Lionel Messi and The Golden Ball Fiasco

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Updated: July 14, 2014
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As the World Cup drew to a close and Germany were crowned winners of the biggest international tournament in world football for the fourth time, the topic on everyone’s lips didn’t seem to be Mario Götze’s sublime strike that won the World Cup for the Germans. On the contrary, the buzz was around Lionel Messi and the Golden Ball award.

The world of social media was abuzz with the revelation that Lionel Messi had been named winner of the prestigious Golden Ball, the award given to the best player in the tournament. FIFA’s technical study group of coaching analysts selects the winner of the award. The responses to the award being presented to Messi were mainly centred around shock or disbelief. 

Messi is undoubtedly one of the best, if not the very best player of this generation, and yet his performances in the World Cup would hardly have been described as especially eye-catching by most. To see Messi, with his phenomenal ball control, dribbling wizardry and vision, top of the statistical charts for successful take-ons and chances created would hardly surprise many, and yet there was a yearning for more, for the brilliance that he has shown all too often in the shirt of his club side Barcelona, and that have all too often been missing when he plays for Argentina.

Some of Messi’s most ardent fans have said that he carried Argentina to the finals almost single-handedly with his four goals, yet all of these came in the group stages of the tournament against the less than fancied Bosnia, Iran and Nigeria. Other than his four goals Messi provided one assist, against Switzerland in the last sixteen round of games. 

Before the tournament many pointed to the strength and depth of Argentina’s attacking options, Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Angel Di Maria. They were so strong in attacking areas that they were even afforded the luxury of leaving Carlos Tevez out of their squad entirely. These attacking options were the envy of most, if not all of the other nations in the competition. Yet, it was the Argentine defence, hardly lauded and more often ridiculed, that provided the base for their progression to the final; a defence that up until the final had not conceded a goal for over 313 minutes and that managed to keep the Germans at bay for 112 minutes; the same German side that had fired seven past Brazil in the semi-finals while barely breaking a sweat. 

The impressive form of the Argentinean defensive unit and the team as a whole makes the individual award to Messi all the more baffling. 

There were a number of players who could have been considered as worthy of the award as Messi was. Including compatriot Javier Mascherano who was an immense presence in both the semi-final and final for Argentina patrolling in front of the back four and seeming to get stronger and more impressive as the tournament wore on. Many observers commented that it was Mascherano, and not Messi, that was the real driving force behind Argentina’s ultimately unsuccessful tilt for the title. 

The winner of the tournament Golden Boot, awarded to the top scorer in the tournament, James Rodriguez, could also have been considered a favourite for the individual prize. Rodriguez scored six goals and provided two assists in only five games, scoring in every game in which he appeared and in spite of the fact that he operates from an attacking midfield position, and not as a forward like Messi. The young Colombian was the undoubted breakout star of the tournament, showcasing the silky skills, deft touches, vision and goalscoring abilities that few were aware of pre-tournament. Colombia were knocked out of the tournament at the Quarter Finals stage by hosts Brazil and this can be the only reason that young James wasn’t considered more strongly for the Golden Ball and Golden Boot double.

The champions Germany provided four players for the Golden Ball shortlist, Thomas Muller, Phillip Lahm, Mats Hummels and Toni Kroos, and as with Rodriguez arguments could be made for each and every one of them to have been winners ahead of Messi. Muller outscored Messi and also provided more assists, Lahm proved his versatility and intelligence by tackling the roles of defensive midfielder and right back with consummate ease and comfort throughout the tournament, Hummels marshaled the excellent German defence while also providing two goals for good measure, and Kroos excelled in the heart of the German midfield scoring two goals and providing four assists, topping the assists chart for the tournament in the process. 

Arjen Robben and Ron Vlaar performed fantastically in a Dutch side that was largely unfancied by many pundits and supporters before the tournament. Both contributed hugely to a run that took the Dutch to within penalties of an appearance in the final. Robben contributing three goals and one assist and with his searing pace and dribbling skill he proved to be absolutely crucial to Louis Van Gaal’s counter attacking style. Vlaar meanwhile was the rock at the back of an incredibly well organized back line and more than contributed to a defence, which kept clean sheets in both the quarter final and semi-final games.

The hosts Brazil also performed impressively and it was noticeable that their two best players were missing when they were thrashed by Germany in the semi-final. Neymar impressed early in the tournament with four goals in the group stage alone and provided an assist in the quarterfinal encounter with Colombia. Unfortunately it was also in this game that Neymar suffered the serious back injury that ruled him out of the semi-final against Germany, and the rest of the tournament. Brazil were also missing their best defender, Thiago Silva, for that semi-final after he picked up a second tournament booking in the Colombia quarterfinal and the Brazilians were unable to cope with this double loss. They appeared in complete disarray at the back as the Germans cut through them like the proverbial hot knife through butter and they could barely muster any form of attacking impetus without the skill, flair and invention of Neymar. 

At the end of the day it was Messi who took the Golden Ball home, in spite of the seemingly more impressive individual performances of others throughout the tournament. This award has opened the door to questions as to both the criteria that has been used to judge the award, and of course the judges themselves. Messi is widely regarded as the best player on the planet and the question should be was it really his performances that carried Argentina to the very brink of winning the World Cup, or was it the performance of the impressive Argentina team as a whole. Chances are it was the judges preconceptions that influenced the decision and saw the award taken away from a more worthy winner. And that should never be the case.

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  1. sbo

    September 24, 2014 at 12:59 AM

    This is a very good article. Thank you for a great information.

  2. So You

    September 15, 2014 at 9:37 PM

    I agree about it and very interested.

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