Messi top for another year as prize cancelled

Rumour mill: Reports suggest the Barcelona player wants to transfer after over 15 years. © PA

Should sports like football be about individual or team success? Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi holds the title of best player in the world until 2021, as organisers postpone the award.

“The Mozart of football.” “God as a player.” “You need a machine gun to stop him.” This is Lionel Messi, Barcelona’s Argentinian forward. Back in December, he was voted once again the best footballer on the planet. It was the sixth time he had won the Ballon d’Or.

The age of the international football superstar has coincided with a decade when two players have emerged above the rest. Between them, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have won the Ballon d’Or 11 times in the last 12 years. From classrooms in China to offices in London, the debate has raged: Messi or Ronaldo? The Fifa Ballon d’Or has become an annual decider between the two.

But last month, officials announced that the prestigious award would be cancelled this year due to the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Messi keeps his prize for another year.

Individual awards in football go back a long way. From 1956 to 2009 the Ballon d’Or was exclusively for players based in Europe. So Pelé, who only ever played in the Americas, never won it. The first winner was Englishman Stanley Matthews.

In the early years of the Ballon d’Or, football had not become a globalised sport. Yes, every country played football, but there was little interaction between different regions. Despite Pelé being rated by many as the greatest player of all time, few in Europe saw him play more than half a dozen times, whereas almost every game featuring Messi or Ronaldo is shown live on British television.

All this has combined to increase the importance of the Ballon d’Or. Cristiano Ronaldo makes it clear that individual awards motivate him as powerfully as winning trophies with his club. He often does not celebrate with his teammates when another player scores for Juventus.

When Luka Modric won the award in 2018, he described it as a “very special” moment. The Croatian was awarded the prize for his performance for Real Madrid where he won the Champions League. Modric also led his international team to the final of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

In a team game like football, is it right to celebrate one player above the rest?

No ‘I’ in ‘team’

Football needs to keep a record of the greatest players over the decades, say advocates of the Ballon d’Or. And anyone in any job is motivated by personal awards and appreciation, whether that means being crowned the best footballer or simply employee of the month. If individual awards motivate people to perform well, they serve a beneficial purpose.

But Jose Mourinho and Arsène Wenger, usually dear enemies, agree that the Ballon d’Or is bad for the game. They believe such awards detract from the idea of football as a team sport. Mourinho has said, “For me, football is collective. The individual is welcome if you want to make our group better.” Players should aim to help their team win. And in winning, they will be remembered.

You Decide

  1. Do individual awards encourage selfishness?
  2. Who is the best footballer of all time?


  1. Imagine if every mark you received at school was secret and you had no idea how good you were at a subject compared to your classmates. There are no awards or prizes. Discuss as a class what effect this would have on your studies.
  2. Pick a person you think is the best in the world in their particular field, and explain what makes them the best.

Some People Say...

“For me, it’s more important to win a team award, like a World Cup.”

Manuel Neuer, German goalkeeper and captain for Bayern Munich and the Germany national team

What do you think?

Q & A

Does this matter if I don’t like football?
When you have a job, you will have to find the correct balance between doing well for yourself and for your employers. The question of whether individual awards are a legitimate motivator is interesting and goes well beyond the world of sport. Is a bit of selfishness needed for sports teams and businesses to succeed?
Can you really compare different players?
Though Messi and Ronaldo have similar roles in their teams, they are very different players. Ronaldo is stronger and is better at heading, for example, while Messi is the superior dribbler. And it is even more difficult to compare footballers from different eras. Pelé generally played against weaker opposition than Messi and Ronaldo, but was afforded less protection by referees.

Word Watch

Ballon d’Or
French for “Golden Ball”, the Ballon d’Or is voted on by three representatives from every country: the national team manager, the national team captain, and a journalist.
Many still see Pelé as the greatest-ever footballer. The Brazilian played most of his games for Santos (his team in Brazil) before moving to the New York Cosmos. He won three World Cups with Brazil in 1958, 1962, and 1970. The forlorn image of Pelé limping out of the 1966 World Cup illustrates the lack of protection by referees.
The other Englishmen to have won it are Bobby Charlton (1966), Kevin Keegan (1978 and 1979), and Michael Owen (2001).
Stanley Matthews
The former Stoke City and Blackpool winger was one of the greatest English players of all time. By the time he retired in 1965, he was 50 years old.
Jose Mourinho and Arsène Wenger
Mourinho was sacked by Chelsea in December 2015 and now manages Tottenham Hotspur; Wenger managed Arsenal from 1996 to 2018.

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