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 good boy, Barca’s Lionel Messi, The Bad Boy Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid fame and the Ugly Bayern Munich winger, Franck Ribery. On Monday, 13th January 2014, one of these talents will be crowned king of football at the perfect setting; The Royal Palace of football in Zurich, Kongresshaus, Switzerland.
THE GOOD BOY, LIONEL MESSI.
“Messi is a good boy that every father and mother would like to have at home. Really, he is a good man, he is very fast and he is not exuberant, he is playing well, he is dancing, he is a kind man, really good, a good boy.” (Sepp Blatter, October 2013)
The tax-evading forward had another remarkable year under his belt in 2013, leading his Barcelona team to yet another La Liga title whilst crushing out to Bayern Munich in the semi-finals of the 2012/2013 Champions League in a ridiculous 7-0 aggregrate thumping. The pint sized Argentine was not his usual best when Barcelona won the Spanish Super Cup against Atletico Madrid on away goal rule. The statistics rarely lie; 46 goals and a further 12 assists in just 32 games in the La Liga culminated in a Pichichi trophy whilst scoring 8 goals, and assisting a further 3 in 11 games in the Champions League was no mean achievement.
The four time World Best has been phenomenal in 2013 but these heights cannot, in any way, match his previous performance over the years. The reason for this is explicable. The Argentina captain’s performance was blighted with intermittent injuries that led to his inconsistent performance. Nevertheless, this could not prevent him from winning the Best Forward and Best Player Awards in the La Liga. On the International front, El Pulga helped ensure that his country, Argentina, will participate in this year’s World Cup by contributing 10 goals to the course.
HIGHLIGHT OF 2013: Scoring 4 goals against Osasuna in the La Liga.
CASE FOR: Winning La Liga, which is a major trophy and also the Spanish Super Cup, a bonus trophy (minor trophy).
CASE AGAINST: Lionel Messi has raised the bar so high for himself and the year 2013 is probably his worst in recent times according to his own high standards.
THE BAD BOY, CRISTIANO RONALDO
“The other one [Ronaldo] is like a commander on the field of play … yeah that’s it. One has more expenses for the hairdresser than the other, but that does not matter.” (Sepp Blatter, October 2013)
“In the absence of good, bad is good” (Anonymous)
Previously known to be egocentric and involved in sex scandals, glamorous life style and a “bad boy” life, Cristiano Ronaldo has “grown up” lately and channelled all his energy into becoming a better footballer. The Madeira-born winger has had a sterling year in 2013. Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid relinquished the La liga title to Barcelona once again, placing second in the 2012/2013 season. Ronaldo chipped in with 34 goals. The 28 year old however received the Most Valuable Player Award for the 2012/2013 La Liga season. The shrill cries of “La Decima” all around Spain’s capital in the 2012/2013 season resounded in the ears of Jose Mourinho and his cohorts. Ronaldo responded with 12 goals in 12 Champions League games but in the semi-finals, Borussia Dortmund was on hand to stop Los Blancos from tasting Champions League success as the German side progressed to the final on a 4-3 aggregrate. Ronaldo was crowned the top scorer of the Champions League.
Another strong start to the 2013/2014 season suggested there’s no stopping the former Manchester United player. He’s currently the top scorer in both the La Liga and the Champions League. All these performances have been great but the pick of the bunch was when the 80 million pound rated winger gallantly led his Portuguese troops to the World Cup. The 1.86m winger’s true mettle was stretched to the limit. In a crucial World Cup qualification play off match against Sweden, he scored four goals, including a hat-trick at the Friends Arena, in Solna, to make sure the Selecao will be on that plane to the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil. In the process, he became Portugal’s joint all-time top scorer with 47 goals (together with the legendary Pauleta). This was invariably the greatest individual performance of 2013 in world football.
HIGHLIGHT OF 2013: Single-handedly dragging Portugal to the World Cup
CASE FOR: Cristiano Ronaldo has been outstanding all year round in 2013, scoring goals by the truckload. 69 goals in 59 games is a jaw-dropping statistic.
CASE AGAINST: 2013 was a trophyless season for Real Madrid, and also for Cristiano Ronaldo. He has no silverware to show for his performance.
