Ballon d’or 2018: the real winner

Benjamin Obi Tayo Ph.D.
3 min readDec 5, 2018

The Ballon d’or is an annual soccer (football) award presented by France Football. This award is the most prestigious individual soccer award. It could be compared to the MVP award in NBA or NFL. The 2018 ballon d’or was awarded to Real Madrid’s Luka Modric just a few days ago amid a lot controversy. Before Modric, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo shared 10 ballon d’or awards evenly.

Amid lots of controversy surrounding the 2018 ballon d’or award, we raise the question: who is the real winner of the 2018 ballon d’or?

To answer this question, we turn our attention to data analytics. We compare player statistics for 3 top contenders based on 3 performance metrics, namely, games, goals, and assists using data for the 2017/18 and 2018/19 soccer seasons, all competitions (domestic league, world cup, and international matches) included. Player data was obtained from this website: and stored in a csv file:

Player statistics, source:
Average goals and assists per player.

Code was written in R to analyze the data and to produce barplots for visualization. The data set and code can be found here:

A summary of the output is shown in the figure below:

Based on this analysis, Messi and Ronaldo have the best statistics in terms of goals and assists. Ronaldo had a better goal scoring average (0.867) compared to Messi’s average (0.807), while Messi leads in assists per game (0.410) compared to Ronaldo’s average (0.227). The 3 trophies won by Messi were all domestic trophies, while Ronaldo and Modric were both members of the Real Madrid’s squad that won the 2017/2018 edition of the UEFA Champions League.

Impact of Champions League and World Cup

The 2018 UEFA Champions League and 2018 FIFA World Cup both must have played a great role in deciding the winner of the ballon d’or. Overall, Ronaldo had a better world cup performance than Messi, and having won the champions league as well, he is the clear winner of the ballon d’or.

2018 World Cup player statistics. Source:
2017/2018 and 2018/2019 UEFA Champions League player statistics. Source:

Modric of course elevated his team and contributed greatly to Croatia’s national team which finished second in the world cup. However, with a goal scoring average during this past year of just 0.049, and an average of only 0.160 assists per game, his overall performance is way inferior to Ronaldo’s.

The real results of the 2018 ballon d’or based on true statistics is therefore:

1st place: Ronaldo

2nd place: Messi

3rd place: Modric

If the world cup was the major deciding factor, then the ballon d’or should have been awarded to Raphael Varane who won both champions League and world cup, not to Modric.

In summary, we have analyzed who the real winner of the 2018 ballon d’or award is. It’s fair to congratulate Modric for a great accomplishment, however Ronaldo was stripped of an award which he clearly deserves. Ronaldo had a clear chance to a record 6 ballon d’or awards, which could have placed him ahead of Messi, thus solidifying the argument of who the greatest soccer player of all time is.

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Benjamin Obi Tayo Ph.D.

Dr. Tayo is a data science educator, tutor, coach, mentor, and consultant. Contact me for more information about our services and pricing: