And the Golden Ball winner will be…
The FIFA Golden Ball finalists have been announced with no surprises. Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Andrés Iniesta have deservedly been chosen as the final three candidates from whom the best player of the year will be determined.
Lionel Messi has won the award three times in a row (finishing second the 2 years before) and is the top favorite. The ‘Flea’ has dominated the world soccer scene in the last 3 years, being the closest voting result the one held in 2010 when the three finalists were all Barcelona players (Messi, Xavi and Iniesta). That has been the only year since 2006 (when Cannavaro won) in which there was not a clear favorite to win the award.
As every year, several questions on the parameters followed by the Golden Ball arise. How much influence should winning titles have on the decision? or should it be rated only and exclusively in individual performance? Should the calendar year be taken into account or the standard soccer season (2011-12) instead? Wouldn’t it make more sense to give the award at the end of the soccer season?
Here’s article 2 of the Rules of Allocation set by FIFA for the Golden Ball award: ‘The Awards reward the best in each category, without distinction of championship or nationality, for their respective achievements during the 2012 calendar year.’
No matter how players, coaches and journalists (people who vote) want to interpret the guidelines of the award, this year will not be different from the past three. Messi has been the most consistent player all year. He is the one that has made the biggest impact in the game of his team. In other words, he influenced his team’s performance more than any other player. This not only happened with Barcelona but also with the Argentina national team where he finally is carrying the team on his back, putting up great feats in international games.
Cristiano Ronaldo had a tremendous year, having a big impact on Real Madrid’s record breaking season that led them to the Spanish league title. This is Ronaldo’s biggest argument to win the award; the league title obtained by his team in which he played a big part; a title that is more important than Messi’s only title with Barcelona (Copa del Rey). He also took Portugal to the Euro 2012 semis but his performances were not consistent and played well only in a couple matches.
Iniesta also has the edge over Messi in terms of titles this year, perhaps even has an advantage over Cristiano. He won the Euro this year and was named the best player of the tournament. Even though Real Madrid won La Liga, Ronaldo was not named best player, Messi beat him for that award (again). Nevertheless, Iniesta’s performance spans 7 games vs the Spanish league’s 38 matches played this year, but then you could argue that each of the 7 Euro games were very important and that Iniesta delivered when it was needed the most.
‘Statistics’ is a word hated by soccer purists but when the two top scorers in the world are battling for the best player award, inevitably the stats come into play. And Messi wins.
Lionel is having his most productive year in his career with 84 goals (as of Dec. 2) in all competitions (will beat Gerd Muller’s all time record) and 28 assists. In La Liga he scored in 26 of the 36 league matches, this year, while In Champions League, Messi scored 9 goals and 7 assists this calendar year, but again, Barcelona failed to win both tournaments.
Messi also delivered in the World Cup qualifying matches, scoring in 4 of the 5 matches played this year, and netted 2 hat tricks in friendlies against Switzerland and Brazil (although a Brazil v Argentina ‘clasico’ is never considered a friendly), to bring the total to 12 international goals in 10 matches in 2012. Argentina leads the Conmebol qualifying tournament comfortably with 20 points in 9 matches and Messi contributed greatly for his country’s success this year.
Meanwhile Cristiano (as of Dec. 2) has scored a total 60 goals in official competitions and same as Messi, scored in 26 of 36 league matches this year. In Champions League, he has scored 12 goals in 2012.
Iniesta, which obviously cannot be compared statistically to the Argentine and the Portuguese, has 22 assists in the present year, and has played a huge role in the great start Barcelona is having this season, something that cannot be measured statistically. The midfield maestro’s only numerical advantage is that he has already won two best player awards this season (Euro and UEFA).
Now, here’s Article 3 of FIFA’s Rules of Allocation: The Awards are bestowed according to on-field performance and overall behavior on and off the pitch. (Sorry Balotelli, you will never win the award based in this rule)
Given that the ‘behavior’ on and off the pitch is included by FIFA, another factor that will play a part in the election is the image of the finalists, how likeable they are. In this aspect, Cristiano loses by far. With a cocky and arrogant perception, the fact that Ronaldo is not seen as a ‘nice’ guy may affect his possibilities. On the contrary Messi and Iniesta have the image of humble, next door guys. Some journalists and even many players and coaches (remember FIFA has 209 affiliated members) may be influenced by the ‘good guys’ v ‘bad boy’ image of the three finalists.
In the end, this discussion may not be needed when one player is clearly above the rest, and that is Lionel Messi.