“Let’s invent a new Golden Ball, more open, fairer and less serious! “

Lionel Messi, on November 29 at the Théâtre du Châtelet, in Paris, after receiving his 7th Ballon d'Or.

On has never known exactly what the men’s Golden Ball, football’s most prestigious and contested individual trophy, rewards. Its successive changes in scope, formula and jury have only accentuated the confusion: intrinsic performance, prize list, statistics, status?

More and more this last criterion, it seems, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi having monopolized 12 of the last 13 trophies, abandoning it only to Luka Modric in 2018. He thus ended up completely excluding the goalkeepers (sole winner: Lev Yachine in 1963) and almost the defenders (last winner: Fabio Cannavaro in 2006), to reserve for superstars.

Read also Golden Ball 2021: Lionel Messi or the force of habit

No one has ever usurped the award, but we quickly have in mind those we believe to have been despoiled of it, from Thierry Henry (2003) to Franck Ribéry (2013) via Manuel Neuer (2014), Andrés Iniesta and Xavi (2008 to 2018). Even the “unassigned” from last year, “Lack of sufficient fair conditions” due to the epidemic, has bitched.

Bonus for “legends”

The 2021 edition has therefore been attributed to Messi, which will probably give him less emotion than Cristiano Ronaldo. This already has something embarrassing in the aftermath of his transfer to Paris-Saint-Germain, which suggests a decline, even a casting error – had he, with the Copa America, delighted the big trophy that he lacked with the Argentina.

The era of superplayers seems to be coming to an end, however, at a time when his rival Cristiano continued to shine personally without this seeming to benefit his teams (Juventus then Manchester United). At the time, too, when the PSG struggles to solve the squaring of its fantastic attacking triangle.

Read also “The era of superplayers may end with the careers of Messi and Cristiano”

Football may be becoming a team sport again, but the Ballon d’Or ignores this trend. He fails, for example, to reward the extraordinary consistency at the highest level of footballers like Karim Benzema or Robert Lewandowski (who has the misfortune of playing in the Bundesliga – last winner: 1996).

So he does not crown either these players who have achieved long-term achievements, nor really the best player of the year (a year which is not even the relevant unit of time in football, unlike the season). It grants a premium to the status of “legend”, to the “richest”, of which it becomes the preserve.

Couldn’t the Ballon d’Or, at least, come back to the “new generation” superplayers? Other prodigies are in the ranks: Erling Haaland or Kylian Mbappé. Neither were among the designated favorites, despite staggering statistics. Since Michael Owen (2001, then 21), precocity seems a handicap.

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