How Is the Ballon d'Or Winner Selected?

Ryan Bailey@ryanjaybaileyFeatured ColumnistDecember 9, 2013

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 16: Lionel Messi of Barcelona FC offers his 4th ballon d'or to the audience prior to the Copa del Rey Quarter Final match between Barcelona FC and Malaga CF at Camp Nou on January 16, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

The 2013 Ballon d'Or shortlist has been whittled down from 23 names to a final three and there are absolutely no surprises: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Franck Ribery are the triumvirate competing for the biggest individual prize in world football.

We are all aware of the candidates and prestige involved in the World Footballer of the Year award, but how exactly is the winner decided? 

What is the vote for?

According to its Rules of Allocation, FIFA bestows the award "according to on-field performance and overall behaviour on and off the pitch."

The behavioural aspect is an important one to consider, as the chosen player must have role model qualities—on and off the field. It is for this reason that a player like Luis Suarez may suffer in the voting.

Who gets to vote?

The "diverse international jury" of voters is made up of national team coaches and captains from a selection of FIFA's 209 national associations, in addition to "specialist journalists." There are some surprisingly lax stipulations laid out for the voters:

Only one journalist per country may vote. They are allowed to select players who play in or are affiliated with their own country. 

National team captains cannot vote for themselves, but can vote for national or club colleagues. 

Last year, the panel consisted of 509 voters, which was made up of 170 national team captains, 170 national team coaches and 169 journalists.

According to Sporting Intelligence, four of them didn't actually vote and one selected a single player when he was supposed to pick three.

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - JANUARY 07:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid enters the stage during the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2013 at Congress House on January 07, 2013 in Zurich, Switzerland.  (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Getty Images)
Christof Koepsel/Getty Images

How are the votes collated and awarded?

As previously inferred, each voter must pick three players in order of preference. FIFA then awards five points to the top pick, three points for the second and one point for the third. The player with the most points wins. 

In 2012, Leo Messi won his fourth World Player of the Year award with just 41.6 percent of the vote. This doesn't sound like a convincing win, but it is in fact a landslide majority. If all 509 voters had put Messi at No. 1, he would have secured 2,545 points out of a possible 4,581, which is 55.6 percent.  

Are there problems with this system?

Numerous problems have been cited with the current system, many of which revolve around the fact that results are openly disclosed. FIFA publishes each voter's choices for everyone to see—here is the 2012 list—in the interest of transparency.

However, this system tends to cause players and managers to vote for their friends and colleagues rather than the players they truly feel deserve the award.

Last year, Messi voted for fellow countryman Sergio Aguero and Barcelona teammates Xavi and Andres Iniesta. When asked why he didn't pick Cristiano Ronaldo, he told Marca: "It would be stupid not to consider Cristiano as one of the best. I just thought those were the players I should vote for."

Due to the public nature of the system, Germany coach Jogi Loew to refused to vote this year, correctly pointing out it would be a conflict of interest to pick three German players (or none at all) when five were on the 23-man shortlist. 

Another issue surrounds the individuals in the jury. Due to its global nature, a large number of the 509 voters are unlikely to have ever met the players or even seen them play live, which effectively makes them no better judges than the armchair fan. 

Additionally, the fact that the award considers behaviour off the field is problematic for some. If Leo Messi visits more hospitals or has a higher tolerance for being pleasant in interviews, why should that make him more worthy of a football award than someone like Cristiano Ronaldo (who might be just as nice a person in private)? 

PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 15:  Franck Ribery fans show their support during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifying Group I match between France and Finland at the Stade de France on October 15, 2013 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

The other controversy this year is the extended voting period.

Franck Ribery looked to have the award in the bag—to the extent that Bayern boss Uli Hoeness says it would be an "embarrassing conspiracy" if the Frenchman doesn't win—but by extending the voting to Nov. 29, Cristiano Ronaldo's outstanding performance in Portugal's World Cup qualifier against Sweden swung the momentum back toward him. According to Oddschecker.com, Ronaldo is now the favourite again.

FIFA claim the deadline was extended simply because too few people had bothered to vote, which will no doubt anger Hoeness if Ribery walks away empty-handed. 

When is the award presented?

The Gala will be held in Zurich on January 14, 2014. Don't miss it. 

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