The case for Virgil van Dijk to win the Ballon D’or

Van Dijk Liverpool Ballon D'or

Such has been the dominance enjoyed by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the Ballon D’Or over the past decade, the notion that any player other than the two could win it is often scoffed at. Virgil van Dijk, however, is not receiving such treatment.

Fresh from Champions League glory, the Dutchman finds himself at the front of an altogether different competition. Van Dijk is currently the bookmakers favourite to win the Ballon d’Or. He’s ahead of the aforementioned Messi and Ronaldo, as well as Kylian Mbappe, Liverpool teammates Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane and Raheem Sterling.

In fact, he’s the only defender on the list with odds shorter than 100/1, with Marcelo and Diego Godin the next on the list. Continue reading

How can Barcelona’s Lionel Messi only be the 5th best player in the world?

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The awards season can usually give us surprise leanings and results, although at least for the past decade the winner’s have usually been right. But 2018 can be seen as an exception. Lucas Modric swept all before him in 2018, not trophy wise with his club and country but on a personal level trophy wise, but did he truly deserve accolade after accolade? Then there was the quite bizarre announcement at the Ballon d’Or awards that Lionel Messi wouldn’t win, ok this was half expected given that Messi had not won other awards, but then they went one step further and gave him 5th place, really, 5th place.

First let’s analyse why Modric should never have won the trophy. To do this we first must point out that Modric is a superb player who had a great year. This included being a part of the Real Madrid team that won the Champions League for a 3rd time in a row. And then being a part of the Croatia team that got to a World Cup final. Those are fantastic achievements. But at the same time it also disregards Real Madrid’s domestic season, fought over 38 hard games and 9 months, where they lost the title once again to Barcelona. Indeed Madrid didn’t even finish 2nd and trailed Barcelona by a whopping 17 points. But in a World Cup year- why should that matter?

If the awards were to be influenced by a World Cup why didn’t Antoine Griezmann win the trophy? A player who was influential in the World Cup knock out goals, dominant and confident in midfield and scoring important goals and winning the World Cup. Was Europe on the awards minds? Well be mindful that Griezmann won the Europa League and then when his side Atletico met Real in the Super Cup clash, Atletico won that too.

It may sound controversial but Modric sweeping the awards was set in stone after the World Cup final where FIFA gave the sympathy award of best player at the tournament to Modric, who had just lost the World Cup. Had Croatia won it, Griezmann would have won best player- do we need evidence? Go back to 2014 when Lionel Messi won the best player award when his Argentina side had lost the final to Germany. The look on Messi’s face said it all.

Now to Messi himself and how could he have come 5th in the world? On his day he is a better player than the four that finished above him. But what else could have been the reason? Over Modric there might be a case given that Modric won the Champions League and got to a World Cup final. Although Messi can claim to have won the league and cup, so a domestic double and let’s not forget at his age of 31 he just averaged his best ever games to goals ratio.

Next up is Cristiano Ronaldo, again a Champions League winner. But Messi has that double and a personal better season over him and both did not do well at the World Cup. Griezmann and Mbappe follow next and they did have a better season than Messi trophy wise with World Cup, Europa League, French League and domestic cups between them and yet they only finished 3rd and 4th.

The awards season used to give the best out to the best players. This year that trend has shifted mostly because new blood was wanted after Messi and Ronaldo dominated for a decade, but although Modric is a very special player, Griezmann or Mbappe should have won the award and Messi certainly shouldn’t have been out of the top 3.

Awards forgotten man Lionel Messi receives Europe’s golden boot

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It has been a rather odd year for Barcelona’s Lionel Messi. Despite winning another Spanish league, scoring fantastic goals and winning the domestic double, Messi surely still the worlds best football player was overlooked for all the major awards this year. This culminated in the Ballon d’Or award where he placed only 5th, in what had to be seen as quite laughable.

Still some things were put right for the Argentinian play maker who picked up his 5th golden shoe this week, in celebration for his 34 goals in La Liga last season. He fended off Liverpool’s Mohamad Salah who scored just 2 less last season in the Premier League.

In winning the award Messi had this to say: “I love football, but when I started I didn’t expect all this. My dream was to be a professional player. This is thanks to the hard work and effort I have put in, and above all to my teammates. I have the best players in the world at their positions playing beside me.” Messi again was evidently very humble in receiving the award and of course it didn’t go unnoticed that he has now pulled one clear of golden boots from Cristiano Ronaldo who is now plying his trade at Juventus.

