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Robert Lewandowski, Balón de Oro 2021

Farewell Meritocracy: The Influence of Popularity in the Ballon d’Or

Messi is one of the best players in the world, but we should ask ourselves if this time he won the Ballon d’Or because of his popularity or because of merit

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Over the years, we have seen how meritocracy has taken a back seat. It happens in public organizations, in the workplace and now, shamelessly, in competitions and high-level awards such as the renowned Ballon d’Or awarded by France Football magazine, which originates from the same country where Lionel Messi plays for Paris Saint Germain (PSG).

This year the Argentinean won his seventh Ballon d’Or with a very small lead over Polish player Robert Lewandowski. However, factions from the media and several sportsmen were dissatisfied with a decision that reflects the injustice of which the sports world does not escape.

Yes, Messi is one of the best players in the world and deserves countless awards, but we should ask ourselves whether this time he won the Ballon d’Or more for his popularity in France than for the merit itself.

If the Ballon d’Or is awarded to honor the highest individual honor in soccer worldwide, then this “recognition” has lost value in recent years. Beyond considering the historical achievements of each player for their efforts, only joint victories are being considered — and although not bad, it is not really the purpose for which this award was created.

Yes, Messi — together with his teammates — won the Copa América, the Copa del Rey and was the top scorer of the Spanish League; but Lewandowski was the top scorer of the calendar year with 64 goals, was Bundesliga champion in the 2020-2021 campaign and, to top it off, smashed the mark of the legendary German striker Gerd Müller with 41 goals scored in a single season of the Teutonic tournament.

Taking into account that the Ballon d’Or was not awarded in 2020 due to the pandemic generated by Covid-19 and adding the titles that Robert Lewandowski has accumulated to date, it seems that France Football voters underestimate the abysmal statistics of the Polish striker, who has scored 111 goals in the last two years.

This time it’s not about whether Messi has merit or not; it’s about the fact that Lewandowski deserved the award and was not given it by a vote of 180 international journalists.

“I want to say to Robert (Lewandowski) that it is an honor to fight with him. Everyone agreed that last year you were the winner and I think France Football should give you your Ballon d’Or. You deserve it, you earned it last year. I hope you can have it at home. It couldn’t be done because of the pandemic, but I think you have to have this trophy at home too,” Messi said during his victorious speech.

Let’s talk about numbers, statistics and compare who truly deserved the Ballon d’Or, always remembering that the award is given (in theory) for individual merit.

A comparative table from AS shows the following statistics: in 2021 in Ligue 1, Messi managed one goal and 14 assists (in 7 games); while in the Bundesliga Lewandowski has managed 14 goals and 16 assists (in 13 games).

Only in 2020, in the Spanish League, Messi scored 30 goals and 77 assists in 35 games played; while in the Bundesliga, Lewandowski scored 41 goals and 32 assists in 29 games played.

All in all, the Pole achieved the best start of his career with 30 goals in 26 games in all competitions —25 goals for Bayern in 20 games and 5 goals in 6 games for Poland. In the Champions League, he celebrated at least one goal in all five group matches played this season.

So, according to these statistics, who is worthy of the Ballon d’Or? The figures speak for themselves.

Indignation in the world of soccer over the Ballon d’Or award

Lothar Matthaüs, Ballon d’Or winner in 1990, expressed his dissatisfaction with the decision: “With all due respect to Messi and the other great players nominated, none of them had as much merit as Lewandowski. Honestly, I don’t understand anything,” he told Sky Germany.

Oliver Kahn, chairman of the board of Bayern Munich, also argued that the Pole “would have deserved both the Ballon d’Or and his trophy for best goalscorer for his great performance at the highest level for a year now.”

On the other hand, another German and Real Madrid midfielder, Toni Kroos, said that the choice was unfair and that “first of all, I must say that I am not at all interested in individual awards. However, if there are any, they should be fair. In my opinion, this is not the case at all. For me, Benzema would have been number 1 if you were really choosing the best individual player of last year, because I see up close how exceptional he is. There is no doubt that Messi is next to Cristiano Ronaldo as the player of this decade and he has qualities that others will never have. What’s wrong with the choice is above all the first place.”

Íker Casillas, the legendary Spanish goalkeeper said that every time he “finds it more and more difficult to believe in these soccer awards” and stressed that “the Ballon d’Or is awarded to the best footballer of the year and not the world.”

“For me, Messi is one of the five best players in history, but we must begin to know how to catalog who are the most outstanding at the end of a season, it’s not so difficult, damn it, others do it difficult!”

As a result of this controversy that has constantly arisen since the best players in the world have won all the awards, the question remains as to whether meritocracy has been lost in the awards, whether there is no longer any credibility and, above all, whether the winner is the most popular and not the player with the highest individual level.

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