When it comes to the best player in the world, football fans aren't usually the type to take such a debate lightly. Like the political or social debates of old, today's equivalent of the old town hall—the internet—is dominated by legions of supporters arguing over just which footballer can truly call himself the best throughout the sport.
Fortunately for the rest of us, UEFA has installed fail safes for this very reason. For every year team captains, coaches and established journalists vote on this very topic to finally put the debate to rest. It's called the Ballon d'Or, and it's the most illustrious personal award in the sport of football.
Yet in the buildup to this year's award the fight is fiercer than ever. For aside from the two mainstays of personal excellence within the sport today, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, there is a third contender that may just have a shot at winning the trophy too.
This is of course Bayern Munich's outstanding left winger, Franck Ribery. The Bundesliga's greatest talent and this year's European footballer of the year.
To truly appreciate the excellent of the irregular wide player, we must first dive in to the raw data. Last season, as Bayern marched to four separate titles for the first time in their 113-year history, Ribery scored 11 goals and made 23 assists in 43 games. Not only was he the best player at Bayern but the best attacking player in all of German football.
Yet even though the numbers do paint an accurate portrait of Ribery's contribution to Bayern Munich over the course of their greatest ever season, they don't truly elaborate just how much he means to the Bavarian giants.
In the nine games that Ribery missed through injury last season, Bayern failed to win four of them. In the 34 games in which he played, they only missed out on victory, again, on four occasions. Meaning that Bayern's win ratio dropped from 88 percent to 55 percent when the European player of the year wasn't in the starting XI throughout last season's campaign.
If we were to try and compare the Ballon d'Or outsider to his more established opponents for the award, the one aspect that he may have a shot at is the notion that Bayern simply wouldn't have won all they did without Franck Ribery. A statement that wouldn't ring quite as true for Messi or Ronaldo despite playing in similarly talented sides.
The simple matter of fact that dictates the ruling of such an award is of course how does one set about distinguishing one world-class player from the next. For even though the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are light-years ahead of the rest of the sport in terms of goals scored throughout a campaign, there are certain arguments that would suggest that goals aren't the only yard stick one can use to measure a player's ability.
Similarly, one must take a step back and approach this award from a critical point of view. Is the Ballon d'Or a trophy that the sport should give to the best player in the world on that given season, or a prize deserving only of the most in-form player of the previous campaign?
If it is indeed the latter, then Franck Ribery most definitely has a case to claim the illustrious prize.
Lionel Messi, undoubtedly the best player in the world and the favourite for the award, was at his best at times last season, but not even his most avid fans could claim either he or Barcelona were at their tip-top when they finished their tournament campaign with no more than the King's Cup to their name.
It is of course this line of reasoning that offers a perfectly amicable chance to Franck Ribery. Yes, Lionel Messi scored more goals than the Frenchman, but these goals eventually meant very little to the player or his club, and more importantly it was the Bayern forward that won all the trophies last season.
It was Franck Ribery who put Juventus to the sword in the quarter-finals; it was Franck Ribery who set up two of the three goals that led to Bayern's historical 3-0 win in deepest Barcelona; and it was Franck Ribery who made the pass to allow Arjen Robben to score that last-gasp winner in Wembley. It was this Frenchman who had changed the fate of history for his club last season, and that is worth more than all the goals in the world.
Although we won't quite know who is in the running for this career defining award until the end of the month, and only then will we be able to speculate on the eventual winner until the ceremony in January, the very suggestion that Franck Ribery may win such a prize is a testament to the season the player has just had and the success of Bayern Munich as a club.
In a sport so drastically dominated by two players who simply score for fun most weeks, it would not only be refreshing but incredibly appropriate to break from the status quo and give this award to a player who put 100 percent in all season long and ultimately won everything that was available to him.
For even though Franck Ribery may not have scored as many goals as Cristiano Ronaldo or as many assists as Lionel Messi, he did win a lot more than both, and his attitude and professionalism to obtain them should exceed any tally on a chart.
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