We've reached that time of the year, when sports writers and journalists all across Europe come together once again to address the question, "Who is the best futbol player in the world (this calendar year)?" and for just a few brief moments at least, they'll end the debate. It's much like the conclusion to a long, time consuming, unnecessarily expensive court proceeding. The judge asks the jury for its verdict, as we all hold our collective breaths.
On January 9th in Zurich (Switzerland), the prestigious FIFA Ballon d'Or, transitionally in its second year, will be bestowed upon the player worthy of the title: The Best Futbol Player in the World. So, which of the three finalists deserves to add this year's award to his personal trophy collection?
Despite putting up the video game like record-setting numbers, by tallying a staggering number of goals in La Liga, it's how short Ronaldo's 2010-11 campaign was that hurts him when discussing the Ballon d'Or, book-ended only by a game winning header to snatch the Copa del Rey trophy from the hands of the Catalans. Regardless of the numerous hat tricks, braces, and basically shredding every other team not named Barcelona, one could argue that his single trophy-winning header - in extra time mind you - is perhaps the only legitimate piece of evidence the Portuguese really has in making a case for the Ballon d'Or. And it's not enough. Even if we were to try and defend him: Barcelona eliminating Real Madrid in the semis of the UCL thus ending his campaign in that competition, an early in the season Ronaldo just not being on-form in the Super Cup season curtain-raiser, or even the Portuguese being "unlucky" with two point-blank chances in this past December's ‘El Clasico' against their rivals (a widely frowned-upon act more commonly referred to as "choking"), we'd only be making a stronger case for Messi. Because, when he needed to deliver he failed.
Ronaldo does deserve some accolades, but his performance, as a whole, does not warrant the distinction of being named the best in the world. Not this year, at least.
So, most would safely assume that Lionel Messi, will collect the award for a second consecutive year. In all likelihood he probably will, and he should. With the year he's had; the stages he's had to perform on, the scenarios Barcelona was forced to deal with (scoring after Rooney had equalized Pedro's opener in the UCL final), and even the fashions in which he has scored (the coffin nail run and goal to burn Real Madrid's backline in the UCL semis at the Bernabeu), not to mention tallying a goal in all six of the major competitions Barcelona has played in up to this point (ending the calendar year with a cheeky dink over the keeper against Santos in the CWC), equalizing Pedro's fantastic and very under-the-radar effort of two seasons ago; it's a wonder why the futbol world has not yet given Barcelona the honor of naming such an incredible feat. Although his numbers may not be as astronomical as Ronaldo's in La Liga, he's had more assists and played a larger role to elevate his teammates' performance than Ronaldo, and in all competitions. So one would hope that in the eyes of the voting audience, Messi clearly outshined Ronaldo. He simply answered the call.
This brings us to Xavi Hernández and why he deserves this Ballon d'Or. Erase the fact that he's up against the #1 and #2 goal scorers in La Liga, respectively. Erase also the dichotomy of the fact that one is his teammate, and who is the holding award winner as well. Just on sheer goal statistics alone, the award would have to go to either of the two aforementioned. Xavi would be left out of the discussion altogether. Realistically, the Barcelona mid-field general is an outside shot to win.
So, in order to make a fair presentation and argument for Xavi (even though he does that all on his own), we must for all intent and purpose at least for a moment, change the description of the Ballon d'Or to: "The Most Valuable Player To His Team".
From the standpoint of competitive sports psychology, it's in the animalistic psyche of the masses and the audience to roar and cheer that definitive moment when a goal is scored. When the crowd celebrates through team crest, colors, sounds and music, as the ball is finally reset at the center circle. The reaction is natural and instinctive. It's a release of tension. It exhilarates. But if you were talk to anyone about how the goal was scored and chances are, they won't remember the five or six passes leading up to the goal. It seems somewhere in the back of our minds, goals are scored in a vacuum. No one actually celebrates what happens in the build up. It's just more or less viewed as a passing moment, a blinking second between point A and point B, at least to the untrained viewer. In many ways, it's underappreciated and very much unsung. But this is where Xavi makes his claim for the Ballon d'Or.
It's been a long-time philosophy of Barcelona that no one individual is above the team, and that no one individual makes a team what it is. But Xavi could very well be a slight exception to that rule. He embodies the Barcelona style of play and philosophy of sharing the ball, moving without the ball, dictating the attack, dominating the possession. He's quite literally, the on-field extension of the brain inside Pep Guardiola's head. Xavi never seems to make a mistake; his decision-making is phenomenal. His vision is impeccable, and with that, his insane ability to perfectly weight passes with GPS like precision. Given his age, his ability to do all this under such immense physical pressure at a frenetic pace, sets him far ahead of a younger Ronaldo and even younger Messi.
While there are endless clips of Ronaldo or Messi scoring fantastic goals, there are clearly no highlights, as of yet at least, of what Xavi truly means to Barcelona.
It's only in reflection, when the match is over and through in-depth analysis that we truly appreciate the value of a player like Xavi to his team. So remember when Messi wins the Ballon d'Or for a second year, his catalyst, the Spaniard will be standing next to him on stage, just as equally deserving.