Has Lionel Messi Been Robbed Of His Seventh Ballon D’Or Win?

France Football, the organizer of the Ballon D’Or awards, has decided to cancel the 2020 edition. The rationale provided in a blog posting is that two months (January and February) of normality is too little “to gauge and judge” performances against the normal eleven months “required to form an opinion and decide who should lift the trophies.”

France Football cites the “unordinary conditions (behind closed doors, with five replacements, Champions League’s Final played in a single game)” and the fact that some players have had their domestic seasons cut short.

The 2019 trophy winners were Lionel Messi and Megan Rapinoe (Ballon D’Ors), Alisson (Yachine – Goalkeeper) and Matthijs de Ligt (Kopa – Young Player).

Rather than awarding the men’s and women’s Ballon D’Ors, and the Kopa and Yachine Trophies for 2020, France Football will ask 180 global jurors to select an all-time Dream Team of 11. The announcement will be made at the end of this year, however, it looks like it will only cover male players rather than a Dream Team of each sex.

Right after the announcement social media quickly became the battleground with claims that various players had been short-changed by the France Football decision. Lionel Messi (6-time winner), Cristiano Ronaldo (5-time winner), and Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski were the names most widely mentioned.

Stats of goals and assists by each player was a common tool used to convince the neutral – if there is such a thing – that their player was deserving of the 2020 Ballon D’Or and how he had become an innocent victim of a bad, and perhaps biased decision.

However, scratch the surface and you will find that many posters undermined their own cases by not understanding the criteria for the Ballon D’Or Award. Each of the 180-person jury is required to use the following criteria:

  1. Individual and collective performances (winners) during the year.
  2. Player class (talent and fair play).
  3. Player’s career.

But more important is that the criteria applies to the calendar year. So, the 2019 Ballon D’Or awards were based on period from January 2019 to around November 2019 and the announcement of the winners was made on December 2. Even though the fans though Virgil van Dijk deserved to win, Lionel Messi got his sixth award.

That means using stats for 2019/20 to stake a claim for what would have been the 2020 award is irrelevant – it’s stats for the calendar year that come into play.

That’s not to say that season-based stats are not relevant – in a normal world. The FIFA “Best” Awards are based on a specific season – normally July to July. In that case, the 2019/20 stats would be up for consideration. Unfortunately, FIFA announced in mid-May that it had cancelled its “Best” Awards for 2019/20. The ceremony was scheduled for Milan in September.

The fans may not agree with the decisions by FIFA and France Football but we have to acknowledge that these are not normal times and the truncated soccer schedule makes this season very different from others.

History of the Ballon D’Or

Former player and journalist, Gabriel Hanot, was the man behind the idea of honoring soccer’s best. Hanot also played a big part in the advent of European club competition and the birth of the European Cup in 1955/56.

The Ballon d’Or was instituted in 1956 to recognize Europe’s best player and the first winner was Stanley Matthews of Blackpool. In 1995, the net was cast wider to include any player representing a European club and in 2007 the eligibility was expanded worldwide. Between 2010 and 2015 the FIFA and Ballon d’Or merged into one award but the two went their separate ways for 2016 and on.

Here is a list of past winners.

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