LONDON • It has practically been a given to see Lionel Messi's name on the shortlist for the Fifa's Men's Player of the Year award, such has been his influence at Barcelona season after season.
But yesterday, the world football governing body made the jaw-dropping decision to omit the Barca talisman as one of the nominees for the first time since 2006, with his old rival Cristiano Ronaldo named alongside Real Madrid's Luka Modric and Mohamed Salah of Liverpool.
Messi, 31, was the runner-up for the prestigious prize in 2007 and 2008 before winning it in 2009 - the first of five straight awards.
He enjoyed another stellar campaign last season, winning the LaLiga and King's Cup double for Barca and scooping up the European Golden Shoe award for the most goals scored with 45 in all competitions, which makes his absence from the list all the more puzzling.
Messi and Portugal forward Ronaldo have dominated the accolade, with the Argentinian featuring in the top three for 11 straight years. Between them, they have won the Champions League nine times and have a combined 14 domestic league titles.
With Messi being overlooked, it opens the way for Ronaldo, also a five-time winner of the Fifa award, to move ahead in their personal battle. The latter scored 44 goals last term and lifted a fourth Champions League title in five years in May before joining Italian champions Juventus in July.
FIFA'S BEST NOMINATIONS
BEST MEN'S PLAYER:
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal, Juventus/formerly Real Madrid), Luka Modric (Croatia, Real), Mohamed Salah (Egypt, Liverpool)
BEST WOMEN'S PLAYER:
Ada Hegerberg (Norway, Lyon), Dzsenifer Marozsan (Germany, Lyon), Marta (Brazil, Orlando Pride)
BEST MEN'S COACH:
Zlatko Dalic (Croatia national team), Didier Deschamps (France national team), Zinedine Zidane (formerly Real)
Thibaut Courtois (Belgium, Real/ formerly Chelsea), Hugo Lloris (France, Tottenham), Kasper Schmeichel (Denmark, Leicester)
The 33-year-old won the annual player of the year crown in 2008, 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017.
However, he will face stiff competition from his former Real team-mate Modric, who enjoyed a superb season for club and country, and is fresh off winning the Golden Ball award at the World Cup in Russia.
As well as his influential displays in Real's Champions League triumph, the Croatia midfielder was the key man for his country as they reached their first World Cup final, finishing as runners-up to France. And just last week, the 32-year-old was named Uefa's Men's Player of the Year.
Former Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, who was at the event in London to unveil the Fifa nominations, has also backed Modric to add to his string of prizes this year.
"I think we have a new winner this year," he said. "His performances were fantastic. Rightly so he got best player at the World Cup and I fully expect him to win this."
Fans' votes will count for 25 per cent of the total ballot. The remaining 75 per cent will be distributed evenly between the national coaches of Fifa member associations, their team captains and a select group of football journalists from those countries.
Egypt forward Salah, 26, also has impeccable credentials as a potential winner of the award.
He enjoyed a record-breaking debut season with the Reds as he propelled Jurgen Klopp's men to the Champions League final, while setting a host of individual club milestones in the process, including breaking the Premier League's goalscoring record with 32.
The Fifa award ceremony to crown the best player in the world will take place on Sept 24 in London.