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Wed, 08 Dec 2021

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By now, you would have learnt how last Monday’s Ballon d’Or results panned out. Whether or not you are in favour of the eventual outcome of this year’s award, it is the opinion of several observers that the prestigious award has lost its merit.

The process of choosing the best player in the world in a given year is perhaps more complex than it. Editors at France Football are tasked with selecting a 30-man nomination selection for the Ballon d’Or award, from which a shortlist is drafted. The voters, who are 170 of the world’s top journalists, then make their selection for first, second, third, fourth and fifth. The top player from each journalist’s selection will receive six points, with the second-ranking player earning four points, then three, two and one going down from the rest of their top five picks. The player to receive the most points is then subsequently awarded the Ballon d’Or trophy.

Lionel Messi, was that player for 2021 and with much controversy at that, which is nothing new to the Argentine magician. The Argentinian won the award in 2010, on the back of a scintillating club season statistically speaking. However, Wesley Sneijder, who led Inter Milan to their first ever treble as well as leading his country, Netherlands, to a World Cup final was touted to have been robbed of the prestigious award. Andreas Iniesta, Messi’s teammate at Barcelona at the time, was also in the reckoning, after the season he had at club level and being the main man in Spain’s first ever World Cup victory. 

There were other controversial years as well. Franck Ribery and Antoine Griezmann would have also felt aggrieved in 2013 and 2018 respectively, when they were clear standouts for their club teams. Ribery led Bayern to the UEFA Champions League trophy and Griezmann led Atletico Madrid to a Europa League title and his national team France to their first World Cup title since 1998.

Over the last decade, the award has been a tug-of-war between two of the greatest players to have played the sport, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, with only Luka Modric (2018) interrupting the two-man show. Inevitably, what we have seen since is an unfair expectation that both should always be the favorites to receive the Ballon d’Or even if their returns do not warrant such recognition.

Now, as the two players draw nearer to the twilight of their careers, the entire criteria for winning world football’s most acclaimed award should be revisited. What constitutes a player being labelled as the ‘best’? Many have said that how influential a player is in aiding his respective teams to win major trophies plays a massive role, but if that were the case, surely Chelsea and Italy’s Jorginho should have had an easy path to being named the best player of 2021. The Brazil-born midfielder secured a UEFA Champions League and European Championship winners medal, being instrumental in both tournaments. 

Does scoring the most goals in the year place you in pole position? If yes, then Robert Lewandowski (54 goals), scored 14 more goals than Lionel Messi (40) up to the commencement of the Ballon d’Or ceremony, should have easily been the favourite to win.

Despite the controversy, to say Lionel Messi does not deserve the 2021 award for the best football player this year is perhaps not entirely true. Scoring 46 goals in a struggling Barcelona team and leading them to a Copa Del Rey trophy should not be overlooked, especially if you take into account how the Blaugrana are currently struggling mid-table in La Liga. He also won his first ever international trophy with Argentina’s senior men’s national team, which won this year’s Copa America tournament. Messi was also the leading goal scorer in that tournament. Simply put, the PSG man had his fair share of achievements.

On the contrary, if the Ballon d’Or focused primarily on a player’s club achievements, which is typical considering international tournaments usually last one month, then Robert Lewandowski’s year with Bayern Munich was second to none. Other than leading Bayern to their 9th consecutive Bundesliga trophy, he broke Gerd Muller’s 49-year-old record, by notching 41 goals in 29 league appearances. The Polish striker also received the European Golden Shoe and averaged a goals per game ratio of 1.25.

Yes, Lewandowski and his camp can understandably feel aggrieved for not winning this year’s Ballon d’Or, especially after he unfortunately missed out on last year’s trophy. Statistically-speaking however, it can be argued that Messi had a comparatively better campaign at club level as well as outperforming Lewa internationally, which might have been the reason he edged the striker in voting.

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