Since 2008, only two names have managed to walk away with FIFA’s Ballon d’Or – Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
While these two gentlemen are masters of their craft and have been for the last decade, they leave little room for others with massive talent who may have shown their qualities during a hard fought season.
As the rivalry between the Portuguese star and the diabolical Argentine continues to unfold before our very eyes, it tends to water down the meaning of what the Ballon d’Or is and what it means to carry it.
Getting the Gold
The Ballon d’Or was first presented to Blackpool player Stanley Matthews in 1956.
The award was crafted by French soccer magazine French Football. The Golden Ball was given to the European Footballer of the Year and was given to the best European playing the game. Journalists and players voted it on and the magazine would then announce who the victor was.
By 1995, they expanded and wasn’t just the best player performing from the continent but to the best star playing in Europe. Once the rules changed, that year A.C. Milan forward George Weah became the first and only African player to win the golden ball.
Since then stars from South America and Europe have dominated the table. No player from Asia, Oceania, or North America, has won the Ballon d’Or. In fact, the last man to win it not named Ronaldo or Messi was A.C. Milan’s Kaka in 2007.
In 2010, FIFA merged with the magazine and then began presenting the award, which is now known as the FIFA Ballon d’Or.
However, like the Oscars, sometimes the best thespians never win.
What is the Point?
Maybe it is because the award has gone to two guys in almost a decade the trophy doesn’t even seem exciting anymore.
Sure, Ronaldo had the season of his life in 2016, he totally deserved it and there are extremely strong cases as to why Messi would take the trophy in years past.
Yet, as I have written before, in 2010, Dutch player Wesley Sneijder was on the cusp of winning four major trophies following a treble season with Inter when he became a World Cup finalist. Yet, he didn’t even place in the top 3 of voting that year. Messi, who had a strong season at Barcelona but no major international trophies, was the winner.
The award generally favors forwards and attacking midfielders. A goalkeeper has never won – Buffon came close in 2006 following his historic World Cup heroics but it went to Azzurri captain Fabio Cannavaro, who is one of the rare defenders to lift the ball.
The last non-forward or midfielder to be nominated was Germany’s keeper Manuel Neuer following the World Cup in 2014. Germany took home the world’s greatest prize but Ronaldo took home the Ballon d’Or after winning Champions League with Real Madrid.
All of this has us asking – what is the point? Sure, in the years ahead when Ronaldo and Messi are playing in retirement leagues or just enjoying the high life away from the game a new hero will emerge. But should the rules be tougher or more open to players of other positions?
I believe yes.
The current rules are so broad that the winner is based on “On-field performance” and “Overall behaviour on and off the pitch.” Players are first nominated then it goes to the massive panel of coaches of national teams, captains of national teams and journalists to vote.
The votes are then tallied into points based on the “weight” the country has in the voting process. For instance, Italy’s votes weigh more than Afghanistan’s. Ukraine’s votes weigh more than Canada’s. Think of it as a global Electoral College.
In the rare case of a tie, the highest number of “five point” scores will be used to name the winner.
Based on those rules, it is easy to see why guys like Kaka, Weah, Roberto Baggio, Eusebio, all took it home at one point.
What about guys like George Best who was a known alcoholic and party animal? If off field performance is one of the criteria – his clearly falls in a gray area. Yet, he still took one home.
What about Paolo Rossi who was allegedly involved in bribery and match fixing before he helped Italy win the 1982 World Cup? Rossi was named a Golden Baller after that World Cup victory.
There is also Pavel Nedved, the Juventus hero was known to be a firebrand on the pitch, won in 2003. That same year he quit the Italian F.A. because of the union’s limit on non-EU players – he was from Czech Republic and at that time the country was not in the EU. That being said, with his protests, violent playing style and fire attitude, he still managed to win.
Clearly the only two rules have flaws.
A way to alter the rules and regulations would be for players to have to do a certain number of community service hours or make a certain amount of charitable contributions for how they conduct themselves off field. Think of the greater good, if you will.
As far as on field play goes, if you play for a top club like Real Madrid or Barcelona, the eyes of the world are on you. But, if you are making noise as a big fish in a small pond, that should be able to help you qualify.
Also, since it mainly goes to goal scorers and play makers, if a goalie gets a certain amount of clean sheets in both club and country that should assist them in qualification. Side note: Buffon, I am trying to help you as best I can, it remains a travesty this has not been yours…I digress.
FIFA can keep their global Electoral College to create the votes but the rules need to be stricter and not as broad which could allow for more diversity in the winners.
The flaws in the rules are clearly not Ronaldo or Messi’s fault, they both do an amazing job as players and as ambassadors of the game with their charitable contributions, but once in a while it would be nice to see someone else become the king.