Every year as January eleven (or is it the twelfth?) approaches, football enthusiasts, particularly from Spain and England, gear up for an award that is, in some quarters, as prestigious as it is degenerate.

Just that everybody is on the same page, football (soccer in USA) is a team sport where eleven men from two separate squad of players compete against each other for a trophy or in modern times, to get a paycheck at the end of it all.

FC Barcelona v Real Sociedad de Futbol - La Liga

Would Messi be Messi if he played for Chelsea? Or would he even be himself without Suarez and Neymar?


The point is, teams are like machines. One part cannot function properly without the other. Even if the most insignificant portion of  machine fails to work up to the mark, the whole machine would break down.

There is a reason why reputable managers around the world like Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho have categorically despised and blasted individual awards for a team based sport.
Therefore, it really becomes unfathomable as to why football’s governing body FIFA would hand out these awards which are destructive to the very nature of the sport it is supposed to regulate.

There can be no denying the fact that some players do improve the overall quality and effective of certain teams, but even in that case, those extraordinary players wouldn’t be able to win anything for their respective teams if, for example, the goalkeeper spills every shot fired at him by the opposition.

FC Barcelona v Real Sociedad de Futbol - La Liga

Can Vardy expect help from his teammates to the same level as Messi gets from his?

Lets try to imagine this award from the angle of players like Jamie Vardy, Totti, Higuain, Marotta, Ibrahimovic and countless others.

Their cardinal sin, if you are pro-Ballon d’Or, is that they play for small clubs that are not in contention to win any major trophies or even just trophies.

Many would argue that Roma legend Francesco Totti is arguably one of the greatest midfield players of all times and is perhaps better than the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Pirlo and Scholes. But on paper, what has Totti ever won that is worth a mention?

How many times has Totti been awarded an individual award for goals like this one:

Or let us take the example of a player like Jamie Vardy who has just equalled Van Nistelrooy record of scoring most number of consecutive goals in English Premier League. Vardy did that without players like Neymar, Suarez, Xavi, Benzema, Bale, Kroos playing beside and behind him.
Vardy plays for Leicester City which basically ensures (even though Leicester sit pretty at the summit of English Premier League) that he won’t score 50 plus goals (he is trying though) per season or win Champions League winners medal anytime soon.

FBL-ESP-LIGA-BARCELONA-REALSOCIEDAD

Messi’s form with Argentina provides a small glimpse of what he actually would be had he not been at Barcelona.


Regardless of whether the likes of Messi and Ronaldo are better than this little fellow, is it really fair to compare players like Vardy with players like Ronaldo and Messi on individual basis given that Ronaldo and especially Messi have a network of auxiliary systems to help them rack up those astronomical numbers?

What chance does a player like Juventus Morata have of winning an individual award because his team plays with a very defensive style and that suffocates the already few scoring opportunities he gets on the field.

Or take players like Pogba, Ibrahimovic who have the talent to become the best in the world and probably are amongst the best, but haven’t had the luck to play for a club like Real Madrid or Barcelona long enough to win some major trophies and hence get awarded an individual title like ‘World’s Best Player’.

Is it really necessary to keep pounding on the fact that to score goals, any attacker needs quality full backs who can support him on the wings and hence draw defenders away from him. An attacker would also need reasonable talented wingers and midfield support players who would be unselfish runs into opponent’s penalty box to make space for the attacker in question in order for him to take a shot or score a goal.

Would Ronaldo score so many goals if he didn’t have the speed of Bale and the target man abilities of Benzema?

FC Barcelona v Real Sociedad de Futbol - La Liga

What did Totti do to not deserve a single Ballon d’Or? Loyalty to his hometown club?

Would Messi score so many goals if he didn’t have the best set of five players this world has seen in the last ten years playing alongside him, subservient to his every command? Would Messi notch up so many assists if he didn’t have the world’s two best finishers playing in front of him all the time?

What if Messi (and Ronaldo) played in a team whose goalkeeper kept conceding goals under pressure situations against quality strikers? How many titles would have Messi won then if his defense didn’t shutout the opposition’s attack?

Is it really fair to Ronaldo that even when he scores 60 plus goals a season, his teammates at the back and between the posts, somehow manage to mess up and concede which cancel out his efforts at the other end of the goal?

Consequently, Real Madrid end up winning nothing and Messi wins individual awards for magnificent performances by the likes of Pique, Alba, Alves. Ronaldo on the other hand is left with nothing except for his 60 odd goals and a Golden Boot Award (which is actually the most fair of all the awards in a team sport).

Does it really make sense to hand out individual awards to players for collective efforts of the team? Consider the scenario where Messi makes makes a mistake and Barcelona lose an opportunity to score a goal. Whereas, if someone like Claudio Bravo makes a mess of an incoming shot, Barcelona lose the match. So which player is more crucial to winning silverware?

If there must be individual awards (for whatever bizarre reason) then they should be based on objective criteria like number of goals, number of saves or number of tackles. Even that wouldn’t make much sense because,  again, scoring a goal is about team effort. No one player can score a goal without the help of his teammates. And yes, even the solo goals require team effort.

With that said, is there a worse way to pick the best player in the world is through a process of voting?

Even the most ardent admirers of Ronaldo would acknowledge the fact that Ronaldo can come off as a bit of a jerk sometimes. Okay, a lot of times.

Is there a framework present which could ensure that the people who are voting for the best player in the world don’t take into account:

  • Ronaldo’s arrogance,
  • his quench to the best and hence misbehaving with people who don’t agree with his vision of the world in the process.

when deciding the best player the world?

In stark contrast, Messi is generally considered to be a humble, hard working nice guy who is just passionate about football. What does that have to do with awarding the best football player (not best human in the football world) in the world?

Would Guardiola ever vote for Ronaldo as the best player in the world even if he scored a hundred goals every season for the rest of his career?

 

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If not, then what is the guarantee that other managers, writers, coaches, managers and people who vote for FIFA Ballon d’Or are immune from such a bias?

If trophies and votes are not an appropriate way to award individual awards, then so are these lying statistics.

Are players like Di Maria, Ozil, Xavi, Iniesta or Bale (who are brilliant players in their own right) that much better than the likes of Zidane,Figo and Raul? What statistic does justice to the work someone like Makelele or Roberto Carlos toiled for throughout their careers?

Conclusion

FC Barcelona v Real Sociedad de Futbol - La Liga

Statistics, just like a good camera angle, can be deceiving.

FIFA Ballon d’Or is an atrocity of the highest order in modern football. Statistics along with trophy counts should only be used for strategizing and stories for posterity, respectively.

Doing justice while giving out individual awards for team sports is an impossible task but if there was such a possibility then the award should be dependent on what an individual player does and not on what others vote or the respective team wins.