Weekly Why: FIFA's Ballon d'Or and the Absurdity of Glorifying Individual Awards

Daniel Tiluk@@danieltilukFeatured ColumnistJanuary 12, 2016

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - JANUARY 11: FIFA Ballon d'Or nominees Neymar Jr of Brazil and FC Barcelona (L), Lionel Messi of Argentina and FC Barcelona (C) and Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and Real Madrid (R) attend a press conference prior to the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2015 at the Kongresshaus on January 11, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)
Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images

Welcome to Bleacher Report's Weekly Why, a place where we discuss world football's biggest questions that may go neglected and/or avoided. Ranging from the jovial to the melancholic, no subject matter is deemed off-limits.

Why Shouldn't Individualism Equal Greatness? 

The Ballon d'Or (despite the immense popularity) is entirely pretentious.

I get the feeling it exists primarily for the world's foremost footballing personalities and media outlets to descend on Zurich, Switzerland, in their droves—giving FIFA much-needed "good publicity" in the face of quite startling, and seemingly annual, corruption allegations.

I've long contended that votes aren't necessary to tell me Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Luis Suarez and a venerable list of others were the world's best footballers last year. The same way I don't require the Grammy Awards to tell me which respective music albums are "exceptional." Should I deem a project brilliant or unsatisfactory, no accolade from phantom voters will change my thinking.

You enjoy yours, I enjoy mine; we all get along—that's my outlook. Some, however, don't have that particular chipset, and proceedings like the Ballon d'Or exacerbate this frustration.

Finding validation in others' views is human nature, I suppose, but in a footballing context, FIFA's individual awards take this flaw to absurd levels. Apparently it's not acceptable to have multiple generational talents playing in the same era—there must be a definitive "best."

The Ballon d'Or has become football's answer to Hollywood's red carpet events.
The Ballon d'Or has become football's answer to Hollywood's red carpet events.MICHAEL BUHOLZER/Getty Images

What should be determined by team dynamics and collective ambition is increasingly decided by copious statistical analysis, goal tallies and an insatiable appetite for rivalry.

Enjoying the primes of Messi and Ronaldo, for instance, isn't enough. As different players, with different playing styles, the two commonalities between them are they score goals and play their club football in Spain, nevertheless, they are marketed as football's preeminent rivals.

The height of this spectacle is found at FIFA's Ballon d'Or ceremony. Seated next to each other and paraded for the better part of two hours, one is labeled a winner, the other a loser (along with an unfortunate third party).

Messi was given the award this year, his first since 2012—Ronaldo won in the intervening years. Forgive me, but the notion of winners and losers in an individual context is patently ridiculous. Both are extremely successful at their profession and receive compensation (from their club and global corporations around the planet) for kicking a ball on grass.

If there's a "loser," please, point him out.

Manufactured drama created by would-be rivals is an unnecessary element. Football already has the best form of natural drama built into its DNA. The game is a wonderful amalgamation of fluidity, invention and randomness. Acceptance of overt individualism serves a detriment and a distraction.

What we see.
What we see.OLIVIER MORIN/Getty Images
B/R Football @brfootball

#BallondOr: 15 Leo 🏆, CR7 14 Leo, CR7 🏆 13 Leo, CR7 🏆 12 Leo 🏆, CR7 11 Leo 🏆, CR7 10 Leo 🏆 09 Leo 🏆, CR7 08 Leo, CR7 🏆 07 Leo, CR7 (Kaka 🏆)

What we should see.
What we should see.OLIVIER MORIN/Getty Images

This isn't to suggest skillful playmakers and goalscorers should be dissuaded from displaying their sublime talents. That would take away from the game's natural beauty—essentially defeating the purpose—but no footballer has ever scored or conceded a goal independent of the other 21 players, so why should we excessively deify one person?

The concept is nonsensical, but we've taken the notion and ran miles. We have "Man of the Match" awards, there are Golden Boots, Golden Gloves. There are Players of the Year, Young Players of the Year, journalists get their say and clubs have similar ceremonies.

You must admit, it's all a bit mad.

It perpetuates the idea that outside of group efforts, one can have a "good season." I think that's missing the mark, even if slightly.

How, as a supporter, manager or footballer, could one be comforted by receiving an individual award without team success? Should your club go trophyless, but your mantle is filled with mementos, wouldn't they feel hollow? Furthermore, if you win trophies, of what consequence is receiving personal accolades when your performances are only made possible by those of others around you?

Suggesting blanket appreciation for every member of a football club is as impossible as the reverse is stupid. Everyone contributes to an outcome, but some have a larger role to play than others. Problems arise, though, once individual awards are exalted above, or commensurate with, long-standing team awards.

Winning the Ballon d'Or (or any individual award) cannot be top-shelf when arguing for one's greatness.
Winning the Ballon d'Or (or any individual award) cannot be top-shelf when arguing for one's greatness.Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Messi has won five Ballon d'Or awards, those trophies are no replacement for one World Cup medal.

When asked on the subject heading into this week's announcement, Argentina's current bastion told reporters, as noted by Sky Sports' Gerard Brand: "That's a very tough question. Obviously I would [rather] win the World Cup [than keep my four Ballon d'Or awards]. I've always said team achievements are more important than individual ones. The World Cup is the highest you can reach as a player, so I'd go for the World Cup, definitely."

No footballer in history has won the Ballon d'Or's equivalent more times than the 28-year-old, but he would sacrifice them all for the opportunity to lift the World Cup trophy once for his native Argentina.

It seems players understand their success isn't necessarily predicated on their own talent, but how that talent functions in a team construct—making collective honours more rewarding than personal awards.

What cannot transpire, though, is supporters and journalists circumventing this logic and legislating one's supposed "greatness" from subjective and biased individual accolades. Greatness should be saved for those who have produced on the world's biggest stages, earning their club and/or country prestigious trophies. 

Anything short of that and the parameters for entering the game's pantheon will become confusingly blurred—if they aren't already.

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