Monday was the annual Ballon D’Or awards, which is given out by the French Football Association, the largest awards show in soccer. There were all sorts of surprises, from the creation of the Kopa Award (given to the best player under 21), the first female Ballon D’Or going to Ada Hegerberg, and Luka Modric winning the men’s Ballon D’Or.
Each award had an interesting twist. The event’s first award, the Kopa Award, seemed to be created almost for Mbappé. While there is absolutely no denying that he is by far the best player under 21 years old, (he got 110 votes and second place got 31) it is interesting that the award was created in the same year that he was nominated for the men’s Ballon D’Or. This award could have been created at any point by the French Football Association, but it just seems like they wanted to have an award go to someone French to reward their World Cup Triumph. Other noteworthy players that were nominated included runner-up Christian Pulisic, and Justin Kluivert. Pulisic finishing second in the award is a great sign for American soccer, as it means we have the second best young player in the world. Whether or not this is true is a different point altogether. I would argue that there are better young players, but it’s a great sign nonetheless. The award was voted on by past Ballon D’Or winners, showing that many of the world’s best players believe that he is the second best young player.
The women’s Ballon D’Or was also interesting. Hegerberg is one of the best young players in the world, as she has almost 300 career goals and has won the UEFA Women’s Champions League three times already. These are quite impressive numbers, that belong to a worthy winner. However, I was disappointed not to see any Americans named in the top five of voting. The United States has dominated the women’s game for so long, and we continuously have the best players in the world, yet not one of them was considered a top five player. I found this shocking, to me it seemed that players were being rewarded for playing in Europe rather than how good they were last year. In a sport that has been dominated by the United States women’s team for as long as it has been around, it was shocking to not see a single American on stage, and only two in the top fifteen. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the biggest shock in the women’s Ballon D’Or. Presenter Martin Solveig asked Hegerberg to twerk after handing her the award. He has since apologized for his comment, but it was completely out of line, and inappropriate. Whether or not Hegerberg was the best player of the year is debatable, but Solveig’s comment was absolutely disrespectful and has no place in soccer.
The men’s award left many fans divided. For the first time since 2007 someone not named Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo was named as the best player in the world, but many (myself included) can’t help but feel that the award could have gone to someone more deserving. Personally, I would have liked to see Messi win it. He scored the most goals and had the most assists in Europe’s top five leagues. He won everything there was to win in his domestic league, won the most “man of the match” awards, and lead the Champions League in goals and assists. I understand the argument about the World Cup failure, but I would argue that it wasn’t on Messi, and that he actually had a good tournament. Messi tied for first in assists in the tournament, and dragged a weak Argentina team without a coach to the knockout stage, and almost beat France. I understand that Argentina should have won the group, beat Iceland, and so on, but given his situation, Messi had a good World Cup. Ranking him as the fifth best player shows why this award has started to lose credibility. There were players that were better than him, Modric and Ronaldo certainly have strong arguments, but while Mbappé and Griezmann won the World Cup, they did not have as good a year as Messi. I understand the arguments for Ronaldo and Modric to win, but Messi as the fifth best player in the world is a joke.
It came as no surprise to me that the French award for best player in the world favored the French. While I disagree with Modric winning the award, he certainly had a phenomenal year and was one of the best players in the world. However, I find it a a bit insulting and disrespectful to players such as Xavi, Iniesta, Buffon, Robben, and Ribery who had better years than Modric did, but didn’t win the award. Giving the award to Modric was not just a bad decision for this year, but it discredits all of the legends that didn’t win the award simply because of timing. Modric will go down in history as a Ballon D’Or winner, while much better players didn’t win the award, which will lead to the misconception that he was better. While Modric did have a good year, giving him the award was incorrect, and disrespectful to the decade of players who were better.