COMMENT: Voting for the prestigious prize closed before the Argentine reached his two recent goalscoring milestones and unlike last year, there will be no new ballot this time
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
Cristiano Ronaldo claimed his second Ballon d’Or in January, but only after the voting deadline was changed to include his decisive display in the World Cup play-off against Sweden last November. For Lionel Messi, there will be no such luxury in 2014.
“Messi, Ballon d’Or!” screamed the front page of Barcelona-based sports daily El Mundo Deportivo last Monday. Two days earlier, the Argentine had hit a brilliant hat-trick to lead the Blaugrana to a 5-1 win at home to Sevilla and overhaul 1950s legend Telmo Zarra as the greatest goalscorer in the history of La Liga.
And the day after that headline, the 27-year-old was at it again as he netted three more at APOEL in the Champions League to surpass Real Madrid icon Raul as the all-time top scorer in the history of Europe’s premier club competition. Two remarkable records smashed in the space of just four days in a timely return to form for Barcelona.
Unfortunately, however, they will count for little in the race for the Ballon d’Or.
The voting deadline for football’s foremost individual award closed on Friday, November 21 – just a day before Messi broke the first of those two long-standing marks.
Last year, the voting period was extended and allowed coaches and captains of national teams and journalists to consider Cristiano’s hat-trick against Sweden in the second leg of Portugal’s play-off against Zlatan Ibrahimovic et al, which sealed a place at Brazil 2014 for the Selecao.
To help his hopes of claiming the Ballon d’Or this time, Messi could do with a similar vote extension, but he won’t be afforded such a luxury. A Fifa source told Goal: “Voting has closed and there will be no extension this year. And contrary to popular belief, the voting wasn’t extended last year to help Ronaldo; it was actually because there weren’t enough votes registered to legitimise the prize.”
Whatever really happened with the voting, the truth is that the extension worked in the forward’s favour and the Portuguese went on to win the award for the second time in his career on the back of the votes registered after what was probably the finest week of his entire 2013 (he also scored the winner in the first leg against Sweden in Lisbon on November 15, just hours before the original voting deadline).
This year, the posturing has already started. Uefa president Michel Platini claimed the gong should go to a German player following the side’s World Cup win, but Madrid have hit back and coach Carlo Ancelotti has said the Frenchman should keep his opinions to himself. “I don’t think the president of Uefa should opine about the Ballon d’Or,” the Italian said after the club released a statement to complain about the 59-year-old’s public stance.
Meanwhile, Barca boss Luis Enrique backed his man. “Everyone is allowed his opinion,” he said. “The prize is for the best player this season and that is Messi, so I would give the Ballon d’Or to Leo.”
Ronaldo has also enjoyed an excellent 2014, despite disappointment at the World Cup where he struggled with injury and was unable to stop a poor Portugal team from crashing out in the group stages. Before Brazil 2014, however, his record 17 strikes in the Champions League helped Madrid claim La Decima (the club’s 10th European Cup crown), while he also finished as top scorer in La Liga and joint-highest in Europe alongside Luis Suarez (then with Liverpool).
Messi, meanwhile, has endured a tough time this year. The Barca forward impressed for the Albiceleste at the World Cup, but missed out on the game’s greatest prize as Argentina lost the final to Germany. And at Barca, he and his team-mates fell short when it mattered most to miss out on La Liga, the Champions League and the Copa del Rey when the biggest trophies were handed out in May.
But Ronaldo had not won a single trophy with Madrid in 2013 either and still he claimed the Ballon d’Or. And while the Portuguese benefited from an extended vote following a purple patch in his year which undoubtedly helped him scoop the individual award, there will be no such luck for Leo this time around. Rightly or wrongly, the Argentine’s remarkable records will count for nothing this time in the race for the prestigious prize.