Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Manuel Neuer have been named the finalists for the 2014 Ballon d’Or and exactly none of them deserve the award. There is, however, one man who should take the prize.
Ronaldo is the favorite to take the award for a second straight and third time overall in his career and it’s easy to see why. Just attempting to list all of his achievements in 2014 is exhausting. He helped Real Madrid win the Copa del Rey and Champions League for the first time since 2002, setting a European Cup scoring record along the way. He became Portugal all-time leading scorer, won the European Golden Boot and currently leads La Liga in both goals and assists, among many, many other impressive achievements.
Despite all of that, he couldn’t prevent Pepe from headbutting someone and getting sent off in Portugal first World Cup group match, nor could he lead his team into the knockout rounds.
Lionel Messi didn’t have as much team success at the club level as Ronaldo in 2014, but his greatness was still undeniable even in what was considered to be an off year for him. To this point, he has 52 goals on the year to Ronaldo’s 55 and 21 assists to Ronaldo’s 19. He became the all-time top scorer in both La Liga and the Champions League (for now, at least). At the World Cup, he fared much better than Cristiano, scoring four goals and helping Argentina push Germany to extra time in the final. He won the tournament’s Golden Ball award, though he said it meant “nothing” to him.
But like Ronaldo, Messi did not win the World Cup. And according to UEFA president Michel Platini and many others, a World Cup winner should win the Ballon d’Or in a World Cup year. That rules out the winners of the last six consecutive Ballon d’Or awards with one broad, dismissive stroke.
This leaves Manuel Neuer — the oddball of the trio. In more ways than one. His importance to Germany’s World Cup success can’t be overstated. He was named his country’s footballer of the year and rightly awarded the tournament’s Golden Glove. He won the Bundesliga and DFB Pokal with Bayern Munich and leads the world in clean sheets while playing so far up the pitch that he can shake hands with opposing goalkeepers during matches.
But aside from World Cup success, the most important category in determining a Ballon d’Or winner always seems to be goals scored. This is why defensive players claiming the honor have been so rare and no goalkeeper has won it since Lev Yashin in 1963. And for all of his success (and time spent outside the confines of his own penalty area), Neuer has never scored a single goal in his career, let alone in 2014.
Clearly all three finalists have their glaring flaws. So instead of saying that they’re all incredibly talented and equally deserving of the award and being happy for whoever wins, we must condemn their reasonable imperfections and declare that none of them should get the prestigious golden paperweight.
Of course, the world would be a desperately sad and meaningless place if it went a year without the FIFA gala event. And since the governing body would never put it on just to honor the Women’s Player of the Year, the Ballon d’Or must be awarded to someone.
Thankfully, there is a man who is supremely deserving of FIFA’s highest individual honor. That man is FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
Though Blatter isn’t a player himself, his domination of the game irrefutable. No one else is able to maintain complete, uncontested control of the sport in the face of endless controversy, intense scrutiny and international outrage. Social unrest in a World Cup host nation? Not his problem. Migrant workers being mistreated as they build World Cup venues from scratch? That’s someone else’s concern. Top executive turns rat and helps an FBI investigation into his organization? Good luck to them.
This year he even produced a propaganda film featuring Hollywood stars in which he was the hero fighting against the corruption that real-life Sepp Blatter has successfully nurtured for decades. That kind of brilliance trumps anything Ronaldo can do with a ball at his feet.
In this day and age, most mob bosses wouldn’t dare to dream about blatantly flouting the world’s law enforcement agencies as publicly as Sepp Blatter and FIFA do on a daily basis. How can the Ballon d’Or finalists compete with that? Messi can’t even get away with not paying his taxes, let alone run an untouchable criminal empire.
So the choice for Ballon d’Or this year should be clear: Sepp Blatter, as always, is the only option.