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Explained: How Lionel Messi pipped goal-machine Robert Lewandowski to Ballon d’Or

This year’s Ballon d’Or was the closest contest, but many believed it shouldn’t even have been that.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
Updated: December 1, 2021 8:30:05 am
PSG player Lionel Messi reacts after winning the 2021 Ballon d'Or trophy during the 65th Ballon d'Or ceremony at Theatre du Chatelet, in Paris, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. (AP)

After the 2020 Ballon d’Or awards were cancelled due to the pandemic, it was felt that Robert Lewandowski would make up for the lost opportunity this year. But it wasn’t to be as Lionel Messi took the crown ahead of the Bayern Munich striker followed by Chelsea and Italy midfielder Jorginho.

How is the Ballon d’Or winner decided?

To begin with, French weekly publication France Football decides on a 30-player shortlist. Then they invite top journalists of the world, each of whom nominates the best five players, in his/her opinion. The top player is awarded six points, while the next four are awarded four, three, two and one respectively.

There are three basic criteria that the selection panel is looking at. First, individual as well as collective performances. These focus on titles won with their respective club and/or country. Secondly, the jury focuses on the talent of the player and whether that player is a proponent of fair play in the world of football. Thirdly, they look at the overall career of the player.

The total points collected by each player decides the eventual winner.

PSG player Lionel Messi receives the 2021 Ballon d’Or trophy from his former Barcelona teammate Luis Suarez during the 65th Ballon d’Or ceremony at Theatre du Chatelet, in Paris, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. (AP)

How was Messi awarded his seventh Ballon d’Or?

It all came down to the Copa America. Messi had suffered several near misses on the international stage. Losing the 2014 World Cup final against Germany in Brazil, and reaching three Copa America finals only to fall at the last hurdle, had become the narrative of his international career.

This was until 2021 when he finally won the Copa America by beating Brazil in Brazil. Messi was adjudged the player of the tournament for his four goals. He ended the season with 41 goals and 17 assists, and that was considered enough for the Argentine to take away his seventh Ballon d’Or crown and essentially cement his spot as the greatest modern-day footballer. He also won the Copa del Rey for Barcelona and took the Catalans to third position in La Liga.

Were there other worthy contenders for the Ballon d’Or?

This year’s Ballon d’Or was the closest contest, but many believed it shouldn’t even have been that. Lewandowski had an exceptional 2019-20 season and according to Messi, deserved to take home the honour. “I would like to mention Robert Lewandowski. It’s been a real honour to compete with you. Everyone knows and we agree that you were the winner last year,” Messi said in his acceptance speech on Monday. “I think France Football should award you your 2020 Ballon d’Or – you deserve it and you should have it at home.”

But a case can be made for Lewandowski winning the 2021 Ballon d’Or as well. The Polish striker scored 64 goals and made 10 assists for club and country. He won the German Bundesliga, the DFL-Super Cup and the Club World Cup as well.

Jorginho was another player who could have staked his name for the Ballon d’Or. The Italian playmaker won the Champions League with Chelsea and Euro 2020 with Italy. But the jury did not consider these achievements worthy of the honour as Jorginho was not seen as the central figure in either the Champions League victory or the Euros triumph.

What position did Ronaldo finish in?

While Messi took away the crown, Cristiano Ronaldo finished in an uncharacteristic sixth position. It is his lowest position at the Ballon d’Or since 2010 even though he scored 43 goals and had six assists in a season where he won the Coppa Italia & Supercoppa Italiana.

On Monday, Ronaldo put out a lengthy statement against France Football editor-in-chief Pascal Ferre, who had said that Ronaldo had told him that he wanted to retire with more Ballon d’Or’s than Messi.

Calling Ferre out and saying that the journalist was lying, Ronaldo said on his Instagram account, “It is unacceptable that the person responsible for awarding such a prestigious prize could lie in this way, in absolute disrespect for someone who has always respected France Football and the Ballon d’Or. And he lied again today, justifying my absence from the Gala with an alleged quarantine that has no reason to exist. I always want to congratulate those who win, within the sportsmanship and fair-play that have guided my career since the beginning, and I do it because I’m never against anyone.”

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