FIFA’s Ballon d’Or is the most prestigious individual award in soccer. The award, which denotes the best soccer player of the previous year, will be presented on Jan. 7, 2013.
Out of all the players in every league around the world, a shortlist was announced last week with 23 players. On Nov. 29, three finalists will be chosen. Finally, captains and head coaches of national teams, and international media representatives selected by French magazine France Football will cast their votes. After this process, a winner will be chosen.
It would be shocking if Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo were to lose this prize to a third player, be it Andrés Iniesta, Xavier “Xavi” Hernández Creus or Iker Casillas. No other player has won the Ballon d’Or since 2007 when former A.C. Milan star Kaká came in first place over Ronaldo and Messi. Ronaldo would go on to win in 2008, followed by Messi, who has recieved the Ballon d’Or three consecutive years.
If I had written this article in the summer, I would have said there is no chance anyone could take the Player of the Year Award away from Ronaldo. All the signs pointed toward him: Real Madrid won La Liga with a decisive nine point lead over F.C. Barcelona as well as the Spanish Super Cup over Barça.
My opinion began to change when Portugal reached the semi-finals in the European Football Championship and fell to Spain via a penalty shootout.
Ronaldo performed well throughout the tournament. The unstoppable Portuguese striker was taking his country to the top until he had to kick one of five decisive penalty shots against Spain to proceed to the finals. Ronaldo was waiting to kick fifth and hopefully last. Portugal lost before Ronaldo could even take his turn, after Bruno Alves missed the fourth kick.
The best penalty kickers usually go first. Did Ronaldo purposely want to take the last kick for individual glory? In that case, he placed his need for the stardom over his team’s need to win. That one poor decision might not have cost Ronaldo the Ballon d’Or, but it did allow Messi to enter center stage.
Certainly Messi would have taken the first or second penalty kick. Beyond that, I thought of Messi’s individual accomplishments: top goal scorer in Europe; La Liga’s top goal scorer; most goals in a season (82 goals in 69 games) and Messi is now approaching the legendary Pelé’s record of most goals scored in a calendar year (127).
These two players are in the best form they have ever been. Messi’s 30-yard free kicks and Ronaldo’s powerful dipped cannon of a shot consistently leave fans’ jaws hanging. Both players are again at the top of the goal-scoring charts in the Spanish league.
Everyone has their own case to argue. Some maintain that Ronaldo is stronger while Messi is quicker. Messi is more clever, but Ronaldo is more technical.
At this rate, the arguments and debates won’t end until the final decision in January.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Nov. 6 print edition. Nico Cantor is a contributing writer. Email him at [email protected]