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Weighting of Big Individual Awards

The Ballon D’or award is the most prestigious individual award and highest honour a footballer can hope to achieve in their career. Legendary status in football is all but guaranteed if you become the recipient of this award.

2021 sees the return of the Ballon D’or ceremony, with the nominees announced this is the period where debates intensify as to who should win it and why. Which then leads to the debate of the selection process that allows people to be nominated.

Of course, a lot of debates for who should win it is down to tribalism amongst fans, often discounting the efforts of rival players and that’s why it’s a panel of impartial journalist who often pick the winner from the published list of nominees.

There is no doubt that for whatever reason opinions have changed on the Ballon D’or and its uniqueness whether it be through some of the names nominated, the eventual winner or the conspiracy theorists on social media spreading their ideas.

There are some discussion points on the Ballon D’or award and how perceptions have changed recently according to how we see modern day football.

Objectivity and Subjectivity

When football fans talk about what should and shouldn’t be the criteria, more often than not it becomes an objective vs subjective debate when in fact most individual awards like the Ballon D’or are the product of both.

The selection process itself suggests it’s both. The subjectivity element of the selection process comes as judges review and decide on individual performances and player class using their own standards to gauge who is the best among the nominees.

Claims are often made that nominees or winners are such due to the award being a ‘’popularity contest’’. To some extent there is some truth to it reading over the selection process.

There have been years where outstanding individual performances have been disregarded to go with the status quo. Ballon D’or 2010 comes to mind where Wesley Sneijder was regarded by many as the outright best or 2013 Franck Ribery’s contribution to a treble.

The objectivity of the Ballon D’or comes from the winner being a result of the total amount of points that a player has gained from the panel of journalists. The points are of course inspired by some subjectivity but data can’t be denied it’s simple the most points wins.

I do think it’s important that the most prestigious individual award is both subjective and objective because that is how football is viewed as a whole in the modern day. However, the issue comes when the bigger names are favoured purely due to being the bigger names.

Messi & Ronaldo Duopoly

Two of the greatest footballers to have played the beautiful games. If one doesn’t have a particular record it is more than likely the case that the other holds it. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have dominated this particular award for just a little over a decade.

Their legendary status can’t be denied the fact that they’ve both been nominated 12 times each, the most of any other player in history with Lionel Messi picking up the most awards (6) and Ronaldo with (5) interestingly the runners up numbers are switched for each.

Which just goes to show the level these two players have reached by setting a completely new standard for football. The level of consistency is to be commended but their regular appearances on the podium has led some to question the validity of the award.

Which is natural. I don’t think anyone wants to keep seeing the same individuals year in year out but these two are something different entirely and they have proven so. These two in particular have fanbases and loyal support larger than some actual professional clubs.

So, when one comes out with the award, the loyalists of the other will come out arguing with statistics one better than the other or due to popularity. Which may be a point worth discussing if you look at some the individual performances of those who didn’t win.

If you do examine some of the calendar season when they have picked up awards there are some feats of individual brilliance that has set them apart from other nominees.

2012 for instance Lionel Messi scored 92 goals in a calendar year or 2016 where Cristiano Ronaldo won the award having scored the most goals in an individual Champions League season lifting the trophy in this year.

Biased?

This isn’t to say anyone who has been nominated doesn’t deserve their nomination in the respective seasons but I do think there has been some bias especially when it comes to the division players are playing in.

For a long time, La Liga was regarded as the best league in the world as it hosted the rivalry between a prime Messi and prime Ronaldo. As a result, you would often see the third place or a majority of the top 10 be made up of players in that particular league.

This isn’t just a Messi/Ronaldo thing though as in 2003 Pavel Nedved picked up the award despite Thierry Henry being the standout performer for most people as he scored 42 and assisted 26 that particular season. Nedved himself saying Henry should have won the award.

This has led me to question whether some of the final standings have a lot to do with the division that is the most popular at the time and Serie A was at the time the most entertaining league to watch.

Between 2010 and 2015 the Ballon D’or podium has heavily dominated by La Liga with the 16 of the available 18 podium places were taken up by La Liga representatives and the other two spots taken up by Bundesliga representatives.

During this time Inter Milan and Bayern Munich had exceptional treble wins alongside Barcelona as well as a World cup had taken place so a variety of representatives could have won or at the very least finished on the podium.

Out of the 30 nominees for the 2021 award 14 are representatives of the Premier League which in itself tells you about the current standing of English Football in World football but I do think only one maybe a stretch at two finish on the podium.

Trophies and their perceived importance have held some weight in deciding the nominees and final standings and possibly still do looking at a couple of names. With the Champions League being considered the most.

Collective performances are a driving force for nominations nowadays. Lionel Messi himself said that the Ballon D’or recently has been more about collective team performances than the individual.

If you look at Jorginho one of the favourites for this year’s award who won the UEFA Champions League with Chelsea and the European Championship with the Italian National team.

He has had some impressive displays but none more than some other nominees but because he is a part of these two impressive title-winning squads he becomes one of the frontrunners.

In 2018 Raphael Varane won the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA World Cup but didn’t finish on the podium of that year’s Ballon D’or so when did standards change?

Other Awards

The Ballon D’or does favour the attacking players for reasons that I have previously mentioned but there are other individual awards where players can take pride in their individual performances.

FIFA were in partnership with the Ballon D’or as it was known as the FIFA Ballon D’or but this partnership ended in 2016 when FIFA decided to go their own way with their own individual awards.

The FIFA Best Men’s Player award is an award where fans have more input into the final standings. The journalists, national team managers, national team captains and fans each hold 25% of the vote.

Which in many people’s eyes could hold much more legitimacy as fans as well as active players and coaches have an input on who the winners are. Yet, including fans in the voting still leaves it open criticism about the award being a popularity contest.

The European Golden Shoe is a completely objective award that is given to the leading goal scorer of a top division in every European nation league.

So, the winner can never be disputed if you score the most goals out of all the leading scorers in Europe the award is yours. A reliable system that awards outstanding goal scoring prowess for forward players.

The FIFA Best Goalkeeper and Yashin Trophy are specific goalkeeper awards that recognises the individual efforts of the best perceived goalkeeper which is very much needed where individual performances are rarely given to defensive players.

The Ballon D’or will always be prestigious because of the history and iconic names to have lifted the award but with the introduction and selection process of some of these other awards there is a chance that the football community starts to champion other awards.

Either way I will be very eager to see the outcome of this year’s Ballon D’or as well as future awards. At the same, time the other individual awards for me will start to hold more weight too when it comes to the legacy of some individual players.

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