This award would have been a satisfying conclusion to 2018 where Messi was disregarded for awards over other players such as Luka Modric who won every gong going. It is true that Modric won the Champions League and reached the World Cup final with Croatia where Messi failed in both competitions. And whilst nobody is saying that Messi should have been accepted as the world’s best player it still felt odd not even recognising his greatness with a top 3 spot.

It should be noted that after yet another hattrick at the weekend Messi now has 14 goals in 14 games and in all competitions he has already scored 20 goals. It seems that Messi wants the very best awards in 2019 and he is certainly going about it the right way. Barcelona look on course to win the league where they have sprinted 5 points clear of great rival Real Madrid, as Messi looks to win his 10th Spanish title. He has also voiced his opinion over the Champions League and will be looking to win that competition for the 5th time in his career after wins in 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2015.

What should be for sure is that if Messi continues at this rate no awards will be able to shun his greatness next year.

 

Antoine Griezmann needs to leave Atletico Madrid if he wants the Ballon d’Or

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Antoine Griezmann has won no individual awards this year which strikes one as being rather odd. Here he is a player that is playmaker for Atletico Madrid who have won the Europa League this year and beat Real Madrid to win the UEFA Super Cup. On top of that he led France in winning the World Cup, but to the voters he bizarrely isn’t even good enough to make the top 3 best in the world.

Griezmann has publicly bemoaned these decisions and it ends up being a fine line for him. For if he keeps on speaking about he will look like a petulant child who didn’t get his rewards, and yet if he keeps quiet he will rightfully feel that he has missed an opportunity to speak out. But why is it then that Griezmann who continues to win trophies, play well, make goals and score them is being ignored when it comes down to winning individual awards?

Let’s go back to last summer when Barcelona entered talks to buy Griezmann from Atletico, Barca being the only realistic club in Spain that could get him, given that he was never going to consider joining Atletico’s rivals Real Madrid. Griezmann at Barcelona, would have been a sight to behold but talks broke down and it is only now that Griezmann has come out and told us why.

The reason was that he didn’t want to be Messi’s lieutenant and play second fiddle to the Argentine great. Griezmann told Canal+, “was it hard to refuse Barca? It was very difficult. You have Barca who wants you, who calls you, who sends messages. But then there is the club where you are, where you are an important player and where they build a project around you, subconsciously, being Messi’s lieutenant may have played a part.But my team-mates and people at the club did everything, they came to talk to me, they increased my salary. They did everything to show that it was my home and that I shouldn’t leave. It was really complicated times, especially for my wife where I woke her up at 3am to talk about it.”

In some ways Griezmann should be applauded for not making the jump to a bigger club where inevitably more trophies would follow. At the same time Atletico are successful in their own right and will always be able to challenge for trophies at least as long as Diego Simeone is in charge of the club.

The problem for Griezmann though is it seems not only do you have to play in Spain to win the big awards but you also have to be either playing for Barcelona or Real Madrid. This is evidenced in the fact that the best players awards have gone only to these two teams since 2008. The last time a player won the trophy from outside of Spain was in 2007 when Kaka won with AC Milan.

So what can Griezmann do, because winning the World Cup wasn’t good enough to be recognised as the best. If not playing for Barca or Real Madrid it seems that his one option is to lead Atletico to another Champions League final, this time winning it. For now Griezmann’s loyalty may have just cost him the best player in the world tag.

 

Do the world’s best players really have to play in Spain to win FIFA World player of the year?

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Chelsea star Eden Hazard who has been linked with Real Madrid joked about it in a press conference and many professional footballers have brought it up in recent weeks that to win the best player in the world award you have to be playing in Spain, but is that true?

A quick glance at who has won the player of the year in recent seasons would suggest that it is very true that players have come from Spain. A player has not won the award outside of Spain since 2008. Meaning that the last 10 winners have come from players playing in La Liga.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi has 5 of those wins and ex Real Madrid player Cristiano Ronaldo has 4 wins. Luka Modric broke the mould this year in winning the award now called FIFA The Best awards. Modric incidentally became the first player to win the award that wasn’t Messi or Ronaldo since 2007.

