The Best Footballer in the World: Ballon d’Or Vs FIFA’s Best
At the end of every footballing year, there are two major individual awards that claim to recognise the World’s best footballer for that year, the Ballon d’Or and The Best FIFA Men’s Player. These awards can produce different and inaccurate winners and have been subject to significant criticism in the footballing world. In this blog, I will consider which award has the most credibility and recognition amongst football fans and how there might be a solution to the problems identified with them.
The Ballon d’Or is the longest established award; recognising the best footballer in the world since 1956 when England’s Stanley Matthews was named as the very first winner. The award is translated into English as ‘The Golden Ball’ and was created by the French sports news magazine France Football. However, the award was only for European players up until 1995 when it was made global.
In 2016, on the 60th Anniversary, the magazine decided to conduct an international reconsideration of the almost 40 years of only-European winners. On completion of this it was decided that Pele would have been awarded the Ballon d’Or seven times, equalling the record currently held by Lionel Messi and closely followed by Cristiano Ronaldo with five wins.
Up until 2006, the Ballon d’Or was voted for by international journalists alone. Since then, managers and international team captains have also been given a vote. Each voter nominates their top ranked footballers of the year, their ranking is scored as points which are then added together to eventually award the Golden Ball to the player who receives the most voting points. There are almost 150 journalists from different countries that are given the right to vote as well as the managers and players.
The Best FIFA Men’s player, formerly known as the FIFA World Player of the Year, was established in 1991 as a direct competitor to the Ballon d’Or. However, it also claims to take into consideration on and off field behaviour and conduct, as well as footballing performances. Ronaldo, Cristiano Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldinho are amongst the names with multiple FIFA World Player of the Year titles. As well as naming an individual as the best footballer on the planet for that year, they also choose the FIFA’s Best XI team as part of the ceremony.
The voting system for FIFA’s award differs from the Ballon d’Or as it includes the opinions of the fans. Whilst the media, national managers and national team captains comprise 25% each of the votes, global football fans have a 25% stake in the voting system. The fans have been given this right to vote since 2016. It is also done on a nomination basis and then uses a points-based ranking system to determine the winner.
The awards have not always been separate. Between 2010 and 2015, an agreement was made upon a single award, known as the FIFA Ballon d’Or. A partnership between France Football Magazine and FIFA meant that for these years, a single player was announced as the world’s best. Then again, since 2016, the awards were split into two and became competitors once more.
There has been considerable criticism aimed towards both of these awards. Some football media have even claimed that the Ballon d’Or no longer matters. It seems a shame that, especially in the era of the Ronaldo versus Messi rivalry, there is not a respected and advocated award objectively recognising the greatest footballer of the year. So why is it that the Ballon d’Or and the Best FIFA Player awards have been criticised so widely?
One of the biggest criticisms of these awards is that it seems to be significantly biased towards attacking players, especially in recent years. The closest a defender has come to winning the Ballon d’Or in the last decade was Virgil Van Dijk who actually had more first place rankings than the winner Lionel Messi, but lost out on the award based on the points system. This seems unfair to lean towards attacking players as the world’s best footballers each year and plays a part in the lack of respect that these awards are given.
This situation is worsened by the strange voting that is released to the public each year. The public are able to see a breakdown of who votes for which players and often there are many confusing rankings. This has led to criticism and accusations of the awards as corrupt and inaccurate.
The inaccuracy of awarding the ‘world’s best footballer’ can be demonstrated by looking at the 2018 winner of the Ballon d’Or, Luka Modric. 2018 was a damaging year for the reputation of the award as quite obviously, Modric was not the best player in the world that year. It seems that he was given the award based on his role as captain of the Croatia team that reached the world cup final, and his input into the Champions League winning Real Madrid side. The same can be said in 2021 with Jorginho coming third for the award by being part of Chelsea and Italy whilst Mohamed Salah came seventh and Lewandowski failed to win it, despite his 41 goals in 29 league games. These awards are individual awards and should not be based on simply being a part of a successful team. In 2018, Modric scored a measly 2 goals in 43 matches for Madrid.
In 44 matches, Ronaldo scored 44 goals and Messi had 65 goal involvements in 54 games, yet Modric was the best player of the year according to the Ballon d’Or voters.
It seems to be self-explanatory why the Ballon d’Or and the Best FIFA Player award are not respected as they seem to produce the obviously wrong results. Awards that claim to recognise the best player in the world that is then so widely disagreed upon, will struggle to establish great credibility amongst the footballing world.
To make matters worse, the 2020 Ballon d’Or was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There was a considerable outcry from the rest of the footballing world who believed that Robert Lewandowski was an obvious winner of the award. This created further criticism of the award as being unfair and corrupt. Even with the input of national team captains in recent times, there have been issues with fairness and bias. Ronaldo has never once voted for Messi despite voting for himself, whilst Lionel has only voted for his rival twice. This makes these awards very subjective rather than objective. Ronaldo and Messi are voting tactically rather than for who is actually the best player in the world. This is why objective awards are respected more than the Ballon d’Or and the Best FIFA Player. Accolades such as the golden glove and golden boot in the Premier League are more respected by football fans as there is no room for subjectivity and corrupt or tactical voting, it is simply given to the player with the most goals or the goalkeeper with the most clean sheets.
The Best FIFA Men’s Player epitomises the bias present in the subjective individual awards by their selections for their Best XI. This year, the best XI played a bizarre formation of 3-3-4, which many claimed was simply to ‘make room’ for Cristiano Ronaldo alongside Haaland, Lewandowski and Messi. It was a clear demonstration of the favouritism that these awards show towards attacking players. For either the Best FIFA Player of the Ballon d’Or to be considered as meaningful, credible and respected awards there must be a system devised that makes the winner a more objectively agreeable selection, regardless of their position on the pitch.
A Potential Solution
In my opinion, there is no better group of people to accurately decide and vote for the best players in the world than the players themselves. They understand the game and the ability of their opposition or teammates to the greatest extent possible. An award could be created which allows the votes of all professional footballers to decide who is the best footballer on the planet. I believe this award would carry more credibility and produce more accurate results than the current awards.
There would, of course, be issues with this award. Players would once again be accused of voting tactically or with a bias towards their teammates and friends. However, a system could be implemented that includes the use of data and potentially
incorporating a method of nullifying the possibility of bias and instead, would produce more objective results.
Unfortunately, there may never be an award for the best player in the world that can be given objectively. The media, teammates, fans and coaches will always have subjective, and potentially biased opinions of who deserves the award. Even if data was used to decide the winner, someone then has to decide what data deserves more recognition and will struggle to compare goalkeepers to strikers for example.
It is important to recognise individual talent and awards like the Golden Glove and Boot are good ways of doing this. Perhaps it is best to keep awards for best players separate on a positional basis rather than an award that could be seen as favouring certain positions over others, such as attackers versus defenders.
The important aim for these awards is to aim to be as objective and agreeable as possible. The shortcomings of the Ballon d’Or and the Best FIFA Men’s player are currently the lack of respect and credibility that they are given by the footballing world. They risk becoming totally meaningless and irrelevant if they continue to be swamped with criticism and results that are quite obviously wrong.