They say if something isn’t broken, you shouldn’t try and fix it. Apply that to any life scenario you want, and it’s not interminably right- in fact, it’s wrong.
If people were to abide by the mediocrity of functioning things outright and never seek improvements, stagnation in all walks of life would be rife. Not that people are, but the points remains. The voting methods for the Ballon d’Or are fundamentally flawed, but the results are right. But that doesn’t mean it should not be reviewed and reformed.
In its current system, the captain of each national football team gets three votes for who they think the three best players are. Whoever they rank to be the best gets five points, second gets three points, and third gets one point. Managers and a journalist representing that same country then also replicate that.
In the end, you have thousands of points added up to deduce who the leading figures in football collectively think are the best footballers in the world.
Cristiano Ronaldo, in an odd, boyish manner, swept the title (rightfully) with 37.66% of the vote, with nothing between Lionel Messi (15.76%) and Manuel Neuer (15.72) who were quite far behind him.
Those results are a fair reflection of the footballing year. And credit to FIFA where credit is due – some genuine transparency on an issue that people actually care about.
But a closer look at the voting patterns and trends suggest it’s wrong. Granted, assessing who the best player in the world is something of an opinion, so it’s good that there’s scope and variation so these debates can take place. But there comes a point where views put forward are clearly representative of something bigger than rational.
For example, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Germany captain, voted for Neuer, Thomas Muller and Phillip Lahm, a categorical assertion that he thinks that all three of those players are better than Ronaldo and Messi. But we know that isn’t true. Schweinsteiger has in the past lauded Messi as the best player in the world – clear evidence that the voting system is a medium for arbitrary favouritism. It’s almost a political medium as opposed to a genuine yardstick for qualified assertions.
It helps explain how, for some reason, David Luiz managed to be categorised as one of the best defenders in the world when he was selected in the team of year. Luiz hasn’t had a bad as year as the internet seemed to think he had, but Godin, Boateng, Benatia, Hummels, Sokratis, Terry, Koscielny, Miranda, Kompany, Pepe, Varane, Chiellini, Barzagli, Manolas, Juan Jesus, and de Vrij (to name but a few) were amongst a pool of players who were better than him.
Still, the results were generally accurate. 2014 signified another example of the incredible rise of Ronaldo, who achieved much with Madrid in a landmark year.
No matter what anyone says, Lionel Messi is still comfortably the second best player in the world. He and Ronaldo are still undeniably in a different bracket to the rest of football’s elite. His wavering popularity is a product of the fact that he’s a victim of his own success. 2014 has hardly been a great year for him by his own standard but, placed in the context of those around him, he’s still a spectacular phenomenon.
A word on Neuer, too, and assessing goalkeepers in a role that is incomparable to outfield players. Goalkeeping is a victim of the art of aesthetics. It’s something that you can’t really appreciate in the same way you can an unstoppable goalscorer or a technically adept creator. For 70 minutes of a Bayern Munich game Neuer will often do nothing – that’s 78% of the time he’s on the pitch he has no opportunity to demonstrate just how good he is.
Goalkeepers can never have an off day without being found out. The best have a mental capacity that is so frequently under-appreciated. In fact, what makes the best goalkeepers the best is not their ability to shot stop (you’ll find hundreds of good shot stoppers around the world) but to be utterly flapless all the time. You’ll never see them make a howler. Only one goalkeeper has won Europe’s top award and that was Lev Yashin in 1963.
If a goalkeeper was to ever win it, Neuer ticked the box this year. He therefore deserves to be the ‘best of the rest’ behind Ronaldo and Messi for 2014.
The Ballon d’Or is a broken system that needs reforming because it calls on individuals to make unjustified decisions. Naturally, while it needs fixing for the future, this minor competition will be the least of FIFA’s worries while elections are about to be held and its integrity is doubted further.
With that in mind, while Messi and Ronaldo continue to dominate world football, reforming the system will be unlikely. But in years to come it’s something that must be addressed if FIFA is to evolve into a genuine organisation with respectable integrity.