FIFA’s recent award of the Ballon d’Or 2014 (World Player of the Year) to Cristiano Ronaldo proves that the accolade is more about politics and personal popularity than about performance on the field.
Although players from several nationalities are nominated and win the award, they always all play for European clubs while those active in other leagues such as in South America and Mexico are generally overlooked. The best player is chosen by players and managers based on favoritism rather than merit which often creates unworthy winners. Thus the award has lost its recognition and become the object of amusement and ridicule.
The Ballon d’Or was established by a magazine called France Football in 1956 to recognize the history-makers of the game. But that is not what it has turned out to be.
Between January 1 and December 31, 2014 in this competition Lionel Messi scored 35 goals in 36 matches (11 with the right foot, 23 with the left and the other with the head) while Cristiano Ronaldo scored 38 but with less versatility as only 4 were with his head and unfavorable left foot.
In addition Messi created 97 chances, 24 more than any other player and completed 164 dribbles, 63 more than the nearest rival Iker Muniain of Atletico Bilbao (MAILOnline – Why Lionel Messi should win Ballon d’Or after a record-breaking year with Barcelona; by Kieran Gill, January 12, 2015).
Messi conquered the continent on November 25 when he became the all-time top goal scorer in the Champions League in Nicosia, Cyprus. It was his 23rd European city, his 16th European country and recorded the 24th different stadium in which he had scored (MAILOnline etc.)
WORLD CUP 2014
At soccer’s most important competition Messi led Argentina to the final, was voted Man of the Match in 4 games (the most of any player in the competition) and won the Golden Boot as the best player of the tournament.
He had the most impact on the competition. His goals were all match-winning goals which propelled Argentina to the final. He was the third joint highest goal scorer with 4 goals and 1 assist, created the most chances, had the most successful dribbling runs, made the most deliveries into the box and produced the most through balls of any player.
In contrast, Ronaldo was a non-factor and only scored a late goal against minnow Ghana and had an assist against the USA.
Messi’s performance in 2014 was what the Ballon d’Or is all about, namely, history-making performances. On March 16, he became Barcelona’s all-time top goal scorer (371). One week later he became the El Clasico (matches between Real Madrid and Barcelona) top goal scorer (21) with a hat- trick.
He scored his 400th career goal on September 27 against Granada and surpassed a 59-year-old record to become La Liga’s all-time top goal scorer (253) on November 22. Three days later he overtook Raul by scoring a hat-trick to become the top goal scorer in the history of the Champions League (74).
Given all these achievements one would think that of the three nominees Messi was the most deserving to win the award. Instead he not only lost to Ronaldo but he and the other nominee Manuel Neuer got less votes combined (31.48 %) than Ronaldo (37.66%).
In 2013 Ronaldo won nothing and Franck Ribery won everything but nevertheless Ronaldo beat him.
How can all this be explained?
POLITICS BEHIND THE VOTING
FIFA’s criteria call for national managers, captains and media officials to vote for the most outstanding performer of the previous twelve months.
Not unexpectedly players vote for their team-mates and compatriots. In the 2014 contest for example, Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany) gave all three spots to Germans, Manuel Neuer, Phillip Lahm and Thomas Muller.
Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid) voted for his former team-mates Diego Costa and Thibaut Courtois.
Vincent Kompany (Belgium) voted for team-mates Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard as the world’s two best players with Arjen Robben third.
The best example of the politics in all of this is illustrated by Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) who declared without giving a reason that he regretted voting for Ronaldo instead of his team-mate Neuer. This ‘change of heart’ can only be explained as coming from a player who wants to save face with team-mates in the dressing room rather than from a voter with any real conviction.
The same criticism applies to managers who only vote for national players. For example, Argentina’s manager Gerardo Martino gave all three places to his fellow countrymen namely, Lionel Messi, Angel di Maria and Javier Mascherano, Belgium coach Marc Wilmots voted for Belgian Thibaut Courtous for third place, Didier Deschamps (France) gave the final spot to French striker Benzema and Holland’s Guus Hiddink gave top honor to compatriot Arjen Robben.
Players will get a lot of votes if they are popular ‘with the boys’ and can play to the cameras to advertise commercial products. Those who defend the choice of Ronaldo as best player point to the fact that in the second half of 2014 he scored 32 goals. The problem is that 9 of those goals were penalties so his non-penalty goals were 23, the same amount as Messi who had no penalties. Ronaldo is nicknamed «Penaldo» because of his mastery of drawing and scoring penalties.
In a World Cup year such as 2014 your performance in that tournament is what defines you. On the world’s biggest stage Ronaldo was a nonfactor and his supporters excuse this by saying he was carrying an injury. If that is true that is unfortunate but injury is a misfortune, not a privilege and he can only be judged on actual performance and not on speculation as to what he might have achieved had he been fully fit.
The Player of the Year award has lost its authenticity. But it does not have to be so. It is not a personality or school prom contest. It is supposed to recognize performance on the field. Maybe the officials of FIFA should themselves become the judges, give more consideration to non-European clubs and use criteria like achievements and fair play to choose the winner. This would not be a perfect system but would be preferable to the present one which is deeply flawed and cannot be taken seriously.
Victor A. Dixon
January 18, 2015