Why Lionel Messi’s Ballon d’Or victory shouldn’t make you angry

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Count the Ballon d’Or as one of those great old institutions that are incredibly popular. There are also several reasons for this.

There is history: the Ballon d’Or dates from 1956, which means it predates the European Championships, yellow and red cards, substitutions, color television, remote controls and of course. to FIFA (video games). There’s the fact that the best players really care about winning: clubs run campaigns on behalf of their star players, guys like Cristiano Ronaldo (although he already has five at home) get annoyed when he is canceled (as he did last year due to the coronavirus pandemic), while Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski’s face lit up like a child hearing reindeer footsteps on the roof when he found out he was one of the favorites.

– FC 100 2021: Messi, Lewandowski among the n ° 1
– Messi to Lewandowski: You deserved the Ballon d’Or 2020

And then there’s the fact that it’s a natural fodder for endless talk, both social media and the bar genre: if sport is any kind of lingua franca, then it’s the equivalent of talking about the weather, a natural start to the conversation when you’re not sure what to say.

That’s why Paris Saint-Germain’s Lionel Messi winning his seventh Ballon d’Or ahead of Chelsea’s Lewandowski and Jorginho is, for many, a big deal. Especially since – after Messi or the yin to his yang, Ronaldo had won 11 of the previous 12 editions – it felt like the year someone else could get the crown.

I say, celebrate it for what it is: kind of a worldwide popularity contest / water refreshment moment. And it’s good. God knows we can all use more of such shared experiments that don’t involve spike proteins. But please don’t confuse him with what he isn’t – sort of equivalent to an MVP award in American sports. In some ways it’s closer to college football’s Heisman Trophy – stars who occupy glamorous high school positions with large fan bases who play in big bowl games tend to win it – but with two twists and turns. important.

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The first is simply the jury. In order to make this prize as inclusive and comprehensive as possible, France Football (the magazine which awards the Ballon d’Or) is sending ballots to 180 journalists from 180 different countries. (Why not 211, since there are 211 FIFA member nations? This is one of the mysteries of the Ballon d’Or.)

Some are comparable to the MVP or Heisman voters: people who cover the bottom of the sport daily and attend a lot of games. Many don’t, just because they are scattered all over the world, and covering elite football in person these days is an expensive luxury for most media outlets.

The result is that some players are bound to have advantages. Those who play for popular teams. Those who play for teams that win high level competitions. Those who play as attackers and attacking midfielders and therefore regularly pack highlights. And those with good social media / PR teams. You know how this year’s Major League and National Baseball MVPs, Shohei Ohtani and Bryce Harper, didn’t make it to the playoffs? Yes, it’s more likely that Lil Nas X will reveal that he is, in fact, Q that something similar is going on in football.

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Lionel Messi speaks after winning the men’s Ballon d’Or for the seventh time, a record.

The other reason is the criteria. The United States’ representative on the jury, Soccer America Editor-in-Chief Paul Kennedy, explained on Twitter that there are three guiding principles:

  • 1. Individual and team performance during the calendar year 2021 (well, from January 1 to October 24);

  • 2. Player’s talent and sportsmanship;

  • 3. The player’s overall career.

(Note also that even though it says “calendar year”, in fact, all votes had to be completed by October 24, so it’s really just under 10 months. Voters stick to the criteria, and everything that happens in November and December of each year is totally irrelevant – consider it one of the quirks that make the Ballon d’Or so adorable.)

The individual performance bit makes sense and is a pretty standard reward. Based on that alone, and looking at the top three, you would likely put Lewandowski (who scored 45 goals in 35 games for Bayern in the allocated period and broke a Bundesliga scoring record in a single season which dated back almost half a century) ahead of Messi (who had 31 of 36) and Jorginho (who had a lot less, but hey, he’s not a striker). Put the “team performance” part in there, though, and you’re essentially giving the edge to the guys who play for really good national teams.

Take the top three, and you’ll notice that all three won the silverware to varying degrees – Messi won the Copa del Rey with Barcelona and the Copa America with Argentina, Lewandowski won the Bundesliga with Bayern, Jorginho won the Champions League with Chelsea and the Euro. with Italy. And since Messi and Jorginho also won with their national teams, that’s supposed to be a mark in their favor. It doesn’t matter that Lewandowski happens to be Polish, which makes winning with your country even more difficult.

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Don Hutchison and Jan Age Fjortoft believe Robert Lewandowski should have won the men’s Ballon d’Or.

But these are the next two criteria where things get really wacky. Talent and sportsmanship?

I can live with sportsmanship – none of the top three is a cartoon villain anyway – but the talent? Truly? Not only is this extremely subjective, but it also means that what you are born with (talent) matters more than what you do with it (application). And by those criteria, defenders and midfielders really can’t stand a lot of prayers. Not to mention that this goes against the parable of the talents (Matthew 25: 14-30), but again, France is known to be a proudly secular country.

And then there is the last criterion: the player’s overall career. This basically means that if you live in the days of Messi and Ronaldo and your name isn’t Messi or Ronaldo, you probably don’t need to bother in this category because you won’t come close to the one or the other.

Lewandowski is 33 and one of the greatest scorers in history, scoring 453 top-flight goals. Messi has scored less than 50% more goals (676). Lewandowski won a Champions League; Messi has four. Lewandowski has no Ballon d’Or; Messi had six before the vote. How is Lewandowski (or someone other than Ronaldo, whose numbers compare to Messi’s) supposed to catch up?

But that may be the goal of the Ballon d’Or. It’s not meant to be scientific – the criteria are silly and, possibly, ignored. Voters range from people with access, knowledge and experience to people with a monitor thousands of miles away who will never see these players except in 2-D.

It’s meant to be a celebration of the sport’s elite athletes. The players we all admire, the stars we admire, the people who do what we can’t but who once hoped they could (and often still do). If you take it that way, the discussions of whether Lewandowski or Jorginho or Karim Benzema or Ronaldo deserved it more than Messi will be that much less stressful.

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