For the past few years the Ballon D'or has ceased to be ceremony that awards team excellence and has instead become a farce that only recognises who has scored the most in a calender year. While the Ballon D'or has always favoured the more attacking players, in the past the winner of the Ballon D'or always maintained a balance between individual exploits and individual exploits that helped the team.
Since Messi's first Ballon D'or in 2009, it has become very apparent the winner of the Ballon D'or comes down to who has scored the most goals, never-mind what those goals amounted to. To be fair, in some sense I cannot fault people for wanting to bestow the title of best player on either Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. Before Cristiano Ronaldo in the 2007/08 season (where he scored 42 goals in all competitions), it was extremely rare for a footballer to score over 40 goals in a season. The most Thierry Henry achieved was 39 in the 2003/04 season, his next best was 33 in the 2005/06 season. The most Ronaldo (Brazil Ronaldo, R9, The Real Ronaldo, El Fenomeno, Fat Ronaldo or whatever synonym you can come up with) scored was 47 in the 1996/97 season for Barcelona, his next best was 35 for PSV in the 1994-95 season.
Other legendary strikers of previous eras found it equally as tough to break the 40 goal barrier: Shevchenko's best was 34 in the 2000/01 season with Milan, Alan Shearer managed 37 twice with Blackburn, Rivaldo 36 in 2000/01 for Barcelona, Raul 32 in the 2000/01 season for Real Madrid, Romario banged 32 in the 1993/94 season for Barcelona, Elber 31 in the 2002/03 season for Bayern Munich, Robbie Fowler 36 in 1995-96 for Liverpool, Roy Makaay 39 in 2002/03 for Deportivo La Coruna, Trezeguet 32 in 2001/02 for Juventus, Del Piero 32 in 1996/97 for Juventus, Totti 32 in 2006/07, Roberto Baggio 30 in 1992/93 for Juventus and Filippo Inzaghi 30 in 2002/03 for Milan.
Surprisingly, Gabriel Batistuta (nicknamed Batigol for his scoring prowess), George Weah, Hernan Crespo, Christian Vieri, Patrick Kluivert, Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink and Michael Owen never managed over 30. Beside Ronaldo, the only striker of yesteryear who scored over 40 was Ruud Van Nistelrooy with 44 in 2002/03 for Manchester United.
Of course since the 2007/08 season both Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have completely obliterated the once unfathomable tally of 40 goals. Since hitting his stride in 2007/08 Cristiano Ronaldo has scored over 40 four times: 42 in 07/08, 53 in 10/11, 60 in 11/12, 55 in 12/13 and this season is due to be his best as he currently has 24 with only a 1/4 of the year gone. It must also be noted that although he scored 33 in 09/10, it would have been over 40 were it not for injuries.
Messi took a bit longer than Cristiano Ronaldo to hit his stride due to injuries in his earlier career (which seem to be creeping in again) but has arguably become the better of the two. In 08/09 he hit 38, 47 in 09/10, 53 in 10/11, 73 in 11/12 and 60 in 12/13.
Of course what Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi have gone to achieve is incredible and it makes today's hotshots (as well as yesteryear's) seem completely second rate and sluggish in comparison: Mario Gomez 41 in 2011/12 for Bayern Munich, Luca Toni 39 in 2007/08 for Bayern Munich, Falcao 38 in 2010/11 with Porto (scored over 30 with Atletico Madrid as well), Cavani 38 in 2012/13 for Napoli, Eto'o 37 in 2010/11 with Inter, Drogba 37 in 2009/10 season for Chelsea, Van Persie 37 in 2011/12 for Arsenal, Lewandowski 36 in 2012/12 for Borussia Dortmund, Ibrahimovic 35 between the seasons 2011-13 with Milan and PSG and Forlan 35 in 2008/09 with Atletico Madrid lead the charge.
Taking this into consideration, it is clear Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi have reached a level of consistency that unmatched and thus worthy of every single accolade that comes their way. Indeed, since 2007 one of Cristiano Ronaldo or Messi (usually both) has ended up on the podium for the Ballon D'or. But are they really the best players in the world? I would argue this is not as obvious as it seems.
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If that is the case Henry is more talented than Cristiano Ronaldo (or at the very least on the same level) and Messi and Ronaldo are also comparable, why are Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi treated by the Ballon D'or as footballing demi-gods? I believe they (and the public) have been hoodwinked into believing numbers are the be all and end all.
Let's take a close look: in the years Ronaldo did not win the Ballon D'or but finished on the podium (1996 and 1998) Matthias Sammer and Zinedine Zidane won the Ballon D'or. In those years Ronaldo was scoring at an alarming rate but the Ballon D'or was given to individual whose personal achievements helped the team to achieve. Sammer helped Dortmund win the Bundesliga and the DFB-Pokal in 1996. He was also a major component of the German side that won Euro 96. Sammer was a low scoring midfielder - the importance of this will be brought up soon. In 1996 Ronaldo won a few trophies with PSV (KNVB Cup and Johan Cruijff-schaal) and also with Barcelona (Supercopa de Espana) but nothing major.
In 1998 Zidane won the Ballon D'or after guiding Juventus to another Serie A title and another Champions League final. Zidane was also part of the French squad that won World Cup 98. The highest Zidane ever scored in a season was 12. In 1998 Ronaldo won the UEFA Cup with Inter, but he was pipped to the Serie A title and World Cup by Zidane inspired teams.
