There were no surprises today as FIFA revealed the three finalists for this year’s Ballon d’Or award as Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Franck Ribery. The winner will be announced at the awards ceremony in Zurich on January 13.
Let’s make one thing clear from the start: Leo Messi is by far the best player of his generation and the only one of the three finalists who could ever be considered as a candidate for the title of Greatest of all time. For the first three months of 2013 he looked well on course for his fifth Ballon d’Or, completing an astonishing record of scoring in 19 consecutive league games. However, an injury against Paris Saint Germain in the Champions League quarter finals was just the first in a series of thigh problems that have seriously hampered the Argentinian’s chances of reclaiming the award this year.
Messi’s rivals have both had a remarkable year. Ronaldo has been in the best form of his career, scoring 57 goals with Real Madrid and recently producing a breathtaking hat-trick to help Portugal to classify for the World Cup. The negative point for Ronaldo is that he won nothing with Madrid and in his only final of the year he was sent of near the end of the Copa del Rey defeat to Atlético. Ribery, on the other hand, has won almost everything with Bayern Munich this year. The Frenchman has been the most important player in Bayern’s success but perhaps he doesn’t stand out quite as much in his team as Messi and Ronaldo do at Barça and Madrid, and he certainly doesn’t score as many goals.
Winning team titles is obviously very important but I feel for individual awards the merits of the individual should outweigh those of the team. For this reason I think Ronaldo’s 57 club goals compared to Messi’s 37 and Ribery’s 17 will tip the balance in favor of the Madrid player. I think Ribery will miss out like Xavi and Iniesta did after leading Spain to so much success, while Messi’s injuries will most likely rob him of a fifth straight win.
Unfortunately, the organization of this year’s award has been somewhat farcical with changes in the closing date for voting causing suspicion of corruption and political wrangling. For many years the sports magazine France Football ran the competition and it was generally accepted as the most prestigious individual award in football. In 1991 FIFA introduced their World Player award with votes being cast by national team captains and coaches. With all of FIFA’s clout the new award should have soon become the most important individual prize, but FIFA failed to achieve this and France Football’s Ballon d’Or continued to be seen as the number one individual trophy. In 2010 FIFA gave up and bought out France Football as the two awards were merged into the FIFA Ballon d’Or. If FIFA continue to organize the voting in such a shambolic way which leads to questions over the legitimacy of the winner, the award will unfortunately begin to lose its value.