Telegram from Sepp Blatter to FIFA Ballon d’Or voters:
Messi, Xavi and Iniesta. Stop. Three from Barcelona. Stop. Russia and Qatar. Stop. FIFA is corrupt. Stop. England is arrogant. Stop. I am all-powerful. Stop.
Ok, so perhaps this hypothetical telegram is a bit tongue-in-cheek. Can you blame me? Seriously, Russia and Qatar? But this isn’t about that. It’s about FIFA’s insistence on monopolizing world football.
In the past, there were two awards for World Footballer of the Year. First, we had the FIFA World Player of the Year award, voted for by coaches and captains of international teams. Secondly, we had the Ballon d’Or, a creation of France Football Magazine, voted for by journalists and other experts. This year for the first time the awards have merged. The award will now be called the FIFA Ballon d’Or.
Back in October, FIFA announced 23 finalists for the award. They were:
Xabi Alonso (Spain)
Iker Casillas (Spain)
Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast)
Cesc Fabregas (Spain)
Julio Cesar (Brazil)
Phillipp Lahm (Germany)
Thomas Mueller (Germany)
Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany)
Andres Iniesta (Spain)
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands)
Dani Alves (Brazil)
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon)
Asamoah Gyan (Ghana)
Miroslav Klose (Germany)
Arjen Robben (Netherlands)
David Villa (Spain)
Carles Puyol (Spain)
Diego Forlan (Uruguay)
Mesut Oezil (Germany)
The Three Amigos
On December 6, 2010, the three finalists were announced as: Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta. All three players play for FC Barcelona. Barcelona is probably the best team in the world and all three have had massive success for both club and country.
That said, I dislike the inclusion of Iniesta as a finalist. I suspect his goal to win the World Cup for Spain helped to carry him through to the finals. Had the committee wanted to nominate another Spaniard who played for Barcelona, they could have nominated David Villa. He had a massive World Cup and has continued his form this season for Barcelona.
For me then, this award comes down to Messi and Xavi. Messi is the reigning World Footballer of the Year. He’s far and away the best player in the world. By that criteria, you could give him this award every year.
That said, it all comes down to definition. If this award is meant to reward the best footballer in the world, then it should go to Messi. We all know that. If it’s meant to reward the player who had the best year, then we need to dig a bit deeper.
Argument for Messi
Arguments like this often descend into emotion and favoritism. Let's turn to some stats then in order to strip the emotion out of the argument.
La Liga and Champions League Performance
The Castrol Index measures the best players based on performance in domestic league matches and the Champions League. It gives greater weight to matches of greater importance. Thus, good performances in Champions League matches count for more than good performances in La Liga.
As of December 8, 2010, Lionel Messi is No. 1 in the Castrol Index with 1,207 points. Cristiano Ronaldo is in second place with only 1,023 points. If we look at the other finalists: Xavi has 776 points and Iniesta has 713 points. Thus, not including the World Cup, Messi is in front by a mile.
World Cup 2010 (South Africa) - Performance
At the World Cup, Xavi had a Castrol Rating of 8.77 which was ranked 52nd out of all players. Messi had a Castrol Ranking of 8.76, which was ranked 53rd out of all players (one behind Xavi). I could provide passing statistics, shots on goal, work rate, etc. but the simple truth is that the overall rating captures all of this information already.
Neither player scored a goal at the World Cup and their World Cup ratings are virtually identical. For the rest of the year, Messi is in front by a mile. I know it’s important to reward players who perform well on the world’s largest stage. But the fact remains that any player can have a good stretch over the eight weeks the World Cup takes place.
I tend to place a bit more weight on the rest of the season, as players are likely to revert to the mean over time. Thus, my vote is for Messi. Here is why:
1. Messi is in front by a mile based on his La Liga and Champions League performances. Look at the Castrol Ratings: Messi 1,207 vs. Xavi 776, a difference of 431 points!
2. World Cup performance is virtually identical 8.77 (Xavi) vs. 8.76 (Messi). Neither player scored.
3. We already know Messi is far and away the best player in the world.
4. Iniesta had only two goals during the World Cup, one of which was the winner against the Netherlands in the Final.
I’ve always been of the opinion that to be the best, you have to beat the best. Thus, in order to dethrone Messi, Xavi would have had to make a really compelling case. For example, if Xavi had finished as one of the Top 5 rated players at the World Cup and won the World Cup that might have been enough.
Statistically his performance was virtually identical to Messi, the only difference being that he actually won the World Cup with Spain.
Ultimately, it’s the journalists and the coaches and captains who will vote for this award. How will they see it? Part of me thinks they want to reward the team that won the World Cup (i.e. Spain). This would narrow the race down to Xavi and Iniesta. Could Inieta’s winning goal have won the award for him? For me, neither of these players has done enough to dethrone Messi.