UGLY BOY, FRANCK RIBERY
“Don’t fight with an ugly person. He has nothing to lose”
Trophies, assists, trophies, class, trophies, dribbling, trophies, goals, and many more trophies. That is a summary of how the 2013 calendar year panned out for Franck Ribery. The 30 year old was outstanding for his club side Bayern Munich as they won an historic quintuplet; The 2012/2013 Bundesliga Title, 2012/2013 Champions League Title, 2013 European Super Cup and the 2013 Club World Cup. Franck Ribery was an important cog for this dominant Bayern side, providing assists or the pass to the pass that leads to a goal (key passes), man of the match performances and generally inspiring his team mates. The 2013 Bundesliga player of the year had the most assists in the German Bundesliga for the 2012/2013 season, 15 assists as well as scoring 10 goals.
For the 2012/2013 Champions League, Franck Ribery was a catalyst for Barca’s cataclysm when Bayern Munich decimated Barcelona 7-0 on aggregrate. The Frenchman was named Man of the Match in the European Super Cup final when the Bavarian giants narrowly defeated Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side on penalties. All of these achievements will go unnoticed as the mercurial right footed left winger deservedly received the UEFA Best Player in Europe in August 2013. Later in the year 2013, the former Galatasaray and Marseille winger won his last major trophy when Bayern Munich clinched the Club World Cup. The Frenchman was named Best Player of the Tournament. To crown it all, German leading sports magazine, Kicker, named him Man of the Year for 2013. Frank Ribery played a crucial role as he aided a beleaguered Les Bleues side to qualify for the 2014 World Cup
HIGHLIGHT OF 2013: Crowned UEFA Best Player for 2013
CASE FOR: Winning 5 trophies with Bayern in the 2013 Calendar Year.
CASE AGAINST: Coming up against Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the French international has next to no chance, no matter his trophies, awards and personal glory.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
The criterion for voting for the FIFA Ballon D’or is still unclear; the credibility of this prestigious award has over the years been questioned. The award has been reduced to a mere popularity contest these days. What is the litmus test for recognising the best player? Is it individual performance? Then vintage Ronado! Is it based on winning trophies? Then I will say felicitations, Franck Ribery! Is it based on past performance and personality? Then Messi can hi-FIVE the Ballon D’or organisers. Football purists KNOW Franck Ribery has been the Best Player in 2013; not winning the award will be a stolen verdict. Unfortunately, it’s national team captains, national team coaches and selected journalists around the world who have that mandate. The FIFA Ballon D’or is not just about winning trophies. The player’s status, reputation and marketability also count. Disadvantage Franck Ribery. Real Madrid’s Fabio Coentrao couldn’t have been much clearer: “You can’t give an award like the Ballon D’or to Ribery”. Apart from faithful Bayern fans littered across the world (and probably a few football fans in France), the only other person who believes Franck Ribery should be crowned 2013 FIFA Ballon D’or winner, is Franck Ribery himself. “Under the fireplace in the living room, my wife has already prepared a place for it (Ballon D’or trophy), Ribery said in November.”I try not to think about it, but she is thinking about it a lot. At Bayern everyone believes that I will win. It is for what I have done on the field, what I have done to return to my best, to be professional every day and for the trophies that I have won. Before this year I was very good. Now I am the best.” It is now or never for Franck Ribery. If the assist master doesn’t win the award this year, it will probably be the closest he will ever come to winning the Ballon D’or. Again, football purists will consider this (Ribery not winning the award) as 2010 Ballon D’or all over again when Wesley Sneijer bagged a treble with Inter as well as a losing finalist in the 2010 World Cup but got no where near the Ballon D’or ratings. Bayern Munich won many tropies in 2013 but was it down to the sheer brilliance of Franck Ribey?? No, it was team work. On the other hand, “the Ronaldo y Messi” duopoly looks set to continue for at least another three or four years. Lionel Messi has been recognised as the best Player in the World in the last four years. Is it time for him to take a rest and watch his perennial rival Cristiano Ronaldo bask in the spot light just for once? Will the stakeholders look back at 2004 when Ronaldinho did not win any silverware but was still crowned the king of football for his personal exploits? Advantage Ronaldo here.
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 all and sundry.