The World Cup is the time of year when soccer fans get to see their favorite team win a prestigious award. Lionel Messi’s Ballon d’Or win shouldn’t make you angry because it was meant for him, not for you.
The “2020 ballon d’or” is the award given to the player who has been deemed to have had the best season in Europe for that year. The winners are chosen by votes from journalists, clubs and players.
The fact that Messi won his seventh Ballon d’Or shouldn’t get you too worked up. It’s a reward awarded to the most glamorous players and isn’t meant to be a definitive honor for the greatest player in the world. Getty Images/FRANCK FIFE/AFP
One of those magnificent ancient institutions that is wildly popular is the Ballon d’Or. There are a number of causes behind this as well.
There’s precedent: The Ballon d’Or first appeared in 1956, predating the European Championships, yellow and red cards, substitutions, color television, remote controls, and, of course, FIFA (the video game). There’s also the fact that top players care a lot about winning it: clubs run campaigns on behalf of their star players, players like Cristiano Ronaldo (despite already having five of these at home) are irritated when it’s canceled (as it was last year due to the coronavirus pandemic), and Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski’s face lit up like a child hearing reindeer footsteps on the roof when he learned he was among the favorites.
– The FC 100 for 2021: Messi and Lewandowski are among the top players. – Lionel Messi tells Lewandowski: You deserved to win the Ballon d’Or in 2020.
Then there’s the fact that it’s perfect fuel for countless arguments, both on social media and in the bar: If the sport is a lingua franca, this is the equivalent of chatting about the weather, a good conversation starter when you’re stumped.
To many, Lionel Messi of Paris Saint-Germain winning his seventh Ballon d’Or ahead of Lewandowski and Chelsea’s Jorginho is a huge thing. Particularly so, after Messi or his yin, Ronaldo, had won 11 of the previous 12 editions, this year seemed to be the year when someone else may take the title.
Celebrate it for what it is: a worldwide popularity contest/water cooler moment, in my opinion. That’s all right. We could all benefit from more shared experiences like this that don’t require spike proteins. But don’t confuse it for something it isn’t: an American sports version of the MVP award. It’s similar to college football’s Heisman Trophy in several respects — standouts who play glamorous positions at major schools with huge fan bases and participate in big bowl games tend to win it — but with two key differences.
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The first is, of course, the jury. France Football (the magazine that awards the Ballon d’Or) distributes votes to 180 journalists from 180 different nations in order to make this honor as broad and thorough as possible. (Why not 211, given the 211 FIFA member countries?) It’s one of the Ballon d’Or’s mysteries.)
Some are similar to MVP or Heisman voters in that they follow the sport on a daily basis and attend many games. Many don’t because they’re scattered throughout the globe, and covering top football in person is an expensive luxury for most news companies these days.
As a result, some players will always have an edge. Those who play for well-known teams Those who are a part of winning teams in high-profile events. Those who play as offensive midfielders and forwards and are so often featured in highlight packages. Those have strong social media and public relations teams. Shohei Ohtani and Bryce Harper, the AL and NL MVPs in Major League Baseball this season, didn’t reach the playoffs. Yes, there’s a better probability that Lil Nas X will announce that he is, in fact, Q than that anything comparable will happen in football.
Lionel Messi talks after winning the Ballon d’Or for the eighth time in a row.
The criteria are the other reason. On Twitter, Soccer America editor Paul Kennedy, who represents the United States on the jury, said that there are three guiding principles:
1. Individual and team performance throughout the calendar year 2021 (that is, from January 1 to October 24);
2. The player’s ability and sportsmanship;
3. The player’s whole professional career.
(It’s also worth noting that, although it states “calendar year,” all votes have to be submitted by Oct. 24, so it’s really just under ten months.) Consider it one of the idiosyncrasies that makes the Ballon d’Or so wonderful.) Voters conform to the criteria, and whatever occurs in November and December each year is completely unimportant — consider it one of the quirks that makes the Ballon d’Or so lovable.)
The part about individual performance makes sense and is fairly normal award material. Based solely on that, you’d probably put Lewandowski (who scored 45 goals in 35 games for Bayern in the allotted period, breaking a single-season Bundesliga scoring record that had been around for nearly half a century) ahead of Messi (who had 31 in 36) and Jorginho (who had far fewer, but hey, he’s not a forward) in the top three. However, if you include the “team performance” factor, you’re effectively favoring players who play for strong national teams.
Take a look at the top three, and you’ll see that they all won silverware in different ways: Messi won the Copa del Rey with Barcelona and the Copa America with Argentina, Lewandowski won the Bundesliga with Bayern, and Jorginho won the Champions League with Chelsea and the Euros with Italy. And the fact that Messi and Jorginho both won with their national teams is supposed to be a plus for them. Not to mention the fact that Lewandowski is a Pole, which makes winning with your own nation much more tough.
Robert Lewandowski, according to Don Hutchison and Jan Age Fjortoft, should have won the men’s Ballon d’Or.
The following two criteria, though, are where things become very weird. What’s the difference between talent and sportsmanship?
I can deal with sportsmanship — none of the top three are cartoon villains in the first place — but what about talent? Really? It’s not just very subjective, but it also implies that what you’re born with (talent) is more important than what you accomplish with it (application). Defenders and midfielders don’t have much of a chance based on that criterion. Not to add that it contradicts the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), yet France is recognized for being a staunchly secular nation.
Then there’s the player’s total career, which is the ultimate criterion. This essentially implies that if you were born during the Messi and Ronaldo period and your name isn’t Messi or Ronaldo, you shouldn’t bother with this category since you won’t come close to matching either of them.
With 453 goals in the Premier League, Lewandowski is one of the best goal scorers in history. Messi has a smidgeon under 50% more goals than Ronaldo (676). Messi has four Champions League titles to Lewandowski’s one. Before the vote, Lewandowski had 0 Ballons d’Or, whereas Messi had six. How is Lewandowski (or anybody else, apart from Ronaldo, whose stats are equivalent to Messi’s) supposed to catch up?
But, then again, isn’t it the goal of the Ballon d’Or? It’s not supposed to be scientific; the criteria are ridiculous and will almost certainly be disregarded. The votes vary from those with access, expertise, and experience to others who will only ever see these athletes in 2-D on a monitor hundreds of miles away.
It’s supposed to be a celebration of the sport’s best athletes. The athletes we all love, the celebrities we idolize, the people who do what we can’t yet once dreamed we could (and often still do). When you look at it that way, debating whether Lewandowski, Jorginho, Karim Benzema, or Ronaldo earned it more than Messi becomes a lot less stressful.
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