On Monday, the winner of the FIFA Ballon d’Or award will be announced. For those who have been living under a rock for lo these many months, one of the finalists will be a Blaugrana. We know this because all of the finalists are from our beloved team: Xavi Hernandez Creus, Andres Iniesta Lujan and Lionel Andres Messi.
This award, created when FIFA World Player of the Year and France Football’s Ballon d’Or merged last year, honors the player who had the best performance over the past calendar year. Like any award, it’s been controversial and is this time as well.
Three players from the same team, when Wesley Sneijder was part of an Inter squad that won everything in front of it? What’s up with that? And then there are the natterings of the Special One, who dares to utter a discouraging word, namely that Iniesta is a brilliant player who doesn’t deserve to be on this list. Why? He was injured and not on form for much of the year and is on this list by virtue of having scored the winning goal at last year’s World Cup.
Further, what does the Ballon d’Or actually represent, when it says “best performing?” Does a defender ever have a chance in hell of winning it? Our very own Carles Puyol was on the nominees list. So was Maicon, and both were extraordinary this past season. And what about keepers? His side didn’t win squat this past season unless you count a World Cup, and how many players had a better season than Iker Casillas?
And while we don’t have any history of this rejiggered Ballon d’Or, the overall history from when it was just a France Football award is that it rewards attacking players. Sure, Italy’s Fabio Cannavaro, a defender, won the award in 2006 with a keeper, Gigi Buffon, as runner-up. Yes, it skews to World Cup standouts in Cup years. Duh. The best players in the biggest tournament should get love, say some. But is it really possible for a player who was pretty much nowhere, to Cup his way into a Ballon d’Or? In 2006, an injury-plagued season for Thierry Henry, he tapped in a piddlin’ dozen goals for his club side, Arsenal. But boy, did his Les Bleus show up well at the World Cup, losing to Italy (yes, I’m still bitter) in the final.
So what of Iniesta? Is Mourinho right? Ghostface had 42 appearances last season in all competitions! Yes, he only had one goal, but that’s the fault of the force field, not his individual quality. And he had one hell of a World Cup. So there. But the real question is, who deserves it? Well, in the fine journalistic tradition of NOT burying the lead, the headline gives it away. But let’s briefly have a gander at the finalists.
Messi: Dude had 34 league goals in 35 appearances! How staggering is that strike rate? Add 8 goals in 12 appearances in European competition, and you start to wonder who in the hell had a better year? Toss in a pigpile of assists, and the general acknowledgment that he’s the best player on the planet right now, and what’s the argument against Messi? Well, he was Ballon d’Or winner last year, but his team didn’t hoist Champions League silver and got bounced from the World Cup. And if great players are supposed to show their greatness on the greatest stage, what of that? The award isn’t for being the best, it’s for doing the best, yes? (Insert Sneijder argument here: Coppa Italia, Serie A title, Champions League, World Cup finals). Yes, he was misused by a dunderhead of a coach, etc, etc. Still, it’s hard to make a case for Messi, unless you consider a bucketful of goals, jaw-dropping moves and enduring excellence as a credential.
Iniesta. Sure, he only had 1 goal last year, but he isn’t a scorer. His greatest gift is in facilitating. He makes everyone around him better, either through making a run and sliding a ball over to a fellow attacker, past a stunned, out-of-position defense, or becoming one of the world’s most dangerous playmakers. Like Michael Jordan after he developed a fadeaway jump shot, if you play Iniesta for the pass, he makes the run. Play him for the run, and he kills you with the pass. And with Xavi on the pitch, as was the case during the Barcelona and World Cup seasons, he is even more devastating. And lest anyone forget, there was this little goal in the World Cup that you might have seen. But it’s even harder to make a case for Iniesta, if you assume that this isn’t just a Ballon d’Coupe du Monde award. Once you make that assumption, of the finalists, this only points to one dude ….
Xavi. Many say that Xavi is the best player on the planet, period. Forget about Messi, forget about Thong Boy, forget about anybody else. And shouldn’t the best player be the most consistent? Work your brain for a while to figure out the last truly bad match that you saw Xavi have. And he makes everyone around him better, from attackers (perfect pass? Here ya go.) to defenders (you’ll never see the ball, don’t worry) to keepers (we have the ball, and aren’t giving it up. Go have a drink.) He controls, and is puppet master for two of the best offenses in the world, FC Barcelona’s and the Spanish NT. He won the Liga title, and was crucial in Spain’s World Cup victory. He even popped in 7 goals in all appearances, as if a passing accuracy percentage in the upper 90s wasn’t enough for you. His 19 assists were his highest total ever, and that doesn’t even include the reality that so many of his passes directly lead to assists, such as the perfect ball for Messi during the Copa match vs Athletic Bilbao. For me, this makes Xavi a no-brainer, if you look at the entire season, one that for Xavi encompassed excellence at club and national levels. And I don’t buy sentimental crap such as this is almost certainly his last opportunity to win one. So what. He gets my vote, if I had one, because he had an amazing year. Period.
Agree? Disagree? Lay it on me!