The 2012 Ballon d’Or will be handed out to Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo on Monday. While there may be differing opinions of which player should receive the award, there is no doubt that all three are world-class talents who have been in exceptional form over the past year.
All three players have battled for La Liga supremacy, while Iniesta and Ronaldo also fought for a European Championship on the international level over the past year.
The sport’s biggest stages have hosted these exceptional athletes, and all three deserve to be recognized as finalists.
But only one can win. Here are the arguments for each player.
Andres Iniesta: Barcelona, Spain
Among the three candidates, Iniesta is the only one to win a major trophy with his country. He has been a key component to Spain’s remarkable success during its run to victories at Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.
His goal and assist totals do not come close to either Messi or Ronaldo, but his style of play does not require him to post high numbers of either statistic in order to have a major impact on a match.
His intelligence, touch, movement and passing are all at a standard-setting level. He still has 26 assists over the past two seasons for both club and country, and his quality allows Spain and Barcelona to execute their signature tiki-taka style.
The teams he plays on have been remarkably successful this year, and they would not be nearly as formidable without him. For this reason, Iniesta has a claim to the Ballon d’Or award.
Lionel Messi: Barcelona, Argentina
The argument for Messi is much more about individual accomplishments than team successes. However, his individual achievements are unlike anything world football has ever seen.
His 91 goals in the 2012 calendar year is a mind-boggling total. It broke Gerd Muller’s 40-year-old record of 85 successful strikes, and unless Messi breaks his own record, the new record will likely stand at least this long.
In addition, he broke Muller’s record for goals in a European season, and he has not been padding his stats through hogging the ball. He also has 36 assists over the past two seasons.
To make his record even more impressive, has not needed a massive amount of opportunities to rack up a historic amount of goals. Last season, he averaged 1.4 fewer shots per game than Ronaldo in La Liga fixtures, and during the current campaign, he is taking 2.4 fewer shots in each match than the Portuguese star (via Whoscored.com).
Messi is viewed as the best player in the world due to this remarkable goal-scoring rate, and ultimately, it is not difficult to come up with convincing arguments in favor of him winning this year’s Ballon d’Or.
Cristiano Ronaldo: Real Madrid, Portugal
While Iniesta has had team success and Messi has had an incomparable individual season, Ronaldo has had a little of each.
Real Madrid won La Liga for the first time since he became a Galactico, and he also helped Portugal reach the semifinals of Euro 2012 before it was eliminated by Spain in penalty kicks.
Individually, Ronaldo is the only player on the planet who even approaches Messi’s production. He had 67 goals and 16 assists in the 2011-12 season, and currently has 28 goals and six assists in this campaign.
If the Ballon d’Or voters are looking for the most balanced résumé, they should pick Ronaldo.