Nov 29, 2013, 5:05 PM EDT
Messi, Ronaldo, and Ribéry. Every indication says this year’s Ballon d’Or come down to those three Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo are givens in this conversation, and a standout year from Franck Ribéry on top of an astounding season from Bayern Munich has vaulted the France international into the discussion. With most ballots sent in by now, there’s no more room in the conversation.
Which, of course, won’t stop us from second-guessing the whole discussion. Take yesterday, when we had two chances to comment on Ribery’s curious candidacy, albeit in passing. This is from our post on Real Madrid’s support of Cristiano Ronaldo:
While the France international’s improved play without the ball is a huge factor in his candidacy, the Bayern winger scored 20 goals in 50 appearances for club and country in 2013.
Ronaldo? 67 goals in 56 appearances.
So the question voters have (hopefully) asked themselves: Are the unquantifiable aspects Ribéry brings to the game worth enough to transcend that 47-goal gap?
It’s a question that addresses the idea Franck Ribéry might have out-performed Cristiano Ronaldo, but let’s leave that aside, even if it’s great comments fodder. (Seriously, have at it, below.)
What I’m more concerned with is others’ exclusion from the conversation, and in that sense, Ribéry serves as the best reference point. If he was able to break into this discussion, one that’s normally dominated by Messi and Ronaldo, why haven’t others?
Part of that is how the award’s announced. The 23-man shortlist will be reduced to three finalists shortly, a whittling down that influences how we talk about the award. When voters are casting their ballots, they’re asked for first, second, and third choices, another reason Ballon d’Or discussions focus on trios. At this point, the conversation has picked one player to join Messi and Ronaldo, focusing all its attention on him. Toppling that big two is such a monumental task, it takes the wills of many to keep the narrative afloat.
But the resulting tunnel vision isn’t fair to the handful of players who have as strong a case as Ribéry. Again, this is a guy who scored 20 goals, was crucial to many others, but has an offense-heavy case based largely on his intangible contributions to his team’s performance. If you recognize this is an individual award (and great teams are already rewarded by trophies), it’s not too difficult to argue players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Robin van Persie were better in 2013 (I’d only agree with one of those, though).
There are other two players, however, who’ve come on strong since the start of the club season – players who’ve received almost no attention for this award. Both are overshadowed by teammates more apt to pick up individual honors, something that kept one of them off the 23-man ballot entirely.
But Arturo Vidal deserves some attention here, especially if you’re using Franck Ribéry as the standard for what it takes to be in this discussion. Ribéry was unquestionably great last season, but if the argument hinges on his is production and influence on a successful team, Vidal’s case shares those merits. Though not as lauded as midfield partner Andrea Pirlo (who finished seventh in last year’s voting), he is the better player at this point in their careers, somebody who’s capable of being the best player in all facet of a game.
This season, in all competitions, Vidal already has 10 goals and four assists from his central midfielder’s role. In 52 games this year for club and country, the Chilean international has scored as many goals as Ribéry (20) while seemingly making a greater defensive contribution. That’s not to say Vidal definitely had a better year than Ribéry (these players are close enough where personal preferences should be allowed to win out), but if Ribéry’s in a player of the year discussion, Vidal deserves a place, too.
On the surface, Ribéry appears to be getting credit for Bayern’s team accomplishments, but even if you think that has a place in individual awards, why aren’t other Bayern players getting the same benefit? For example, given how important we’ve seen Philipp Lahm be in defensive midfield this season, would it make sense to look at his play this fall, his contributions to Bayern’s success last season, and his role with a highly successful German national team and note his intangibles case probably transcends Ribéry’s? It’s worth talking about, particularly as Lahm’s play to start this season may have closed the gap Ribéry built up last spring.
And Ribéry did have a truly great year. Through June, he was Bayern’s best player, and the best player in the Bundesliga. But there are a handful of players who, over the course of the year, were just as good. While he may get some bonus points for his contributions to Bayern, it’s not like he was their only good player. And even when you give him that benefit of the doubt, it’s unclear he’s done enough to monopolize this conversation at the expense of Vidal, Lahm, Ibrahimovic, and others. One players greatness shouldn’t come at the expensive of all others’.
Sep 14, 2014, 8:20 PM EDT
Philippe Coutinho said that he would entertain an extension at Liverpool
Sep 14, 2014, 7:28 PM EDT
Jeremy Menez tallied a brace and a spectacular goal as AC Milan edged Parma in a high-scoring affair.
Sep 14, 2014, 7:01 PM EDT
A very tough goal scored by FC Dallas striker Blas Perez from an MLS match last night.
Sep 14, 2014, 5:34 PM EDT
President Obama sent the Belgian embassy a pack of beer after he lost a World Cup bet on Twitter.
Sep 14, 2014, 5:03 PM EDT
Ronaldo may eye a even bigger contract at the end of this season, but not at Real Madrid.
Sep 14, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
NBC’s Rebecca Lowe, Robbie Earle and Kyle Martino discuss the performances of Manchester United’s new players in a 4-0 drubbing of QPR.
Sep 14, 2014, 3:29 PM EDT
Goalkeeper Iker Casillas wasn’t opposed to fans whistling at him during Real Madrid’s match vs. Atletico Madrid.
Sep 14, 2014, 2:47 PM EDT
After a comprehensive 90 minutes for their first win of the year, van Gaal is bullish on the Red Devils’ chances going forward.
Sep 14, 2014, 2:10 PM EDT
With Newcastle’s managerial situation deteriorating rapidly, there is one week to turn things around.
Sep 14, 2014, 1:28 PM EDT
After 450 matches for Manchester United, Rio Ferdinand returned to Old Trafford on the opposing end for the first time.
Sep 14, 2014, 12:52 PM EDT
Angel Di Maria is good. Really, really good.
Sep 14, 2014, 12:12 PM EDT
The Bayern Munich loanee makes his professional league debut.
Sep 14, 2014, 11:38 AM EDT
It’s the first goal of his Premier League career for the $99 million man.
Sep 14, 2014, 10:31 AM EDT
Falcao is not in the starting lineup in his first Manchester United game available for selection.
Sep 14, 2014, 9:51 AM EDT
Early estimates have Debuchy missing crucial Premier League matches against Chelsea as well as the North London derby.
Sep 14, 2014, 9:13 AM EDT
Time could be up on Alan Pardew’s up and down tenure at Newcastle United.
Sep 14, 2014, 8:34 AM EDT
A thigh tear will mean the man who missed two years with an ACL tear will yet again see the sidelines for an extended period of time.
Sep 14, 2014, 7:46 AM EDT
Currently earning around just $2 million a year, it appears Paul Pogba will earn himself a stay at Juventus Stadium, and likely a raise as well.
Sep 14, 2014, 12:56 AM EDT
Two goals each for Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach and a shutouts record for Hope Solo highlighted a lopsided night for the U.S. in Utah.
Sep 14, 2014, 12:08 AM EDT
A busy schedule in Major League Soccer leaves us playing catch-up on the day’s late games.
- Manchester United 4-0 QPR: Roaring first half signals intentions of new-look United 1
- Reports say Alan Pardew on thin ice as Newcastle front office eyes Hull’s Steve Bruce 0
- MLS Snapshot: Philadelphia Union 2-2 New York Red Bulls 0
- Late Turan goal gives Atletico 2-1 win at Real Madrid 0
- Saturday Premier League roundup: Chelsea win, Arsenal-Man City draw, Liverpool lose (video) 0
- Liverpool 0-1 Aston Villa: Agbonlahor’s early score leads Villa past listless Liverpool (video) 2