So yes on reflection it does seem that you need to play in La Liga, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Anyone that has followed football throughout the last decade could not have ignored the achievements of both Messi and Ronaldo who have brought the game onto another level. Had one been playing in Spain and one in Italy as they do now we could be sure to think that the awards would have been split between those countries. Simply put these two players have been so good that the awards could not ignore them and it is just coincidence that they both played in Spain.

Since 2008 Messi and Ronaldo have dominated football and have won 49 trophies between them including 8 Champions Leagues. They have scored countless goals the likes we haven’t seen since the 1950s and have dazzled with their play. Both players have simply been very deserving of their achievements and awards.

Hazard may have been joking or he may have not but one of the huge factors that other players from the major leagues have not won the award in the last decade is that awards tend to also go to how your team has performed. It’s why even though Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah came third in the voting that he was never realistically in with a chance of winning the award, as Liverpool won no trophies last season.

Hazard probably has little chance to win the award next year given that Chelsea are competing in the Europa League. Even if they win it there is no guarantee the award is coming his way, you only have to ask Antoine Griezmann about that, who won it last season with Atletico Madrid.

To win the award you must perform exceptionally well, be an attacking player and your club really has to win the Champions League and that is the real definition of winning the award not what country you play in.

 

Ballon Bore – How the awards have become a laughing stock

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There once was a time when the Ballon d’Or awards really seemed to mean something.

Being the best in the world in the eyes of your peers was a gong worth winning and most of the time there was no real argument as to who the eventual winner was.

Since Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have monopolised the award, however, we’ve seen ridiculous tactical voting and even an unprecedented extension of the voting period in order to allow the Portuguese to win it during the year in which he was well behind the Argentinian at the original cut off point.

The situation has only been made worse with a splintering of the award in the recent past.

Now we have FIFA’s ‘The Best’ as a rival to France Football’s Ballon d’Or, as well as the UEFA Player of the Year.

We’ve seen people crowned as the best in their respective position who’ve then not made the team of the year (Thibaut Courtois), and Mo Salah winning the best goal of the year in the Puskas Award when it was abundantly clear that his strike was nowhere close to the best effort.

Though it was probably a knee-jerk reaction at the time, Jorge Mendes, Ronaldo’s agent, saying that only Real Madrid players win the award, when FIFA’s The Best was given to Luka Modric rather than his client, was telling.

With the greatest of respect, including Karim Benzema on the list of 30 players for this season’s Ballon d’Or is utterly farcical.

The Frenchman has struggled to put the ball in the back of the net for the best part of a year now, and after an initial burst of goals at the start of this campaign, is back to the poor form of 2017/18.

There is literally no reason for him to be on the list other than the fact that he plays for Real Madrid.

Lionel Messi is unlikely to win it this year, after missing out on both the UEFA Team of the Year and FIFA’s The Best, however, out of every candidate, with the possible exceptions of Ronaldo and Antoine Griezmann, the Argentinian deserves it.

Griezmann has already been vocal in saying that the best player has to come from the best team, insinuating that a French World Cup winner has to win. As he’s also won the Europa League and the UEFA Super Cup, there’s a school of thought that would agree with him.

Equally, a third successive Champions League trophy for Real Madrid gives Ronaldo a shout.

However, the Ballon d’Or is an individual award, and no one player has done more than Messi to rightfully stake a claim.

Goals, assists, key passes, completed passes… the No.10 reigns supreme.

Frankly, if the governing bodies can’t or won’t give the award to the players who deserve it the most, what’s the real point of making such a song and dance about them in the first place?!

All it’s doing is alienating the public further and treating them with contempt.

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Serie A well represented in the Ballon d’Or list

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France Football released the list of the 30 finalists for Balloon d’Or yester and Serie A is featured with five players: Leonardo Bonucci, Gianluigi Buffon, Paulo Dybala, Edin Dzeko and Dries Mertens. It is the best result for the league since 2007, when it had 9 candidates and Milan’s Kakà brought home the award thanks to the success in Champions League. In 2016, Serie A had only three nominees. As expected, Liga and Premier League had the strongest performances with 11 and seven players respectively; Bundesliga have three, Ligue 1 four. Club-wise, Real Madrid dominates with seven contenders, while Juventus have the second most, alongside Barcelona, with three.

