The stage is set and the top characters have been selected for the biggest football award show, the FIFA BALLON D’OR. 23 characters were auditioned but 3 of them came through the auditioning process unscathed. I present to you the last men standing: The magical Andrés Iniesta, Barcelona icon, Lionel Messi and finally, Real Madrid mega star, Cristiano Ronaldo. On Monday, 7th January 2013, one of these talents will be crowned king of football at the perfect setting; The Royal Palace of football in Zurich, Switzerland. I take a look at their achievements in 2012 and try and make a case for each of them:
ANDRES INIESTA (FC BARCELONA and SPAIN): 2012 has been rather eventful for the greatest brain in modern football. Andres Iniesta’s Barcelona lost the La Liga title to eternal rivals Real Madrid. In June, the creative midfielder headed out to Poland-Ukraine with Spain for Euro 2012 where his football talents was consolidated and patented. In 6 games, Don Andres was credited with an assist and no goal but 3 man of the match awards including the final game where Spain annihilated Italy 4-0 to bag their second consecutive Euro title. Iniesta stole the Euro show with breath-taking performances, jinking past helpless defenders, setting up team-mates and generally making the team tick. It was therefore not surprising that he was named Best Player of the Tournament. On the 30th of August, the 5 ft 7in midfielder was awarded UEFA Best Player in Europe. According to UEFA.com, the UEFA Best Player in Europe award “recognise[s] the best player, irrespective of his nationality, playing for a football club within the territory of a UEFA member association during the previous season.” Players are judged by their performances in all competitions, domestic and international, and at club and national team levels throughout the season. Iniesta’s club side, Barcelona, lost yet another trophy, the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid in 2012 but Iniesta’s performance in the first leg at the Camp Nou was widely applauded. The 2012/2013 season has been fairly great for this great midfielder. After 17 games in La Liga, Barca are yet to lose a single game with a draw against Real Madrid the only blot in their scrap book whilst achieving 16 victories in the process. Iniesta has played 12 games in the La Liga scoring one goal and providing 9 assists. In the Champions League, his Catalan side comfortably progressed to the knock out stage, Iniesta chipping in with a goal from four games. Don Andres is widely criticised for his lack of assists but he’s Barca’s top assist provider this season with 12 in all competitions. Terrorising defenders, wide range of passing, keeping possession are but a few of this maestro’s attributes.
HIGHLIGHT OF 2012: Providing 3 assists and scoring a goal in a league game against Levante all in 20 minutes.
CASE FOR: Won the Euro 2012
CASE AGAINST: Iniesta is up against two “out of this world” players, Ronaldo and Messi who are far and away favourites. It will almost be branded a ‘’stolen verdict’’ if the award is handed to him.
LIONEL MESSI (FC BARCELONA and ARGENTINA): The superlatives in the English dictionary are not enough to describe the personal heights Lionel Messi reached in 2012. After hitting a league high of 50 goals in a La Liga season, the pint-sized Argentine struck a record 14 times in the 2011/2012 Champions League although his Barca side crushed out against a resilient Chelsea side. In the 2011/2012 Copa Del Rey final, Messi was on hand to score as Barca thumped Atletico Bilbao 3-0 to enable Messi win his only trophy for the year under review. In the Spanish Super Cup game against Real Madrid, ‘’El Pulga’’ scored in both legs but was not enough to win the cup for his side. In the 2012/2013 La Liga season, the three time World Best Player has arguably been the best player in the league scoring goals for fun. With 26 goals (plus 5 assists) in just 17 league games, he’s the runaway topscorer. In the 2012/2013 Champions League season, Leo Messi has scored 5 goals and provided 3 assists in just 6 games as his side prepare to meet a beleaguered AC Milan in the next round of the competition. Messi has set and broken several records this year, prominent amongst those include becoming Barcelona’s all-time top scorer in the La Liga having scored 195 goals and he’s still just 25 years. He also scored 91 goals in 2012 breaking Gerd Muller’s long standing record of 85 goals set some 40 years back. The Argentine captain has been widely criticised for his lucklustre performance when in Argentina colours but that has improved especially since the arrival of Alejandro Sabella as manager. In 2012, Lionel Messi scored 12 goals in 9 games for his country including a man of the match performance cum hat-trick against Brazil in a friendly game. Dribbling, strong finishing, accurate passing and a through-ball expert, Messi is a goalkeeper’s worst nightmare.
HIGHLIGHT OF 2012: Scoring 5 goals in a single Champions League game against Bayer Leverkusen, an unprecedented feat.
