Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The popularity contest winner (or Balon d'Or)

Cristiano Ronaldo is certainly a deserved winner of the 2013 FIFA Ballon d'Or award as the best player of 2013. He continued to be a wonderful player and has throughout the year stunned fans with fantastic goals and consistent quality performances for both Real Madrid and Portugal, whom he almost singlehandedly qualified for the World Cup. The award has been coming Ronaldo's way for many years, but he has been in the shadow of another great, Lionel Messi, who took the award the last four years. This year he "only" came second.
Although I congratulate Mr. Ronaldo, one really has to question an award that does appear more like a football popularity contest. 184 national team coaches and 184 team captains have a vote, as well as 173 media representatives, and one can see how each one voted on FIFA's website. Studying the results one realizes that in reality this award is given with a high degree of subjectivity (and surely us football fans are able to justify any subjective football opinion in the guise of subjectivity) that more resembles the voting of the Eurovision song contest, in particular amid the national team representatives! Just a few curious observations:
  • 18 different players were among the first choices of the 2 x 184 coaches captains! So 18 different players are among the "best" in the world.
  • 12 captains voted for a team-mate as best player in the world, either in the national team or in his club. While most of them are not surprising (like Iker Casillas voting for Ronaldo or Philipp Lahm voting for Frank Ribery), some are more curious, like Mario Yepes voting for Radamel Falcao, Gianluca Bufon voting for Andrea Pirlo (Pirlo's only vote) or William Ashley voting for Gareth Bale. Some also clearly vote for their buddies, like Lionel Messi voting for Andres Iniesta or Robien Van Persie voting for Arjen Robben.
  • Luis Suarez received five votes in top 3 among the captains: his teammate Martin Skrtel voted him as best and so did his captain in Uruguay Diego Lugano. David Gerrard put him in his list as did the captains of Iraq and Turcos & Caicos Islands.
  • The top contenders, like little children, did not give a single vote to each other: Lionel Messi voted for his buddies Iniesta, Xavi and Neymar, while Ronaldo voted for Radamel Falcao (quite obscure), Gareth Bale and Mesut Ozil (at least both Messi and Ronaldo had the decency not to vote for themselves!).
  • The coaches were perhaps less varied, but many of the coaches who could, did vote for "their guy": Didier Deschamps voted for Ribery, Paulo Bento for Ronaldo (not surprising considering that he may not have been in the world cup without him!), Alejandro Sabella for Messi, Vicente del Bosque for Xavi, Erik Hamren for Ibrahimovic, Adam Nawalka for Robert Lewandoski Jose Pekerman for Radamel Falcao, and Chris Coleman for Gareth Bale. A couple of notable exceptions were Oscar Tabarez, who voted for Franck Ribery, or Luis Felipe Scolari, who voted for Ronaldo.
  • With such voting it is perhaps disappointing that the Danish coach Morten Olsen did not vote for Nicklas Bendtner... But there did seem to also be a (very) small tendency to vote for players from ones region (Olsen voted for Ibramovic from neighbouring Sweden). Surely not among the South American captains and coaches where only three of each voted for Lionel Messi... But of 22 votes (from 1 to 3) received by Africa's best player Yaya Toure, 18 came from African countries (from captains, coaches and media). The remaining were from Belgium, Greece (both captains had Toure in their top-3), Cambodia (the coach had him as third choice) and Grenada (a media had him on third). 
  • Asia in particular is a Messi-Ronaldo sphere of influence.
Perhaps all this just shows that it is all a bit arbitrary; I think it was no different when Messi won the previous years. That said, I also believe there is a memory lapse involved; if Messi had not been injured the last couple of months of the year, he may have had a better chance of winning.
Finally, there is certainly also a tendency to favour offensive and spectacular players. It is all but impossible to win this prize for defensive players, no matter how solid they are!

In any case, Ronaldo was the most popular player of the year, and he should be congratulated because he deserves it. He is a fantastic player indeed, but it is not because of this award!

1 comment:

Anand Sindhu said...

Hi Erik,
Your blogs are such a readers delight.
Your research work related to World Cup amazing matches are brilliant,outstanding.
Please reply to anandsindhu23@gmail.com.
I need to know your research source for the match between Italy and Czechoslovakia in the 1934 world cup final.
Thanks,
Anand Sindhu