Likewise, In all four of Henry's podiums Henry was the highest scorer. In 2003 Henry finished second in both the Ballon D'or and World Player of the Year - Pavel Nedved and Zidane won the respective awards. In either case both Nedved and Zidane had won their respective domestic titles and (Serie A, La Liga; Supercoppa Italiana, Supercopa de Espana). They had both dragged their clubs to within the cusp of glory; Nedved being the sole reason Real lost in the Semi-Final, because of Neved's suspension, Juventus lacked the creativity to beat Milan in the final. The highest Nedved ever scored was 14.
In 2006 Henry came third in the Ballon D'or behind runner up Buffon and winner Cannavaro. Both were part of the excellent Italian defence that was central to the World Cup win in 2006. They also won Serie A with Juventus, though this has been subsequently wiped off the records due to the referee scandal.
Though perhaps the greatest example to my point happened in 2004 when Henry came second in the World Player of the Year. Perhaps Henry can feel aggrieved after helping Arsenal stay unbeaten in the Premier League and still came second to Ronaldinho whose Barcelona came second in La Liga - daylight robbery right? I beg to differ. When you look behind the surface it becomes apparent the only winner could have been Ronaldinho.
Going into new years of 2004 Arsenal were trapped in a 3 way tussle for the league with Chelsea and Man Utd; Barcelona had just overcome a turbulent season where they finished 6th (at one point they were fighting relegation) and that form had continued into the 2003/04 season when they were in serious trouble by Christmas.
By 2004, Man Utd title bid had fallen apart due to Rio Ferdinand's drug ban and similarly Chelsea could not keep up the pace. This meant Arsenal finished a whopping 11 points ahead of nearest rivals Chelsea. On the other hand, by 2004 Ronaldinho had gone into overdrive and was the singular reason a seriously weak Barcelona finished second - 4 behind Valencia.
Had Henry not stepped it up, I feel confident enough to say Arsenal still would have won the Premier League that year. Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieria, Gilberto Silva and Edu were absolutely unstoppable that year and the defence only yielded 26 goals. Henry's presence simply meant Arsenal were out of range. Henry was needed was in the Champions League and it was there he faltered against Chelsea.
On the other hand, without Ronaldinho Barcelona would not have finished in the top 4 of La Liga and may have even faded into mid-table mediocrity. His exploits set Barcelona up nicely going into the new season when they heavily strengthened their squad (Eto'o, Deco, Giuly etc) to begin a new era of domination. In other words, Henry was the cherry on the top of a sweet operation; Ronaldinho was support beam to keep the house from falling down.
From 2008 and back, it seemed everyone had the chance to win the Ballon D'or, since 2009 it seems whoever has scored the most will win it. Ask yourself, if Zidane was around today would he have won it? The nearest to him (Iniesta) could have easily won it twice, on those two occasions Messi won it.
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In 2010, again Messi won because he scored the most. That year belonged to one of Sneijder (who won the treble and World Cup finalist), Xavi (La Liga and World Cup) or Iniesta (La Liga, World Cup plus winning goal in World Cup). Without Sneijder, Inter would not have Serie A (won it by two points) and certainly not the Champions League. Again Xavi and Iniesta were the main reason Barcelona and Spain were successful that year; however, unlike the previous year, Messi was needed to win La Liga - they won it by 3 points. But when they needed him the Champions League Messi remained silent. Barcelona lost 3-2 against Inter and were knocking on the door throughout the second leg. Had Iniesta played (injured in both legs) I reckon they'd have grabbed the goal they needed - negating Messi's case even more.
This year seems to be between Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic and Ribery. From that list only one deserves to win it and it is Ribery. For all the goals Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo scored, they purely furthered themselves and not the team. Barcelona won La Liga by 15 points and had Messi not played as many as he did, they still would have won. Furthermore, regardless of Messi's fitness, they still would have been thrashed by Bayern Munich.
Likewise, when it mattered against Atletico Madrid in the Copa Del Rey and Dortmund in the Champions League, Ronaldo could only be petulant and get himself sent-off against Atletico Madrid. He did not fare much better against Dortmund.
As much as I like Ibrahimovic, for the sake of the prestige of this award his name should not pop up in the top 3. While he is a brilliant player and a scorer of the best goal I have ever seen, he did not do anymore than Ronaldo or Messi. I would rather see Lewandowski than Ibrahimovic, he was instrumental in Dortmund's run in the Champions League.
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Of course Lahm won't be in the top 10 for the Ballon D'or because he is not flashy. Therefore, to avoid such travesties happening again, I propose a change to the way the Ballon D'or is run. Instead being an award dictated by who has the most goals or skills, there will be statistical evidence as to who contributed the most to the team effort:
- An ordinary goal is worth 10 points
- A free kick is worth an extra 5 points
- A penalty is worth an extra 2.5 points
- Minus 1 point for a shot that was saved
- Minus 2 points for a shot off target
- 1 point for every successful pass
- Minus 2 points for a misplaced pass
- 5 points for an assist
- 2 points for a dribble
- 1 points for an interception
- 2 points for a tackle
- 3 points for a last ditch tackle
- Minus 1 point for being dispossessed
- Minus 2 points for a turnover
- A clean sheet is worth 10 points
- A save is worth 2 points
- Minus 2 points for a goal conceded
- 2 points for a player being played out of position if they have played well
Of course this has been hastily put together, but at least it should prevent events like this years 23 man list for the Ballon D'or which saw so many people nominated based on reputation, and not on actual contributions to the team.
The list below bares some similarity to what would happen if the Ballon D'or was based on merit. Of course, if it were based on my criteria, players like Cristiano Ronaldo who are quite inefficient would be heavily penalised.