I’ve Given Up on the Ballon d’Or

I get it. It’s a bit like football’s Oscars. Everybody likes a bit of closure each year on who was the best and they deserve a bit of recognition for doing so. Except it’s nothing like the Oscars, really.

Fact is, it looks a bit sketchy. Since 2008, the only two winners have been Lionel Messi and last night’s winner, Cristiano Ronaldo. Messi kept it for four years on the bounce during that and ever since I’ve been pretty dubious of it.

A bit of history for those less familiar; back in ’94 FIFA began awarding the best player of the year with the inspiringly-named FIFA World Player of the Year. Then in 2010 they merged it with FranceFootball’s Ballon d’Or and from then on it was given to best player on the planet.

Philipp Schmidli / Getty Images
At least they toned down the suits a bit this year…

The awards itself are based on votes submitted by national coaches, captains and assorted journalists. It’s not entirely watertight though, after voting was dubiously ‘extended’ in 2013 after Ronaldo scored a hat trick in a game completely coincidentally just before the voting was about to close, and he went on to win the award.

This is the same FIFA that has given the 2022 World Cup to a country who still employ slaves (over a thousand of which died as of May last year) and has a summer temperature peaking at 50°C, fuelling bribery allegations. That wasn’t exactly helped by chief mogul Sepp Blatter publishing an extremely amended version of the reports, which they had refused to publicise before then.

Messi definitely deserved the Ballon d’Or for his record breaking run in 2012, but was he really the best player in the world for the three years before that? No sign of Ibrahimović, Hazard, Robben, Aguero or Ramos even getting a look in. Manuel Neuer on the form of his life and World Cup winner, was relegated to third place behind Messi this year.

Neuer looked incredibly awkward on stage without a goal behind him

It’s football’s big rivalry really. Two of the best players ever to have lived, playing in the same league, at the same time, for different clubs. Of the two notable football games out there (FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer) they are both a cover star.

‘Individual awards will always be a popularity contest’. Football is a team sport, and even the best player in the world would struggle on his own against a small league side of 11. If they’re useless without teammates, why should it matter how good their individual actions are?

Lists are easy. They’re simple, easy to digest and what made Upworthy, Clickhole and Buzzfeed so popular. But you can’t put a footballer on a list of definitive ‘bestness’. It’s why Neuer couldn’t win and neither would Buffon or Casillas before him, they might not score goals but they do well in other areas. It’s not often the attractive part of football, neither is it praised frequently but it’s equally as important as scoring goals, of which Ronaldo and Messi do for fun.

That’s not even mentioning Team of the Year, of which much disbelief was made about David Luiz’s inclusion into the defensive back four, despite being part of the side that lost 7-1 to Germany.  It’s no secret that Brazilian footballers are favoured by FIFA. Shortly after the TOTY announcement the Fifpro website crashed, presumably to make sure Luiz’s inclusion wasn’t a joke nomination.

FIFA did manage to get one thing right, and the goal of the year by Columbia’s James Rodriguez at the World Cup was a certain winner. He finished ahead of competition from Irishwoman Roche and Robin Van Persie.

This post isn’t to say that Ronaldo doesn’t deserve it. He is an incredible player, and the rivalry with Messi no doubt brings out the best in each other, but the idea of having a best player in the world each year is rubbish. The team of the year is laughable, with most of it being La Liga players (or 100% La Liga as it was in 2013) and should probably be dropped entirely. There’s no need to crown anyone as the best or better than anyone else in the same position, and part of me assumes that this is all to just bring a bit of attention back to FIFA.

No need Sepp, you do plenty of that already.


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