CASE FOR: Scoring 91 goals in 2012 is highly regarded as an unwritten petition to hand the Ballon D’or award to Messi. Apart from his goals, Messi has been peerless in every single game he has featured for Barca and Argentina in 2012.
CASE AGAINST: Well, the Barca star has just the less glamorous Copa del Rey trophy to show for his extraordinary performance in 2012 whilst the other two contenders won more prestigious trophies.
CRISTIANO RONALDO (REAL MADRID and PORTUGAL): Cristiano Ronaldo has had an amazing 2012 especially during the first half of that particular year. The Portuguese winger was arguably the key protagonist who secured Real Madrid’s 32nd La Liga crown scoring against all 19 clubs in the 2011/2012 La Liga. He also tore the conspiracy theorists’ scripts by performing in big games in the La Liga, notably his 73rd minute strike at the Camp Nou that invariably won the La Liga for Real Madrid. In 38 league games, Ronaldo scored 46 goals. At the end of the 2011/2012 season, Ronaldo was presented with the Alfredo di Stefano trophy which translates into Best Player in the La Liga, an accolade well-deserved. In the Champions League, Cristiano Ronaldo was again on hand to carry Real Madrid to the top. The shrill cries of “La Decima” all around Spain’s capital in the 2011/2012 season resounded in the ears of Jose Mourinho and his cohorts. Ronaldo responded with 10 goals in 10 Champions League games as well as 3 assists but Bayern Munich was on hand to stop The Whites from tasting Champions League success in the semi-finals via penalty shootout. Cristiano Ronaldo has always been slated for his poor showing for his country, Portugal. The Euro 2012 was therefore a true barometer to test Ronaldo’s mettle. Ronaldo’s Portugal was dumped in Group B, obviously the group of death that housed other European powerhouses such as Denmark, Holland and Germany. The Madeira-born forward captained his side to second place finish in the group of death. In the decisive group game against Holland, Ronaldo rose to the occasion as a master class all-round performance was rewarded with two goals and Man of the Match gong. In a tight quarter-final game against a resilient Czech Republic side, Ronaldo was the difference between the two sides as his powerful header set up a semi-final date against Iberian neighbours, Spain. He was again named Man of the Match in that quarter-final game. Portugal eventually bowed out of the competition after losing on penalties to eventual winners of the competition, Spain. Ronaldo was named in the team of the tournament as well as earned the joint top scorer award with 3 goals. After scoring in the 2012 Euro competition, Ronaldo has now scored in every single major competition for Portugal. In the 2012 Super Cup final game against Barcelona, Ronaldo’s 19th minute strike proved to be the winner. It was an excellent goal by all standards as he back heeled the ball over Gerard Pique’s head to set himself up before powering the ball past a helpless Victor Valdes. Real Madrid won the Spanish Super Cup on away goal rule (4-4 aggregate). The second half of 2012 has been mediocre for Cristiano Ronaldo as well as his Real Madrid team by the high standards they’ve set for themselves. He has had his “sad” times and challenges as well. Ronaldo has 14 goals in 17 games in the 2012/2013 La Liga season but Real Madrid sit 16 points adrift of pace setters, Barca. In the Champions League, Ronaldo is the joint top scorer with 6 goals in 6 games this season. Wide range of shots, goals, winning aerial duels and scoring rocket free kicks, Ronaldo is the true definition of a modern day footballer.
HIGHLIGHT OF 2012: Invariably scoring the winning goal at Camp Nou that meant Real Madrid will win their 32nd La Liga title…….his ‘’calma’’ celebration that went along with the goal as well…..
CASE FOR: Having won an important trophy, the La Liga, and the Spanish Super Cup, Ronaldo’s detractors will have little to say. His performance in 2012 has also been outstanding in totality.
CASE AGAINST: Cristiano Ronaldo still lingers in the shadow of Lionel Messi and direct comparision between the two will always favour the latter. It will be almost impossible for Ronaldo to win the award this year. Will there be a better year for him to win it as long as Messi continues to play football for Barcelona?
These three players, Iniesta, Messi and Ronaldo, also representatives of La Liga (official home for the production of World Best Players since time immemorial) will be on the podium tomorrow and only one player will take home football’s greatest individual award. Lionel Messi is definitely favourite to bag the award but I believe the award is about recognition. Messi has been recognised 3 times already. Isn’t it time to recognise another player’s talents and effort other than Messi? If Iniesta does not win it this year, will there ever be a better time? Isn’t it time for stakeholders to look past Ronaldo’s arrogance and hand him the award for winning trophies in 2012? At the end of the day, when the curtains are rolled down and the lights are dimmed let’s hope that whoever wins the award will be an epic victory for football purists.