I get asked the following question far too often: 'Who will win the Ballon d'Or, Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo?'
Let's be clear: Individual awards such as the Ballon d'Or are more of a publicity stunt than exact science and, as such, we shouldn't give them too much importance.
Football is a team game, which makes the job of choosing the 'best' player very ambiguous: Lionel Messi scored 73 goals for Barcelona last season, does that make him the best player? Could Andres Iniesta have won the 'Best Player Of Euro 2012' if he hadn't played around Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Busquets or Xavi Hernandez? What else must Iker Casillas do to win the Ballon d'Or?
It is virtually impossible to decide which player had the most influence on their teams. The criteria to explain why one player is better than the other isn't clear so giving a definite answer is impossible.
Having said all of the above, here are 3 players who, in my opinion, would be deserved winners of the Ballon d'Or this season:
I bet you are definitely not surprised that the Argentinian Genius made Top 3. It's obvious that a player who managed to beat all goalscoring records in a single season deserves the award. As I always say, numbers never lie: 73 goals, 29 assists in 60 appearances for Barcelona.
Lionel Messi is such an influential player that he manages to attract attention from rivals and teammates alike. If you play against him, your mind should be prepared to expect the unexpected, you never know what the Little Wizard may come up with next. When La Pulga is on your side, your subconscious drives you to pass him the ball when games turn ugly, as if he had the magic key to open rival defenses.
During 2012, Barcelona suffered from over-reliance on La Pulga, making our attack too predictable at times. As I explained in this previous article, Barcelona dropped only 2 points this season in the 25 league matches in which Messi scored but won only 3 of the 12 games in which Messi failed to find the net. While we would all love to see at least 6 players scoring over 20 goals per season, reality shows that Lionel Messi was able to take responsibility and cover the goalscoring gaps created by the poor return from players such as David Villa, Pedro or Alexis Sanchez.
From an individual point of view though, it can't be denied: Lionel Messi is the most influential striker in world football, as his stats show. If being the best player in the world is about goals, determination and leading a club team forward, then Lionel Messi should lift the Ballon d'Or in 2012.
Xavi Hernandez is one of those players every successful team needs. The Catalan Master is the leader behind the most successful Barcelona and Spain teams in history.
Xavi represents everything that's great about the Blaugranas: Leadership, attacking essence, determination to improve, inspiration to others and love towards our colours. Promoted to the first team under Pep Guardiola's shadow, Xavi went on to surpass his master at club and nation level, reaching success beyond his wildest dreams.
Wherever I go, people ask me about the Barcelona 'Pass and Move' philosophy - or, as we call it, tiki-taka possession football. For me, Xavi Hernandez is the true soul of our system, the true representation of the idea that sparked in Johan Cruyff's mind many years ago.
Xavi explained: "Barcelona play attacking football. We are not speculative, we don't wait. We pressure, we want possession, we want to attack. Some teams can't or don't pass the ball. That's not football. We think quickly, look for spaces. That's what I do: look for spaces. All day. I'm always looking. All day, all day. Here? No. There? No. Space, space, space. I see the defender here, so I play it there. I see the space and pass"
If being the best player in the world is about establishing a footballing style that has brought unprecedented success to club and country, then Xavi Hernandez should lift the Ballon d'Or in 2012.
Yes, you read that right. And no, I'm not about to become a Real Madrid fan any time soon. However, I must admit that the part that Iker Casillas has played over the years while on international duty with Spain is beyond remarkable.
If we analyse the list of Ballon d'Or winners over the years, we quickly realize that the last defensive player to win was Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 and the last goalkeeper, Lev Yashin in... wait for it... 1963!
Historically, individual awards in football have been given to players who netted many goals. Sure, goals are the essence our game but the impact from more defensive players is crucial for shared success. A clear example: Who was more important to Real Madrid during the Galacticos era: Claude Makélélé or Raul Gonzalez? For me, it was definitely the Frenchman!
Iker Casillas has been excellent for club and country for many years. While I still believe Victor Valdes is the best goalkeeper Barcelona could possibly have, I must admit that I admire the sense of security, professionalism and charisma that Iker transmits to his team whenever he puts those gloves on.
Iker Casillas recently explained: "The Ballon d’Or should be won by the player most deserving. Clearly, goalkeepers are not well appreciated in this type of awards, but I think we have the same right to win the Ballon d’Or as any of the other players take the field in every game. Now they say that I can win it, but it's not something that I obsess over."
If being the best player in the world is about excelling at your position over a continued number of years while leading the most successful national team in history, then Iker Casillas should lift the Ballon d'Or in 2012.
Have Your Say
What did you think of this article?
Who should win the 2012 Ballon d'Or: Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez or Iker Casillas?
Are there any other players who should have made my shortlist?
Did I miss out on any important points you would like to share with us?
I welcome and appreciate all respectful feedback.
Posted by: Francesc Tomàs
Founder and columnist at www.barcablog.com
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