The Ballon d'Or is a stupid award.
I wanted to say this in a year when Lionel Messi would win to make it clear this is not some BB-bias at work here.
The voting period makes no sense. Why close voting in November? This year's Clasico is a perfect example. It was played AFTER the voting ended. One imagines the fates of Neymar, Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Luis Suarez may have shifted had voting closed just a month later.
Will anyone remember that match when it's time to vote for a winner next November? Probably not. You may say that's always a problem no matter when the voting ends, but it's not really the case. If the voting ended at the end of the season, end-of-the-season stats would reflect performances even from matchday 1. No one keeps November-to-November stats. Who has scored most goals since the voting closed last year and the voting opened this year? I can guess, but I don't think that information is widely circulated.
The voting is weird and political. It's already revealed Robert Lewandowski will only vote for his teammates and friends, and who can blame him? He's hardly the only case. And then there's Norwegian captain Ciljan Skjelbred, who has voted Javier Mascherano as the world's best player, followed by Ronaldo, with Gareth Bale in third place. I cannot understand why, unless he thinks Mascherano's 2014 World Cup performance counts for this award and also overrates that performance a lot.
The reality is the voters are not looking at every match or poring over deep analytics or stats.
Because of the recency effect, voters will be swayed more by things happening closest to the time they vote. And for some reason we're highlighting late October and early November. The recency effect would probably be OK if you voted at the end of the summer, when trophies have just been handed out. For some reason we're going with the calendar year approach, and not even letting the full calendar play out. The recency effect boosts random matches and downplays others in a haphazard manner.
FIFA's decision to extend the voting period arbitrarily for the 2013 version of the award was a mistake at best, and corruption at worst. The extension put the focus on European playoffs into the World Cup, just as Messi was injured. Of course, this surely helped Ronaldo get more votes.
This isn't to say Ronaldo did or did not deserve to win. It's not really about that. If the original vote had Ronaldo losing, and a re-vote gave him the win, it seems very corrupt. On the other hand, if the original vote had him winning, and the re-vote merely extended his lead, Ronaldo should be annoyed that FIFA gave his award an air of illegitimacy when it was legit.
But again it's not about who won it. It's about taking a vote, not revealing the result, and ordering a re-vote under nebulous pretenses. It's par for the course, so maybe it's not worth getting worked up over, but it's there.
Now that I've complained enough, let me tell you why Messi should (and will) win.
It's simple. He was brilliant throughout the year, bar the time he was injured. He played possibly his most complete season ever in terms of overall contribution to the team. It was not just scoring, but creating chances, dictating play, even putting in tackles. It's hardly mentioned too much but Messi defends more now than he has in years. And you'll see him dominate games and not get on the stat sheet. It's a mistake to only look at goals, or even goals and assists. Yes, he dominates the stat sheet often, too, but his impact has to be seen, not calculated.
How often has Messi ran the show, set up teammates once and again? Played a super pass to Suarez who then passes to Neymar, who scores? The stats say Neymar goal, Suarez assist, Messi nothing. But we all know. His brilliant form was rewarded with a historic treble, and while he is surely disappointed he did not win, he still did very well to lead Argentina to a Copa America final.
Ronaldo and Neymar will sweep up second and third place, respectively. Why no Luis Suarez? Look at my rant in the beginning.
Luis Enrique should win Coach of the Year.
But it's close. Jorge Sampaoli has done a fantastic job as coach of Chile to get the team playing not only extremely well, but really attractive football. In fairness, Marcelo Bielsa started the process more than 5 years ago, but Sampaoli has pushed it to the next level. Chile have gone from "hipster picks" to a powerhouse, and Sampaoli deserves credit in that.
That said, it's extremely difficult to rate any national team competition other than the World Cup as more important than the Champions League. Actually, even the World Cup trails Europe's premier competition by a wide margin in terms of pure quality.
Copa America is great, fun, exciting, and historic, but let's be honest. Chile had to win 4 games total, draw another, and win the final in a shootout. All the matches were at home. Can you compare that to slogging it out through a European season? Beating Bayern Munich 3-0? Nah.
Which brings us to Luis Enrique. He went from nearly being fired at the start of the year to having even his staunchest haters start to believe. Yes, of course he boasts three of the best, if not the three best, players in the world. But it's a chicken-or-egg situation as anyone will tell you, getting three superstars to cooperate the way he has is not easy. Sure, partly it's down to their personalities, but partly it is the way he has handled it, and the way he has set up the team to accommodate them.
His development of Sergi Roberto from interior without a future to pivot to right back to interior again to right winger to integral part of the team has been amazing and emblematic. It goes without saying it would be impossible without Roberto's belief or talent. But it's also hard to envision that just any coach could guide him through it, or even have the audacity of mapping it out. This is just an example.
So far this season, Lucho has coped with a transfer ban and several notable absences, none bigger than Messi's. Scratch that, he's done more than cope. He's put Real Madrid to the sword, won the Champions League group, and put Barcelona at the summit of La Liga. Again, not a perfect season (Barcelona stumbled in some games and even -gasp - lost a minor cup). But as far as coaches go, he's the winner.