history has favoured runners-up, with four of the last five Golden Ball winners suffering the heartbreak of defeat in the final.
Since 1998, the general theme is that the beaten finalists’ best player has been consoled with the Golden Ball — Ronaldo (1998), Kahn (2002), Zidane (2006), Messi (2014).
Worryingly for Harry Kane, only two players have won both the Golden Ball and the Golden Boot since 1982 — Rossi (1982) and Schillaci (1990).
This suggests that those charged with dishing out the awards are keen to ensure two separate winners.
For example, if France were to lose to England in the final (fingers crossed) then tradition would dictate that Mbappe is presented with the Golden Ball.
Although his choice of boots may work against him…
Some have suggested that because the award is an Adidas creation, the committee favour Adidas players.
None of the first five winners of the award were affiliated with Adidas, but every winner since the turn of the century has worn the three stripes.
Mbappe, Kane and Modric and all sponsored by Nike while Griezmann is one of Puma’s most-recognised ambassadors.
All this is good news for Kante — France’s tireless midfielder is the only Adidas-affiliated player among the Golden Ball favourites.
What’s our conclusion?
Recent history suggests that if you lose the final, don’t win the Golden Boot, and are sponsored by Adidas, then the Golden Ball will end up in your trophy cabinet.
But if this World Cup has taught us anything, it’s that predictions and logic are for fools.