Among the many side markets available for this summer’s World Cup, the betting for the Golden Ball is one of the most interesting. This is awarded at the end of every tournament to the best player, in the judges’ opinion, and it doesn’t always go to the most obvious candidate.
This isn’t like the Premier League Manager of the Season where you just routinely hand the trophy over to the man in charge of the winning team. This is simply down to the best player and not necessarily the one who has made the most telling contribution for the eventual World Cup winners.
Golden Ball: The Market
Before we consider some past trends, we’ll take a look at our options for 2018 and, depending on which bookmaker you use, there is a choice of favourites. Argentina’s Lionel Messi took this award four years ago while Neymar is looking to usurp his former Barcelona team mate and take the Golden Ball trophy back to Brazil.
In general, both men are available at around the 8/1 mark so it is very tight at the top before we move down to Cristiano Ronaldo at 16/1 with most outlets and Antoine Griezmann, who is also at 16/1 in places but out at 20/1 elsewhere.
A number of players sit behind the favourites in the 20/1 to 30/1 bracket and they include England captain and key striker Harry Kane who needs a big tournament after disappointing at Euro 2016.
Manchester City’s Brazilian star Gabriel Jesus can also be found in a mid-price range alongside the likes of Belgium’s Eden Hazard and David Silva of Spain. From there, we move to some distant odds of 30/1 to 40/1 and higher where there are some interesting names including Germany’s Timo Werner, one of the hottest strikers in the world right now.
Paul Pogba also features in this type of price bracket while there could be some serious value in Philippe Coutinho who has the capacity to orchestrate a successful campaign for joint favourites Brazil.
Lionel Messi was one of the favourites to win this award in 2014 but if we go right back to the 1990 World Cup, few would have expected Italy’s Salvatore Schillaci to emerge from the fringes of his own team to claim the Golden Ball award.
Anyone can emerge to enjoy a stellar tournament and we only have to go back to 2010 in South Africa to find another unlikely winner in Uruguay’s Diego Forlan. For Russia 2018, some of the more interesting long-range punts might include Kylian Mbappe, the young French forward who has enjoyed a productive season for PSG but has drifted in the Golden Ball betting for 2018 to around the 50/1 mark.
Germany’s Leroy Sane is at a similar figure but could have a part to play in his country’s bid for a successful World Cup defence while Romelu Lukaku and Alexandre Lacazette can also make an impact if they hit peak scoring form for their respective countries during this tournament.
Golden Ball Strategy
Statistics showed that the Barca man created more chances at the 2014 tournament than anyone else but whatever your own opinion may be, the point here is that the Golden Ball winner did not feature for the World Cup Winning team.
In fact, we have to go right back to 1986 and Diego Maradona to find a Golden Ball winner whose team lifted the outright team trophy. Prior to Mexico 86, the great Maradona had continued a trend that had included Italy’s Paolo Rossi in 1982 and Argentina’s Mario Kempes in 1978.
The run was broken briefly by Johan Cruyff who was a worthy Golden Ball winner in 1974 despite his Dutch side losing to West Germany in the final but moving further back, Pele, Bobby Charlton, Garrincha and Didi are the best players between 1958 and 1970.
To bring us up to date with the modern trend, we move back from Messi in 2014 to find Diego Forlan in 2010, Zinedine Zidane in 2006, Oliver Kahn in 2002, Ronaldo in 1998, Romario in 1994 and Salvatore Schillaci in 1990.
In simple terms, while Golden Ball winners from pre-1990 needed to be on the winning team, anything goes in the modern day and the judges and organisers tend to go with their favourite players.
Obviously, the player in question would need to go deep into the competition and we can therefore rule out anyone who is expected to depart after the group stages but we shouldn’t be looking at German and Brazilian names at the expense of everyone else.
So who fits the bill? Lionel Messi is an option once again and as we saw four years ago, the Argentinian doesn’t need to exceed or even meet expectations in order to pick up the Golden Ball.
Locked on the same price as Messi is Brazil’s Neymar who would firstly need to convince us that he is fully fit after returning from the injury that ruled him out of PSG’s crucial Champions League return against Real Madrid.
If pushed to make a call ourselves, the name that really interests us is that of Cristiano Ronaldo. Few are expecting his Portugal side to win the World Cup but while we’ve seen that this isn’t necessarily a barrier to winning the Golden Ball, and we are talking about a team who are reigning European Champions and look very underrated in the markets.
Ronaldo is also a serial winner of the Ballon D’Or and, as a preferred pick for those who vote for this type of award, we feel that if Portugal make the quarter finals then he has a chance and if they reach the semis then he could well be a ‘shoe-in’. Unlike his great rival Messi, CR7 doesn’t have a tendency to disappear at major tournaments and at a general price of around 16/1, he looks to offer exceptional value.