Why Messi Should Win the Ballon d'Or Ahead of Iniesta and Ronaldo

David Ramos

The nominees are in. The FIFA Ballon d’Or award for best player of 2012 will go to one of these men: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, or Andres Iniesta. Three familiar faces - all three fantastic players who, no matter the result, will be remembered for years to come as legends. All three have compelling cases for the 2012 FIFA Ballon d’Or, but only one can win.

In my mind, Messi is the clear winner. Ronaldo and Iniesta are great players and I cannot blame anyone for saying either one of them should win. But when you sit back and look at the year Leo had at an individual level, it’s quite difficult to give it to anyone else.

The year is nearly over, and Lionel Messi is only three goals away from matching Gerd Muller’s longstanding record of 85 goals in a calendar year. Whether he does so or not, that is some achievement, especially when you consider he is the top assist man for Barca as well.

It’s important to note that Muller’s 1973 record is from a different era, where the 7-2 win his Bayern Munich team played in the Bundesliga was not tThe nominees are in. The FIFA Ballon d’Or award for best player of 2012 will go to one of these men: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, or Andres Iniesta. Three familiar faces - all three fantastic players who, no matter the result, will be remembered for years to come as legends. All three have compelling cases for the 2012 FIFA Ballon d’Or, but only one can win.hat out of place. In the 1972-73 German league, there was an average of 3.37 goals per match, compared with 2.76 goals per match in La Liga 2011-12.

It might not seem like much, but that’s more than an extra goal every two games. Over the course of the 380 matches in a single La Liga season, that would add up to about 230 more goals.

Ronaldo does have a mighty 59 goals this year, but that total is dwarfed next to Messi’s. The difference is 23 goals, which in some leagues is enough in itself to win the top scorer award. Napoli’s Edinson Cavani has 37 (or just 22 less than Ronaldo, a lesser distance), and it’s understood his goalscoring prowess, while significant, is not quite comparable.

Messi has gotten 23 or 24 assists (depending on whom you ask, assists can sometimes be unclear) while CR7 has gotten 11 or 10 – more than twice as much in any case. It’s become quite clear, to me at least, that while Cristiano Ronaldo was brilliant, Messi was miles ahead. Stats may only say so much, but when they’re this overwhelming, it’s hard to make a different judgment.

Comparing Messi to Iniesta is a bit harder. While Iniesta’s numbers are even smaller, his value is expressed differently. For one, his position is different, being a midfielder and not a striker. His impact is harder to register on a stat sheet.

So let’s ignore the stat sheet, even though it shows a massive advantage to Messi over Iniesta. I watched Barcelona nearly every time they have played, only missing the occasional match, and going purely on my feeling and recollection, Messi was undeniably better. People can disagree, and I respect that. Iniesta is without a doubt an amazing player, but that’s my opinion.

So what do Ronaldo and Iniesta have that Messi doesn’t? Well, Ronaldo won the league and Iniesta won Euro 2012. Messi’s biggest trophy was the Copa del Rey, which should not be brushed aside, but is comparatively minor.

Iniesta’s case is mainly centered on a superb Euro performance which helped Spain secure it for the second time running. Ronaldo was instrumental in winning La Liga for Real Madrid for the first time in a good while.

However, merely winning trophies is not enough to merit an individual award. Fernando Torres and Juan Mata had the best additions to their medal count last year but neither would be a serious candidate for best player.

Other players in the initial shortlist, like Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas, had more decorated seasons on a team level than anyone on the final three-man shortlist. Team competitions are rewards onto themselves, the Ballon D’Or is about individual performances. The voters have already recognized this.

Mediocre showings for the national team had been cited as a criticism of Messi. However, this year he was among the best performers at the international level.

The Argentine NT had a very good year; the senior side had 7 wins, 2 draws, and no losses as they worked their way to the top of the South American qualifiers after a shaky start last year.

Messi’s 12 goals in 9 matches was a record for Argentina in a calendar year, which is quite impressive as he was deployed as a midfielder (supporting striker if you’d like) behind Gonzalo Higuain. Higuain and Messi are tied for top scorer in the CONMEBOL qualifiers.

Ronaldo’s goal haul for Portugal was 5 in 13, not as impressive, but of course in a different context. Five of those matches were in the Euros, a higher pressure situation, and he seemed to respond well to that (as did all of Portugal, who were very tough to beat.)

They both did well in different situations, so it’s hard to compare. Iniesta, on the other hand, was a very influential figure in the team despite only scoring one goal for Spain in 2012. However, we all know scoring is not his primary job. He was excellent at the Euros, being named best player despite not scoring any goals.

His achievement at the Euros is compelling, and at the national level, I’d place him first. But the year is long and it contains many competitions. His showing, however brilliant, is not enough to change my mind.

Comparing Ronaldo and Messi is easier because they are broadly forwards, though quite different in style. In any head-to-head, the only thing Ronaldo has on Messi is that he won the league. But Real Madrid had many, many other players besides Ronaldo so that, in itself, isn’t a lot to go on.

For the 2011-12 season, Messi’s was either tied for first or second (again, depending) in Europe in total assists. Messi was directly involved – either assisting or scoring – a staggering 54% of Barcelona’s goals for the season, top among the best leagues in Europe.

Ronaldo, by comparison, was involved in 43% of the goals in Real Madrid’s campaign. A very good amount, but less than, for example, the 49% involvement of Robin van Persie for Arsenal, or the 45% involvement of Zlatan Ibrahimovic for AC Milan.

Comparing Messi to Iniesta is a bit tougher, since they play different positions, but in my opinion Messi is still the best. His goal haul is unprecedented in the modern game, while his assist total is higher still than Iniesta. Not only that, but Messi has perhaps been more consistent than Iniesta, partially because Iniesta has gone through a few injuries this year while Messi has been nearly completely healthy.

Iniesta was amazing at Euro 2012, but Messi was brilliant for Argentina as well. Granted, the matches were not of the same significance. I still have Iniesta ahead on this count, but I also cannot really fault Messi too much for not winning a competition he can’t compete in.

Regardless of to whom this award goes to – and I have the feeling it will be Messi’s by a hefty margin – this year will go down in the history books as the year of Messi. He broke the single season goalscoring record for La Liga and the Champions League. He scored in 6 different competitions in the 2011-12 season. He tied the record for most goals in a single match in the Champions League / European Cup – In the knockout rounds, no less.

He became Barcelona’s all-time top-scorer in official matches. He tied the record for most goals in international matches (national team + continental club competitions) and most goals for Argentina in a calendar year. Now, he is about to break the record for most goals in a calendar year. He already broke Muller’s record for most goals in a season, a far more relevant mark. One last broken record would be just one more box to tick in this banner year.

For all that, and more, the Ballon d’Or should be his.

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