In the 25-man list for the Ballon d’Or, a few names stand out. One of those is Lionel Messi. The Argentine Maestro is in contention for his 7th award but does he deserve it? Ayoola and Jidechi debate the legitimacy of Messi’s Ballon d’Or shout and other topics around the latest shortlist.
1. Lionel Messi deserves the 2021 Ballon d’Or
FACT. If you see the Ballon d’Or as an award for the best contributor in a successful team then no, maybe he should not win. But if the Ballon d’Or is an award for the player who has had the most outstanding individual year, then he should be a shoo-in.
Second-most goal contributions in the year, the most man of the match awards, most goals in the La Liga, most goals and assist at the Copa America, and the Player of the Tournament as well, as Argentina claimed her first title since 1993. The 25 man shortlist is made up of outstanding individuals who were great in spades but none was as individually outstanding as Messi was the past year. Lewandowski comes close, but his Euros performance dented his claim.
FICTION – Lionel Messi doesn’t deserve the Ballon d’Or this year, and that’s the fact. Although contributions for Argentina at the Copa America might have put him as a front runner for the award, his contributions for an abysmal Barcelona – where he spent the most time this season – is a dent on what should have been a deserving year.
There is Robert Lewandowski to consider instead. An imperious contribution to club and country in both performance and goals is enough to edge his closest rivals. Although this year’s running might leave me narrowing my final trio down to Messi, Lewandowski, and Chelsea’s Jorginho who emerged UEFA’s Player of the Year, Lewandowski has to be the most deserving.
2. Goalkeepers are marginalized in the Ballon d’Or conversation
FICTION. Quality players will always shine through. It’s not easy for a goalkeeper to win the award, but it shouldn’t be. It is also not impossible for a goalkeeper to win one. Even though the world is goal crazy, a goalkeeper who shows that he was more individually brilliant than any other player will win awards. Manuel Neuer’s contributions to Bayern Munich and Germany saw him clinch third place in 2014 and recently Gianluigi Donnarumma was named as player of the tournament at the Euros. Another step in the right direction. It was once thought that a midfielder who didn’t pump in the goals or assists could never compete for the award, but Luka Modric won it in 2018, and two of the leading candidates this year are low scoring midfielders as well in N’golo Kante and Jorginho (The UEFA player of the year). If low-scoring midfielders who are often described as ‘best when invisible’ can make strong claims for the award, then an outstanding goalkeeper who is consistently performing above other players will no doubt one day do the same.
FACT. If Lev Yashin could win the Ballon d’Or in 1963, what stops any other goalkeeper to repeat the feat in modern-day football. Better still, in 2021. The Euros 2020 championship (held in 2021) saw a goalkeeper – Gianluigi Donnarumma – named player of the tournament. The Spanish La Liga saw a goalkeeper – Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak – named player of the season. Sadly, the Ballon d’Or conversation is not anywhere close to suggesting that a goalkeeper deserves the honour in 2021.
The fact Eduoard Mendy – whose clean sheet feat of last season was one of Chelsea’s most important ingredients to their Champions League win – is conspicuously absent from the 2021 Ballon d’Or nominee list is enough to further buttress this point. Worse, a category was created (the ‘Yashin Award’ in 2019) for goalkeepers. Feels like a consolation prize for players who would never normally be considered in the main thing for me.
3. Sentimental nominations like Simon Kjaer’s ruin the nominations list
FICTION. In 2006, Zinedine Zidane was odds-on to win the award, but with billions of people (including children) watching the World Cup final, he committed a violent act resulting in his sending off as France lost the World Cup. On a more personal level, he also did damage to his chances of winning the Ballon d’Or which eventually went to Paulo Cannavaro. It was very difficult to give the award to a player who despite his sporting achievements had set a bad example on the biggest stage.
It was clear that the award had behavioural criteria to live up to as well. With Zidane, bad behaviour was punished while Kjaer’s nomination rewards positive behaviour which can only be good for the game. Not to mention of course that Kjaer was instrumental in Denmark’s longest run in international competition since they reached the quarterfinals at the 1998 World Cup.
FACT. One might want to get emotional about nominations of this kind, but the fact remains they do ruin the list. It’s called ‘the best player in the World for the year under review’ nominations list for a reason, not ‘the most empathetic/caring player in the World for the year under review’ nominations list.
While it’s right to recognize the humanitarian efforts of the likes of Simon Kjaer, it would be a slap in the face of players who deserve to be on the nomination list based on performance. Why not create a special category for humanitarian feats as Kjaer’s? I mean, there’s the ‘Fair Play Award’ category.