FIFA has shortlisted the Barcelona duo of Lionel Messi, Andreas Iniesta and Real Madrid’s Christiano Ronaldo for the 2011-12 Football season and there is no debate all about the shortlist.
The three have done just enough to be where they are but the ultimate decision on January 7, 2013 as to which of them was the king of world football in the year under review will be a little more controversial regardless of who picks it.
For Iniesta fans, and I bet they are few as compared to the two the prolific world stars, I beg to be bias in this piece. Even though Iniesta was voted the best player in the Euro 2012, I will be pleasantly surprised if he is voted the World Best. So my choice is between Messi and CR7.
Without any equivocation, Portugal and Real Madrid’s talismanic figure Christiano Ronaldo for me has done just enough to win the enviable Ballon d’Or for the 2011/12 football season. And this why.
Like the 2009-10 season in which Lionel Messi was shockingly awarded the World best ahead of his Barcelona team mates-Andreas Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez- a year in which he failed to impress at the World Cup; a year in which Wesley Sneijder led Inter Milan to win the Uefa Champions League, the World Club championship and led the Netherlands to the finals of the World Cup but was crudely ignored even in the final shortlist; the Ballon d’Or king makers will again be guilty of travesty of judgment if Messi should be picked ahead of Ronaldo.
I risk courting the anger and razor tongues of the Messi fanatics who think the best thing to have happened to football is Lionel Messi- and sometimes one is forced to think so too- but I seek an objective, dispassionate analysis, at least for the sake of the game we so passionately love.
Not too long ago, the crime against CR7 was that he was not the big match player. He was dazzling in the matches critics considered unimportant and when it mattered most he crumbled under pressure and failed to shine. I fondly remember pictures of Ronaldo on his knees trying to stop the mesmerising Messi from scoring a goal in one of those hotly contested el-classicos. That picture found space and expression in many social media networks and sites affiliated to Barcelona. They marveled at Messi and mocked at Ronaldo.
It was clear in that picture and in many of the games the two players featured in the 2010-11 season that Messi was outstanding. Ronaldo was a pale shadow of himself in those el-classicos.
It was therefore not surprising that even after Ronaldo had had a brilliant season; scored the only goal in the Copa Del Rey final to beat Barca in the 2010-11 season; even after he won the goal king with panache by becoming the first player in the history of the Spanish league to score 40 goals in a season- and Messi had played for over six seasons- his bitter foe, Lionel Messi was voted the World best player that year.
And to be fair, Messi deserved it for the simple reason that he won the La Liga and the Uefa Champions league. Individual brilliance was considered inferior to the trophies a player won with his team. On that account, Messi was voted World Best because he won trophies- two major trophies and performed in key, defining games for Barca ahead of Real’s Ronaldo. That was two seasons ago.
As if by divine intervention the fortunes for both players and teams were swapped a year later. Ronaldo and Real won the La liga, Messi and Barca won the Copa Del rey. The Uefa Champions League trophy went to a third party-Chelsea- but under interesting circumstances.
Messi broke CR7’s record by scoring an incredible 46 in the league season; he broke his own record in the Europe by scoring another 14 in the Champions league. He also scored five goals in one Champions league game, the first player to have chalked such a feat. Those records were just so incredible to ignore but the bottom line is, Barcelona won just the Copa Del Rey in that season. They lost the league title to bitter rivals Real Madrid and the Champions league to Chelsea and in both cases the Messi magic proved elusive.
Messi was not awful in the el-classicos in the 2011-12 season but when it mattered most it was CR7 that stood up to be counted.
And even though Madrid in the most controversial circumstances, lost in the Copa Del Rey semi final against eventual winners, Barcelona, CR7 scored in both legs.
He proved critics wrong and showed he was equally a big match player.
That was not all. With just about three matches to go for the season to come to an end, Real were leading Barca with only four points. A win for Barca would have thrown the league title to the wire. The attention was on the two world best footballers in that game. It was at the Nou Camp, the fortress for the Blaugrana. Messi again failed to impress. It was CR7’s second goal that ensured that the league title was done and dusted for Real.
Again, both Ronaldo and Messi were eliminated at the semi-finals stage of the Champions league but their contribution in those games were so crucial and any fair minded objective analyst will take that into consideration when voting for the Ballon D’Or winner.
Ronaldo played a bit part role in the Bayern defeat in Munich in the first leg which they lost 1-2 to Bayern but in the second leg, the Portuguese skipper redeemed himself scoring two crucial goals. Real lost the tie eventually and Ronaldo missed a penalty when the game went to the shootout. On the night when luck eluded Ronaldo he had two crucial goals to take consolation in.
It is only fair to say that Messi and Barca were also unlucky in their loss to Chelsea. The Argentine star was totally lost in the game at Stamford Bridge and the Blaugrana lost by a goal to nil. In the return leg, the game was lopsided with Barca doing everything but managed a disappointing 2-2 draw with Messi missing a crucial penalty.
I don’t blame players when they miss penalties and I am not about to do that now. But Messi, on a whole failed to shine. He was not the ruthless attacker many have come to accept him to be. Once again on a crucial game, he failed to shine.
Ronaldo did not win the Euro 2012 but was outstanding in the tournament. He scored crucial goals that catapulted Portugal to the semis. They lost on penalties to eventual winners Spain.
So on what basis is Messi going to be awarded the Ballon D’Or as many seem to be suggesting, his goals? They were important but not enough. I have heard pundits say the Ballon D’Or is an individual award for personal achievement but I say that is a malicious shift in goal post. We didn’t hear that when Ronaldo broke all the records in the 2010-11 season.
We don’t have to bend over backwards to award a person who in a particular season is not deserving of an award.
Messi scored goals but failed to shine when it mattered most. Ronaldo also scored goals, 41, in the league, 10 in the Champions League and proved he was not just a passenger in big games. Those are the facts of the 2011-12 football season.