With the Ballon d’Or award for the best football player in the world set to be given to one of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta or Cristiano Ronaldo today, we ask if it’s really as simple as a win for the 91-goal Barcelona favourite?
It seems unthinkable that Lionel Messi won’t win his fourth consecutive Ballon d’Or/FIFA World Player of the Year later today in Zurich, becoming the first player to win the award more than three times since its inception in 1991. The award serves as an unnecessary reminder that the Argentine is quite simply the best football player on the planet and with every passing season, and every unfeasibly marvellous goal, the Argentine continues to establish himself in the pantheon of all time greats. It seems a lifetime ago since football fans all across the continent were tediously debating who the greater player is: Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo? Leo seems to have put all of those arguments to bed once and for all and is now rightly considered as the out-and-out better player but does it automatically follow that he should win the Ballon d’Or for his achievements in 2012? There is a strong case to be made advocating that Cristiano Ronaldo should be shaking Sepp Blatter’s hand claiming what would be only his second Ballon d’Or.
The national team coaches and captains from every country within the FIFA family, as well as a select group of journalists from around Europe, have been asked to make their judgement based not only on individual talent but also the achievements of each player throughout 2012. It’s difficult to deny that Messi is the best player out of the three shortlisted but, surely, when you consider the aforementioned criteria, Messi actually achieved far less domestically and internationally than both Andres Iniesta and Ronaldo.
Ronaldo scored 46 goals in La Liga during the 2011/12 season leading Real Madrid to their first championship in four seasons, the longest they’d went without winning the title in almost twenty years. In the process, he also became the first player to score more than 40 goals in La Liga in one season twice but, perhaps most crucially of all, Ronaldo scored the winning goal in a 1-2 victory when Real Madrid travelled to the Camp Nou in April for what was essentially a title deciding match. In doing so, the Portuguese set another historic record by becoming the first ever player to score in six consecutive Clasico matches. The man often accused of underperforming in the biggest fixture of all now seemed unstoppable against the Catalans. Real Madrid, thanks largely to the superhuman efforts of their number seven, had managed to wrestle back the title from a Barcelona side heralded by many as the greatest team ever and managed by one of the most revered coaches in Europe, Pep Guardiola.
Not only that, whilst both clubs failed to reach the Champions League final, losing in the semi finals to Bayern Munich and Chelsea, Ronaldo still managed to outshine Messi when it mattered most. Over the two legs against a Chelsea side in disarray, with an interim and inexperienced manager, and playing 55 minutes of the second leg with only 10 men, Messi failed to score or even land a glove on Chelsea whilst contriving to miss a gilt edged penalty. Conversely, Ronaldo seemed to play the Bavarians by himself. Madrid lost the first leg 2-1 in Germany with Ronaldo scoring a potentially crucial away goal and keeping his side in the tie after a lacklustre performance. In the return match in Spain, Ronaldo scored both of Madrid’s goals as they overturned the deficit and took the game to extra time with a 2-1 victory of their own. Bayern progressed after holding their nerve in the following penalty shoot-out and Ronaldo’s three goals in two games wasn’t enough on this occasion.
Moreover, at Euro 2012, Ronaldo translated his club form into outstanding international performances and dragged a mediocre Portugal side to within a penalty kick of only their second ever major final, scoring three goals in five matches. Whilst his side couldn’t squeeze past the greatest international team of all time, Ronaldo’s impressive exerts with his country still bears mentioning in this debate.
Continuing on the theme of Euro 2012, it was at this tournament that Andres Iniesta cemented himself as one of Spain’s greatest ever players. The midfielder was the catalyst as Spain picked their way to an unprecedented and mind-blowing defence of their European crown to add to the 2010 World Cup triumph in South Africa. The Spaniards became the first ever international side to win three straight major tournaments and did it without starting a striker in most of their games. They were playing football in a way that the world had never witnessed; true innovators in every sense of the word and Iniesta was at the heart of it all going on to win the Player of the Tournament award.
But, having listed the endless honours achieved by Andres Iniesta and Cristiano Ronaldo, many will instead point to Messi’s 91 goals in the calendar year as the main reason for awarding him the Ballon d’Or.
It’s unclear where this sudden rush to count goals by the calendar year came from.
Goals were counted on a season by season basis up until 2012 and the media constructed frenzy that surrounded Messi as he edged towards Gerd Muller’s 1972 record. In fact, very few people even realised that Muller held such a record and two major British newspapers even declared that Messi was closing in on Pele’s record rather than Muller’s.
The 91 goals is incredible and something that won’t be repeated for a long, long time but it is a media construct and doesn’t carry as much weight as the achievements in 2012 by Ronaldo and his Barca team-mate, Iniesta. If Messi, still only 25 years old, is indeed able to hold off Iniesta and Ronaldo, both having enjoyed unprecedented and historic years, it’s difficult to envisage a time in the near future where someone else is crowned the best player in the world.
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