Why Ballon D'Or Favorites Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi Could Lose
Sunday night's El Clasico was the 165th league battle between the two biggest sides in Spanish football, played out in front of a global audience of 400 million. But, perhaps more significantly, it was perceived as a head-to-head decider for the 2012 Ballon d'Or between the two greatest players in the game: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Living up to expectations, the Argentinean and Portguese stars put on equally phenomenal displays at the Nou Camp, prompting Jose Mourinho to suggest the coveted award should be banned this year, as both are too good to lose.
But what if both players deserve to lose?
Lionel Messi has won the Ballon d'Or (French for "Golden Ball") three consecutive years. Last season he scored a mind-blowing 73 goals—more than any player in any single season.
The similarly prolific C-Ron steered Madrid towards a league title, became the first player in La Liga history to score against every team in a single season and has now scored an astonishing 160 goals in 155 appearances for Los Blancos.
Unsurprisingly, both men are front-runners for the coveted prize. But if you play devil's advocate for a moment, you will see there are a few other players who could hold a more valid claim for FIFA's World Player of the Year award.
The Ballon d'Or isn't awarded to the player who has scored in the most domestic games in a season, created the most media hype or even shaved the most interesting shapes into his hairline. It's given to the best player over the calendar year and it is voted on by international coaches and captains, plus a selection of world journalists.
Considering this international focus—and the fact that Euro 2012 dominated our attention over the summer—the award should rightfully sit on the mantle piece of a Spanish player.
That player should be Andres Iniesta.
The Barcelona midfielder was a vital cog in the tiki-taka machine in Poland and Ukraine. He deservedly picked up the Player of the Tournament award—he also was awarded Man of the Match in the Final after setting up David Silva's opening goal with a typically sublime through-ball.
What's more, Iniesta has already earned the 2012 UEFA Best Player in Europe Award, beating his Barca teammate and the tricky Portuguese star to the spoils. The panel of journalists who awarded the prize may have set the tone for Ballon d'Or voting (By shortlisting Bangor City's semi-professional striker Les Davies, they have shown that a surprise is certainly possible).
Using the logic that an honour-laden Spanish player should win, the man who earned top goalscorer at Euro 2012 and a Champions League medal should also stand an excellent chance.
Step forward Fernando Torres.
All things considered, El Niño would be a shocking winner, but seeing as his 2012 silverware tally eclipses anything earned by Leo and Cris, his name could end up on more than a few Ballon d'Or voting slips.
The nature of the voting system, after all, allows for unexpected results. Each voter must rank their top three players—and seeing as the votes are declared publicly—there's plenty of opportunity for voters to express bias, uphold grudges or show support for players they favor.
In last year's vote, Leo Messi received less than 48 percent of the vote to win, while Ronaldo had over 21 percent to place second. So around 30 percent of the vote was distributed elsewhere in a year where the top two were supposed to have little competition.
This year, even rank outsiders like Andrea Pirlo and Iker Casillas could see themselves well represented.
Realistically, when the world's football elite gather in Zurich on January 7, we will probably see either Messi or Ronaldo walk away with a sphere made of precious metal.
But don't be too surprised if both leave Switzerland with empty hands and puzzled grins.
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