It is a good result for the league and it is a well-deserved recognition for the elite performance of its best players. Mertens and Dzeko went toe-to-toe in the leading scorer race: the Roma forward won out with 29 goals in 37 games, while the Belgian attacker finished with 28 in 35 appearances. Achievements worthy of the highest echelon of European strikers. Both have been on a tear at the start of the season as well. It is even a more remarkable result for the Napoli attacker considering that he fully transitioned to centre-forward only at the beginning of 2017.

Juventus are rewarded for their Champions League run, which unfortunately ended with another lost final, and for the historic sixth title in a row. They built their success on strong defending and therefore Buffon and Bonucci are obvious choices, even though the defender was not as good after his move to Milan. Had the Bianconeri lifted the big-eared trophy, the goalkeeper could have maybe crowned his legendary career with the coveted prize. Paulo Dybala is on the list as well, mostly because of his stunning start of the season: he has already tallied 12 goals. He was obviously instrumental to Turin club a year ago as well, but not as prolific.

The only notable snub from Serie A is Gonzalo Higuain: he finished fourth in the scorers’ chart, with 25 goals, but reaching the UCL final could have pushed him in the list. His lack of scoring in the later stages of the main European competition, even though he did decide the first leg of semi-final against Monaco with a brace, and his struggles with Argentina likely kept him out. Andrea Belotti had a magnificent year as well, but he does not have the name power of his more illustrious colleagues yet.

Cristiano Ronaldo is fully expected to win his fifth Balloon d’Or, with his arch-rival Lionel Messi coming in second. The race for the third place is open and Juventus could be given a token spot, with Buffon being the logical candidate and Dybala the flashiest one. However, there are plenty of deserving players in the star-studded list and rewarding another Real Madrid player, Toni Kroos or Luka Modric for instance, would obviously not be a bad choice either.

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Cristiano Ronaldo wins Ballon d’Or for the 4th time ahead of Lionel Messi

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In the end as Cristiano Ronaldo held up his 4th Ballon d’Or it was no surprise to anyone in attendance that the Portuguese star was voted in as the best player in the world. Indeed if any other player had been chosen the fallout could have lasted until next December.

Who else but Ronaldo who not only won the Champions League with Real Madrid in 2016 but also claimed an historic international trophy when Portugal won Euro 2016. This summer’s win over host nation France in the final was Portugal’s first ever major trophy. Whilst the competition will be littered with memories of Ronaldo’s drive and goals it will also be remembered for his encouragement managerial style from the sidelines in that final when he had to leave the pitch after an early injury.

And then there are the goals which Ronaldo of course loves, he has scored 51 so far for club and country this year and scored this season alone two hat tricks and counting. Real Madrid who are currently six points clear in La Liga are on course to win the league for the first time since 2012.

In winning the trophy it meant that this was the 9th year when only two players had picked up the top prize, either Ronaldo or Messi. Messi has five titles. The last player to win outside these two was Kaka in 2007 when he was playing for Italians AC Milan.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi had to settle for 2nd place, but the truth was that the Argentinian would have already had an inkling of what was to happen. This despite winning four trophies in a year including the league and Copa del Rey Cup double and a FIFA World Club Cup. The problem though was that Messi who also scored more goals in this calendar year than Ronaldo could not fix the problem which was Atletico Madrid in the Champions League. Here Barca predictably limped out as champions to Diego Simeone’s tactics.

The misery continued when at international level Messi had the superb opportunity to win the Copa America with Argentina. But alas Chile who had beaten them also in 2015 were victorious and this led Messi to retire from international football- this lasted only a few months though.

Antoine Griezmann was deservedly in third place. The young Frenchman was a breath of fresh air at Euro 2016 and led his nation to the final where they ultimately but narrowly lost to Portugal. But this couldn’t take away that Griezmann with his dashing fair hair and an appetite for goal was one of the lasting memories of the tournament. Griezmann was also pivotal for his club side Atletico Madrid emerging as a star despite losing another Champions League final to their bitter rivals Real Madrid.

