By Prarthana Mitra
In a historic move towards recognition for women in football, Norwegian forward Ada Hegerberg took home the first ever women’s Ballon d’Or on Monday, awarded to the best player in women’s football. Croatian midfielder Luka Modrić won the 2018 Ballon d’Or award for the best player in men’s, breaking Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi stranglehold over the award for the first time in a decade.
In search of world recognition
Women’s fight for recognition on the biggest stage also took a giant leap forward with the inaugural award for Hegerberg, who plays for a French team, Olympic Lyonnais. The Norwegian forward, who helped Lyon win the French title and is a three-time Women’s Champions League winner, has scored over 250 goals in her career, and a tournament-record 15 times last season.
“Being historical and the first woman to win the Ballon d’Or is a huge moment in my life,” the 23-year-old said of her historic win, calling it a fantastic day for women’s football. Believing in the importance of showing young girls that they can believe in themselves, she hoped to inspire future generations of female footballers.
“I want to say thanks to France Football, she said expressing her gratitude for the magazine that organises this award every year. It’s a huge step for women’s football,” Hegerberg said.
However, her crowning moment was tarnished when the French DJ and co-presenter Martin Solveig asked her if she knew how to twerk, on stage, after she beat all odds (posed by her gender and the equally dexterous rival Denmark’s Pernille Harder) to the prize.
Here's the incident on video.
I don't speak French, but it's pretty clear Ada Hegerberg is NOT happy with being asked about *twerking* after being announced as the first female ever to win the #BallondOr.
— Felix Tamsut (@ftamsut) December 3, 2018
The 23-year-old footballer simply answered “no” after Solveig asked her in French to do the provocative dance. Her evident embarrassment led to a huge social media storm following which Solveig apologised and responded to the criticism by saying that it was meant to be a joke. In a series of tweets, he said he didn’t mean to offend anyone.
“This was a joke, probably a bad one, and I want to apologize for the one I may have offended. Sorry about that,” he said.
“He came to me afterwards and was really sad that it went that way,” the Norwegian forward played down the incident, in her interview to the BBC. “I didn’t really consider it sexual harassment or anything in the moment. I was just happy to do the dance and win the Ballon d’Or.”
Andy Murray hits out at "unreal" sexism in sport after Ada Hegerberg was asked to twerk at the Ballon d'Or ceremony. pic.twitter.com/Mu4VCtmofx
— ESPN UK (@ESPNUK) December 4, 2018
France Football magazine has been awarding the Ballon d’Or since 1956, and created a women’s award for the first time this year. Among other breakthroughs in women’s football this year, Manchester United launched their women’s squad this summer. The dearth of prestigious awards to recognise women’s talent explains the lack of sponsors for women’s teams, and the widening gender wage gap in sports.
There are a few noteworthy awards for women in football. One of them is given by England’s Football Association which recognises women in football from teams across the UK. BBC’s Women’s Footballer of the Year 2018 was awarded to Olympique Lyonnais and England defender Lucy Bronze while Hederberg emerged third in the Best FIFA Women’s Player rankings this year, which recognises global talent with an annual award.
The rise of Luka Modrić
Modrić’s win effectively ended the duopoly of Ronaldo and Messi, who were both absent from the felicitation ceremony and have, between them, won every single Ballon d’Or since 2007. It came as terrific news for Real Madrid, which has the world’s best player in their ranks once again.
In his typically humble and emotional response, the Croatian player, who guided his team to the World Cup finals in July, admitted being pleasantly surprised by the recognition. “As a kid we all have dreams. My dream was to play for a big club and win important trophies,” Modrić said. “The Ballon d’Or was more than just a dream for me and it is really an honour and a privilege to hold this trophy.”
Journalist Boris Starling had penned his thoughts about the Croatian zeal, on the eve of the 2018 FIFA World Cup final, touching upon Modrić’s difficult childhood amidst an economic and political upheaval in his country, then under a Serbian siege. The 33-year-old midfielder was awarded the Golden Ball for being the best player of the tournament, after his terrific performance and decisive control over time and space in the centrefield.
Shortly before the World Cup, Modrić had also won the Champions League with Real Madrid. Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović had congratulated him over the victory immediately after the announcement.
About Ballon d’Or
Making off with the £ 5,000 prize, Hegerberg and Modrić join football’s most prestigious hall of fame. The Ballon d’Or is awarded on the basis of the player’s personal form in that calendar year, irrespective of their team’s achievements. France Football shortlists a list of 30 players, who are then voted for by respected football journalists, predominantly from France, England, Spain and Germany. Each jurist picks their top three and grades them according to certain criteria, which is then totalled and compared. In 2017, Ronaldo won with 946 points with 176 jurors voting. This year, Modrić scored 753 points.
How did other players do?
According to the Ballon d’Or rankings, in the inaugural women’s index, Danish player Pernille Harder was ranked third, followed by German midfielder Dzsenifer Marozsan, while English player Lucy Bronze was at sixth.
In the men’s list, Ronaldo stands second followed by Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappé, respectively. Messi was ranked fifth by the voters, having been a runner-up to Ronaldo the past two years, and in the top three every year since 2007. Modrić had never previously been in the top three.
Mbappé, France’s extraordinary 19-year-old striker, was also nominated for the inaugural best young player award on Monday, which he ended up winning. The Paris Saint-Germain forward and the first teenager to score in the World Cup final since Pelé, Mbappé beat Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold and last year’s winner, Brazil star Neymar to the Kopa Trophy (for players under the age of 21).
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.