The Ballon D'or Is Becoming A Bit Of A Ballon Bore
"Without Sounding Ungrateful For Their Brilliant Service, Can We Stop Giving Them Awards?"
There may never be a pair of footballers competing at the same time as Messi and Ronaldo, ever again. Ronaldo recently scored his 800th competitive goal - a record that will surely won’t be surpassed. Nine times the pair have filled the top two spots in the world player of the year award; Messi has appeared in the top three 13 times, and Ronaldo 12. Their rivalry when at Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively was dramatic, compelling and brilliant to watch.
But they are not the best players in the world anymore, and probably haven’t been for two or three years. So, without sounding ungrateful for the brilliant service they have provided, can we stop giving them awards?
Running since 1961, the Ballon D’or is recognised as the most prestigious award for world footballers; voted for by European football journalists the award is presented by France Football magazine. For years, they’ve got things spot on, but the past few years have have had a feeling of ennui.
And Messi winning in 2021 is the zenith of that voting laziness.
When Ronaldo left Madrid for Juventus it was a brave move, with the Portugal captain challenging himself to perform in Serie A, having already conquered the Premier League and La Liga. The Scudetto was duly won two years running while he was there, but then it had also been won in the previous seven seasons as well. The Champions League was Ronaldo’s real goal with the Italian giants, but they never got past the Quarter Final stage in his tenure.
Meanwhile back in Spain, Messi seemed to miss the competition Ronaldo had provided. While his performances could still be breathtaking, Barcelona were a club now in turmoil. La Liga has not been won in the last two seasons and their Champions League record has been poor.
So, without sounding ungrateful for the brilliant service they have provided, can we stop giving them awards?
It included an 8-2 aggregate demolition by eventual winners Bayern Munich in 2020 and in both seasons Messi - and indeed Ronaldo - had little impact on the top scorers list.
It may be as lazy as the voting has been in recent years to say so, but scoring goals in the Champions League, within a successful team, is what has traditionally won the award. And in that respect there are names in the list who would perhaps have been more deserving of the Ballon D’or award in recent years: Robert Lewandoski, who has scored numerous goals for 2020 champions Bayern Munich, Mohammed Salah at 2019 champions Liverpool, but also Harry Kane at Tottenham, Mbappe at PSG or his teammate Neymar.
Indeed PSG are a great litmus test of Messi’s current effectiveness. With a front three of Neymar, Mbappe and Di Maria, the French champions were unlucky losing finalists in 2020.
When money issues forced Messi to leave Barca, PSG were perhaps the only club who could afford him. Messi duly replaced his Argentine compatriot Di Maria in that front three, but PSG have not quite had their previous spark since. You could even say that Messi isn’t the best player in his own team anymore, let alone the world.
UK sports journalists are similarly saying that, great though Ronaldo is, Manchester United perhaps play better as a team without him - his game’s not suited to the intense pressing favoured in the Premier League; the younger talents of Sancho, Rashford and Greenwood itching to press their claims.
Such is the fast moving nature of world football and the endless hours given over to discussion, if the award was held again only a few months later, Salah would probably win the award, with Lewandoski, Benzema, Jorginho, Mbappe, Haaland, Van Dijk and Silva all finishing ahead of the anointed pair. Certainly expect it to happen next season… unless the journalists take the easy option, yet again.