The full Ballon D’or list:

1 – Cristiano Ronaldo

2 –  Lionel Messi

3 – Antoine Griezmann

4 – Luis Suárez

5 – Neymar

6 – Gareth Bale

7 – Riyad Mahrez

8 – Jamie Vardy

9= – Pepe

9= – Gianluigi Buffon

11 – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

12 – Rui Patricio

13 – Zlatan Ibrahimovic

14= – Arturo Vidal

14= – Paul Pogba

16 –   Robert Lewandowski

17= – Dimitri Payet

17= – Toni Kroos

17= – Luka Modric

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Is Mesut Ozil deluded with Ballon d’Or aspirations?

Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil recently stated his belief that he could become a Ballon d’Or winner soon, as he feels he’s finally acclimatising to the physicality of the Premier League. The German international, 26, came under criticism in his first season at the Emirates, but has started to look more like a player worth £42.5M in recent weeks. He feels such improvement could see him back as the world’s best playmaker, and ultimately a Ballon d’Or winner.

“If I continue to develop well and stay healthy, I would like, in the next few years, to hold the Ballon d’Or in my hands. I am convinced that it can happen. I’m feeling very positive. I’m a world champion and I play at a top club in the Premier League. There is much more of a physical test here than there is in Spain or in the Bundesliga – I constantly have bruises, but that makes me harder. I feel physically better than ever,” he said.

Arsenal supporters were in disbelief when the World Cup winner made the move from Real Madrid to London, but such elation turned into frustration following his performances. At Real, the Spaniards were known for their counter-attacking style, which always saw the German as the focal point creatively. He was always driving forward with the ball and making a hosts of assists as a result of such possession in the final third. But with Arsenal, the build-up play is a lot slower and more patient, and Ozil receives a lot of the ball in areas he struggles to influence the games from.

He has a long way to go to win the supporters over fully, let alone be recognised on the world scale for his performances, and manager Arsene Wenger may not be too pleased that Ozil has such a high opinion of himself. He has been better recently, but hasn’t come close to matching the impact of many former starts at the Emirates, so to be discussing aspirations of winning the Ballon d’Or is incredibly premature.

Mesut Ozil has a lot to prove for the Londoners, and performance levels in the big games is something supporters have long been waiting for. He was signed to take the club in a new direction, but has arguably been a player holding them back at times. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) and Lionel Messi (Barcelona) have been fighting for the last few Ballon d’Or awards, and the Arsenal man is currently miles away from the duo. He’s not even the Gunners’ best performing star in 2015.

Is Ozil deluded with his Ballon d’Or aspirations?

With Neuer missing out, what more can a goalkeeper do to win the Ballon d’Or?

The Ballon d’Or ceremony took place on Monday evening, with Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo claiming the World Player of the Year. Barcelona’s Lionel was named in second place, with Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer in third. While not a surprise, this was arguably the closest a goalkeeper will ever come to winning the prestigious prize in the modern game, but can a goalkeeper do any more?

Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer has had an outstanding year between the sticks for club and country (Germany). In addition to winning the 2014 World Cup – winning the Golden Glove for the tournament’s best goalkeeper – the German Bundesliga – making 15 clean sheets and conceding only 18 goals in 31 games – the 28-year-old also won the DFB-Pokal – which saw him concede just one goal in the five games.

But it’s not just his shutout abilities that sees him regarded as the best goalkeeper in the world, the former Schalke man has a unique playing style unrivalled in world football. Neuer’s starting position is considerably high off his line for a goalkeeper, and he’s more than comfortable having the ball at his feet. Often he is seen racing to the halfway line to snuff out a through ball, which allows Bayern to play a high defensive line.

Neuer’s ball-playing abilities also mean he can be trusted with their ball-retention philosophy, and he’s composed in possession, and technically proficient. Put simply, he’s the evolved goalkeeper current promising shot-stoppers aspire to be in the future. Of course he could keep more clean sheets in games and concede less goals, but that could also be said of the goalscorers that were head of him in the list.

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are being lauded as the two greatest players to have ever graced the game due to their constant record breaking antics and phenomenal scoring tallies in La Liga. Neuer is regarded by many as the best in his position, and one of the best in history. His CV certainly backs that up, but unfortunately goalkeepers will never been seen in the same light as players that win matches on a weekly basis, often single-handedly.

It would take a lot of players to have average performances over the course of a year see a goalkeeper top the World Player of the Year standings, but to have Neuer come third is an incredible achievement for a position very rarely singled out for praise. Can goalkeepers do any more, however?