FootBall Guru Lionel Messi: a fourth Ballon d’Or and dominance looks unstoppable



Lionel
Messi finished 2012 on 91
goals in 69 games. He
began 2013 by winning the
Fifa
Ballon d’Or (with 41.6%
of the votes), Cristiano
Ronaldo (23.7%) came
second and Andrés Iniesta
(10.9%) third. It is the fourth
time Messi has won it and
no one else has won it so
often. Because the award is
a merger of the old
European Footballer of the
Year and the Fifa World
Player of the Year which
was inaugurated only in
1991, Diego Maradona
never won it and nor did
Pelé but it is doubtful if
they would have matched
Messi’s achievement. Marco
van Basten won the
Another record falls.
European award three
times in five years, Johan
Cruyff three in four and
Platini three years in a row.
Alfredo Di Stéfano won it
twice. Messi has
superseded all of them.
Months of speculation
slowly gave way to a
growing realisation,
especially as the European
Championship was left
behind and Messi
accelerated towards the
end of the year: it was
going to be him again. He
scored twice in each of
eight successive games
and they were almost all
goals of barely plausible
brilliance; when he scored
only once in his final game
of 2012, it was as if he had
underachieved. On Monday
night, finally it was
confirmed. “The good thing
about the Ballon d’Or is that
it’s being handed out
tomorrow,” the Barcelona
coach, Tito Vilanova, had
said the night before.
Everyone could get on with
their lives, talk about
something else for a
change.
Hardly: first there will be
the reaction and then it will
not be long before talk
turns to next year’s award
– except that right now it is
hard to imagine anyone
else walking away a winner
from Zurich in 12 months’
time. 2012, like 2010, was
an opportunity for others
but Messi swept all before
him again – all the
excitement, all the debates,
all the headlines and the
same winner. “To tell you
the truth this is really quite
unbelievable,” Messi said.
“The fourth award that I
have had is just too great
for words.”
Michael Owen recalls how
Gérard Houllier had to pull
him aside after he won the
Ballon d’Or in 2001 and
impress upon him the
significance of the award.
Owen had taken it in his
stride; Houllier was
shocked at how blasé he
was. In France, he insisted,
it is huge.
So it is in Spain. The Ballon
d’Or has become more
important in England over
the decade since
international football,
projected by the Champions
League, carried by a
television and internet
boom, accessible in a way
unthinkable 10 years ago,
is followed far more closely
than it was then and
European exposure brings
European tastes. But, at
least while the candidates
all reside south of the
Pyrenees, the interest still
does not match that of the
Spanish.
Only one Spaniard has won
the award: Luis Suárez in
1960. Many have never
forgiven Owen. Some
consider it a grave
injustice that Raúl did not
become the second; 2001
was the year when Raúl’s
candidacy was at its
strongest; the England
striker’s Ballon d’Or was
“rightfully” Raúl’s. Similarly,
had Owen not been a
former winner, Real
Madrid’s president
Florentino Pérez would
surely have been less
interested in signing him:
here was another one for
the collection, status
guaranteed. An “objective”
measure of the best player
in the world.
Just as with Raúl, a sense
of injustice exists now. It is
quieter but it is there. This
Spain side is the most
successful international
team there has ever been.
But none of its players
have won the award. In
2010 even Messi seemed
surprised to finish ahead of
Xavi and Andrés Iniesta.
Here Iniesta was Spain’s
sole representative – the
winner of Uefa’s Best
Player in Europe award
following Euro 2012. “I don’t
need individual awards to
feel recognised; football is
a collective game,” he said.
But that collective success,
some argue, should have
been recognised in this
award.

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