Who's The Best?
By Blake Fogg
In the coming days the shrewd accountants over at PricewaterhouseCoopers will squarely tally the final votes for the FIFA Ballon d’Or gala on Jan. 13.
Plus-ones will dazzle. Camera bulbs will burst. The heads of the football hierarchy will courteously fill out most of the seats at the Kongresshaus Zurich in the lovely country of Switzerland.
And three footballers in expertly tailored tuxedos will sit anxiously waiting to see if their name is called as world’s best.
FIFA trimmed the initial 23-man list to a final shortlist of three players. Those players are Bayern Munich midfielder Franck Ribery, Real Madrid forward and one time recipient Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona forward and four time winner Lionel Messi.
The voters--made-up of national team captains, coaches and media-- decide the winner. Like any major award voting, the criteria are completely subjective. All three deserve the honor, and for some voters, it’s a tough decision like a parent picking their favorite child.
Fans will spew hate. The losing players will say that they don’t care, or in Ronaldo’s case, score two goals the very next game.
Out of the final three only one will be named as world’s best. Here’s your three:
Ronaldo appears to be a shoe in for this year’s top honors. The attacker failed to claim silverware this year with most of the applause directed at his individual achievements and performances in big matches.
The flying forward dazzled everyone with his fancy footwork, knack for goal, as well as up top with his hair (according to Sepp Blatter). The Portuguese’s well-greased mane contributed 55 goals for club and country.
His stat total is second to only Messi but his big game performances could be the deciding factor. He took Real Madrid to the semi finals in the Champions League where he practically jumped over Manchester United defender Patrice Evra in the process and ended the competition as top goal scorer.
He shined again in a World Cup Playoff meeting against Sweden where he and fellow striking rival Zlatan Ibrahimović did their best rendition of the Broadway musical “Annie Get Your Gun”.
Fans, pundits and conspiracy theorists will cry foul over FIFA’s decision to extend the voting for the Ballon d’Or by allowing votes to be counted after the final playoff game. And if the voting was very close the four goals against Sweden almost certainly sealed it for the talented attacker.
The man of little stature goes about his business like an Argentinian chef making empanadas. Messi sliced, diced and chopped the opposition to lead Barcelona to their 22nd La Liga title as well as the semi finals in both the Champions League and Copa Del Rey.
His goal tally is impressive. The Argentine scored 60 goals this year and while it’s a downgrade on his goal total from last year's campaign, it’s still five better than Ronaldo
Perhaps Messi’s misstep in this year’s award is that he won it for four straight years. With his goal numbers down and the injury he suffered at the beginning of the 2013/14 campaign, it might finally give the voters a reason not to vote for the little guy.
For four consecutive years Messi held the trophy with either teammates Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta also in the running. He is still performing as one of the best players in the world even with the dip in form from his colleagues.
Perhaps Ribery felt his previous years performance wasn’t up to snuff. Bayern Munich ended 2012 in disappointment as they finished runner-ups in the Bundesliga, German Cup and the UEFA Champions League.
Talk about motivation. The frustrated Frenchman took part in the Bavarians winning a historic treble and starting a tiki-taka busting football style that other managers and owners envy.
The pacey winger is on this year’s ballot by simply being the best player on the best team. His tally of 23 goals obviously doesn’t match the other two but contributing 22 assists to his teammates suggests he’s happy being a creator.
And that very well could be his downfall. He’s just one gear in a well-oiled machine. Where Ronaldo and Messi teams puttered-out, the Bavarian club--with the likes of Arjen Robben, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm--vroomed past like a BMW.
He has already been honored as European Player of the Year by UEFA, which makes you think that he’ll claim the trophy by going up against two players who ply most of their trade in Europe. But the award handed out by UEFA is as much of an indicator as the Golden Globes during the Hollywood award season. You won’t know who’ll take the Ballon d’Or till they break the envelope’s seal.