El Pivote: The Ballon d’Or debate

El Pivote: The Ballon d’Or debate

El Pivote (or The Pivot) is a weekly totalBarça column by Anoop Jethwa about the trials and tribulations of FC Barcelona.  From the positives to the negatives, this piece will dive deep into the living fabric that is blaugrana.  We welcome your thoughts and feedback in the comments section.

This week’s El Pivote is simple. We will delve into the Ballon d’Or debate – once and for all!

Before starting university in London, I spent two years coaching abroad in the United States of America. It was fantastic to be in a completely different culture, especially where ‘soccer’ continues to lag behind other sports in terms of interest. However, within the soccer community, passion runs deep and no more so than when time comes to select the “All-District Team of the Year” and the “All-State Team of the Year”, and even the “All-Metro Team of the Year”, voted for by coaches in meetings where all is discussed and thrashed over, with the coaches’ intentions of getting as many of his or her high school players picked for respective honours.

This is probably not the way it is done all over the USA, but it was certainly my experience, and here is one example. It was the ‘All-Metro’ meeting, where the best players from Baton Rouge high schools were to be selected. My team already had two players chosen and I was putting forward a third. A coach from another school, who only had one of his players selected already, was stating how unfair it would be for me to have three players on the list. At first I was not concerned because my player was clearly better, based on stats and given the fact that she had been ‘called up’ to represent the state at ‘premier level’ in her age group. But after the opposing coach adamantly fought for there to be a restriction on the number of players chosen from any one team, I had to rise to the bait.

Everything I was saying was based on positively putting across the case of my player – her agility, her speed, her ability to turn possession in the middle of the pitch into a glorious chance for our forwards, her determination, her commitment to the cause, her stats and her ‘premier’ a.k.a. ‘select’ outings. Everything the other coach was saying was based on negatively denouncing my player, not because he could criticise my player’s ability, but because he had his own agenda and the only way he could successfully anoint his player was to discredit mine. At the end of the argument, it went to a vote and my player won by fourteen to two. You cannot keep quality down.

For those of you who are yet to establish a link between what the previous paragraphs boil down to and the Ballon D’Or, let me tie it all together. For the opposing coach, read Jose Mourinho. For his player, read Cristiano Ronaldo. For my player, read Lionel Messi. For the better stats, read eighty-two goals in the season. For having a couple of players already selected, read Madrid winning La Liga. Before you head straight for the comment section, of course this is not an exact science. I know the standard of play at high school level in USA almost makes it a different sport from the world of FC Barcelona, but there are eerie similarities, aptly on Halloween, on the basis of Mourinho’s case for Ronaldo to win and that of my American counterpart.

FC Barcelona statues are based on fair play, values and judgements. It is only fair, therefore, that we acknowledge Cristiano Ronaldo to be one of the best footballer’s of his generation. I have no problem stating that and the majority of die hard blaugranas would follow suit; and rightly so. Any player to have scored the number of goals he has for Manchester United and for Real Madrid must be commended for his efforts. For the culés who do not rate him, just think about the amount of times we were desperately hoping for Madrid to drop points last season, only for Ronaldo to rescue them with some top notch strikes.

However, why is it not enough for Mourinho to talk about his own player? What is troubling him so much? Why was Ronaldo ‘unhappy’ and not celebrating goals because the entire club was not pushing his name forward collectively for the prize? Why is Mourinho constantly inventing agendas such as winning a league title being a paramount criterion and that a player who has won it the previous three times should not win it again? What could possibly be troubling these Portuguese men so much? The answer is obvious – Lionel Messi.

It is true that Ronaldo won the league. It is true that Messi has won the Ballon d’Or thrice. But these are nothing to do with awarding the trophy to the best player in the world. I have given credit to Ronaldo, but he is not without criticisms. When Lionel Messi scored a hat trick for Argentina against Brazil, everyone said that Cristiano Ronaldo had the perfect chance to respond by winning the European Championship for Portugal, or at least by showing world class consistency. Portuga ldrew a blank against Germany in the first game, and in the second against Denmark, fans were taunting Ronaldo with chants of Messi’s name! It took an extremely poor Dutch defence for him to score a couple. In the quarter finals, there was even more Messi chanting from the crowd as Ronaldo scored one from twenty of his nation’s attempts on goal against Czech Republic. At this point, instead of concentrating on his own performances, Cristiano decided to let everyone know in the post match press conference that Messi’s Argentina team got knocked out of its own continental competition the previous year in its own back yard at the quarter final stage.

In the next match against Spain, the Real Madrid faithful were torn between wanting Ronaldo to win and wanting their own country to win. Marca was heavily criticised in the aftermath for backing Ronaldo for the UEFA award ahead of Spain’s own. Against La Roja, Ronaldo did not produce. Even his supporters had labelled this as the game that would prove to the world that he deserves the Ballon d’Or. Portugal did not score, Casillas and Piqué kept a clean sheet, and Xavi, Iniesta and Cesc enjoyed 14% more possession. But let’s not forget that the match was won on penalties. This was the perfect opportunity for Ronaldo to show his individual credentials for an individual award by stepping up to slot home from twelve yards. Not only did Ronaldo not produce, he did not even take one. Surely the best player in the world would not shy away from this, but he did. When Mourinho states so confidently that a player should be in contention if he helps his team win trophies, how come he is not critical of his own countryman for not aiding Portugal defeat the team he heavily criticised for playing without a reference striker? Moreover someone should remind Cristiano that when Argentina lost to Uruguay on penalties in the Copa America, the first person to step up on the night and for his country – Lionel Messi.

Suggestions have been made that Ronaldo was down to take the fifth penalty in an attempt to win it for Portugal and keep all the glory for himself. To most that shows arrogance and a huge lack of humility, and it cannot be forgotten that a player’s character is also being judged when the Ballon d’Or takes place. By contrast, Messi is constantly accepting individual awards and immediately proclaiming his teammates as the ones who have helped him win. There are never reports of Messi being ‘unhappy’. You will never hear leaks from agents or the club about Messi wanting more money or looking at a potential transfer. Instead he constantly respects his fans, his colleagues and his employers by stating that he wants to end his career at the club. He possesses characteristics in a gentleman that one would want his or her sister or daughter to marry.

The most important factor amongst the debate is ability. Lionel Messi is already the greatest player of his generation. He is already one of the best players ever to have played this beautiful game. He is possibly the best. Yet his criticism has been based on people’s opinion that he does not perform for his national team. That criticism simply no longer exists. He has been producing for Argentina constantly this year, almost always getting on the scoresheet and putting in world class performances. And just in case that was not enough for his doubters, Messi has now put himself amongst the best free kick takers on the planet. They used to say Cristiano Ronaldo was one of the best, but in March of this year, El Pais revealed that up to then, in the previous season, Real Madrid had the most free kicks (44) in the top leagues in Europe, Ronaldo had taken 37 and scored none.

Just to rub salt into the Ronaldo’s wound, Messi has scored two free kicks against Cristiano’s Madrid this season already; one in La Supercopa and one in La Liga. Iker Casillas had no chance on either. I wonder who he is going to vote for – I know who he should. Here ends my discussion on the topic – You cannot keep quality down.

Until next time…Visca Barça. El Pivote.

Source: Jasper Juinen/Getty Images Europe