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As ever, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are overwhelming favourites for the Ballon d’Or title.
Here is the case for Portugal star Ronaldo to win the 2012 award.
10. Messi’s goal “record” is both meaningless and dubious
Fans of Lionel Messi will point to the Argentine’s record-breaking goal-haul in 2012 as evidence of his Ballon d’Or credentials.
But barring the most nerdy football anorak, can anyone honestly say they had heard of Gerd Mueller’s original feat before Messi began closing in, and the media were whipped up into a sycophantic frenzy of excitement? Records have always been about seasons, rather than calendar years.
What’s more, it’s dubious that Messi is the even record-holder after legitimate-sounding claims from Brazil’s Zico and Zambia’s Godrey Chitalu were waved away by FIFA. You can bet if Ronaldo had claimed the “record”, then the governing body would be much more willing to examine Chitalu’s claims.
The clean-cut and humble Messi is quickly forgiven for any average performances for club and country (admittedly, there aren’t many).
But Ronaldo – well-preened and cocky – is invariably criticised by pundits, fans and the media after quiet performances and has more pressure on his shoulders than the Argentine.
Messi was anonymous over two legs against a defensive Chelsea side in the Champions League semi-final and the Blues were rightly praised for stifling Barca’s biggest threat.
But when the Ronaldo was kept quiet in Real’s 2-1 first-leg defeat to Bayern Munich at the same stage, the 27-year-old was slammed by the media as ‘ineffective’, while well-organised Bayern received little credit for their stoic defensive display.
8. Big games
The most bizarre accusation labelled at Ronaldo is that the 27-year-old does not perform on the biggest stage in the most crucial matches.
This is pure fallacy.
In Barcelona and Real Madrid’s biggest European matches of last season, their Champions League semi-finals with Chelsea and Bayern Munich respectively, Ronaldo outshone Messi.
While the Portuguese scored twice for Real in the second-leg against Bayern (but admittedly missed a penalty in the shootout), Messi was silenced by an average Chelsea outfit and missed a spot-kick that would have surely seen Barca through.
Earlier in the year, Ronaldo broke the record for scoring in consecutive El Clasicos, netting in six straight clashes with Barcelona, proving he does not shirk the big occasion.
7. All-round game
Statistics, teamwork and personality aside, there is a compelling argument that Ronaldo is simply a more complete footballer than his Ballon d’Or rival Messi.
While Messi’s goals are predominantly cool finishes with his left-foot, the Portuguese is capable of scoring with either foot or his head, and is more adept at finding the net from distance than Messi.
Indeed, Ronaldo has scored more headed goals and more free-kicks than Messi in the past three seasons and also has a better conversion rate from the penalty spot.
6. Variety and quality of goals
Above is a video of Ronaldo’s top ten goals from the 2011/12 La Liga season.
As illustrated, the Portuguese is capable of scoring with either foot or his head and can finish off team moves as well as score free-kicks from distance.
Messi’s top ten goals are also sublime but the majority are well-finished team moves, orchestrated by the midfield pass-masters Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets.
5. Ronaldo is more important to club and country than Messi
Advocates of Messi will claim that he is more of a team player than Ronaldo but it is absurd to suggest that Barcelona need Messi more than Real Madrid need Ronaldo.
The core of Barcelona’s team proved that Messi is not crucial to their success, leading a legendary Spain side to back-to-back European Championships and a World Cup. There’s a compelling argument that Barca too could be just as successful without the Argentine.
Ronaldo, meanwhile, carries the Real Madrid team. If he doesn’t score, Jose Mourinho’s men invariably struggle.
Messi may provide more assists than Ronaldo but it’s easy to gel with a team when you’ve been playing in the same style, with the same teammates since aged 11.
At international level too, Ronaldo inspired an average Portugal team to the semi-finals of Euro 2012, while, without the assistance of Xavi, Iniesta and co., Messi has struggled for Argentina at their last two major tournaments.
4. Direct confrontation
In matches between Real Madrid and Barcelona in 2012, Ronaldo has doubled Messi’s goal-haul, netting 8 times to Messi’s 4.
3. Crucial goals
Titles and not records are what matter in football and goals are what win titles.
Ronaldo may have scored less goals than Messi in 2012 but the former Manchester United man scored when it mattered; Messi did not.
The Portuguese netted in both legs of the SuperCopa to hand Real Madrid the crown, while he bagged a number of key goals to help secure the La Liga title, including a hattrick against Atletico Madrid in the derby, a brace at Sevilla and, of course, the winner in April’s all-important El Clasico.
Messi, conversely, had a golden opportunity to score his side’s most crucial goal of last season – but fluffed his lines, missing a penalty against Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final.
Real Madrid may have lost to Bayern Munich in the other semi, but Ronaldo scored both goals to take the match to penalties.
2. Euro 2012
While a Spain team made up almost entirely of Barcelona players again proved that it does not need Messi for success, the same cannot be said of Portugal and Ronaldo.
The forward was sublime in Euro 2012, carrying an average Portuguese side to within a penalty shootout of beating the World Champions in the semi-final and finishing joint-top scorer in the process.
Ronaldo’s 3 goals moved him to third in the all-time list of European Championship scorers – no mean feat considering it is the most competitive international tournament in world football.
Including both qualification and the finals, the forward also finished joint-top scorer with the Netherlands’ Klass-Jan Huntelaar.
Messi, meanwhile, floundered at the 2011 Copa America, playing for an Argentina side packed with stars. The Barca man failed to score a single goal, as the Argentines were eliminated in the quarter-finals by Uruguay.
Lionel Messi said it himself: “My goals are to win titles with the team. The Spanish league, Spanish Cup or Champions League is more important than any personal records.”
Very true, Leo. But the only title Messi won in 2012 was the Copa Del Rey.
Ronaldo, conversely, was comfortably Real’s best player as Los Blancos claimed the all-important La Liga crown and the SuperCopa, finishing 9 points clear of Barca in the league.
Fans of Messi will point out that the Argentine outscored Ronaldo last season and therefore deserves more personal accolades. But in the 2010/11 season, Ronaldo comfortably outscored Messi in La Liga (scoring 40 goals to Messi’s 31) but the Barca star was handed the Ballon d’Or on the basis of titles won.
If the criteria keeps changing to suit Messi, Ronaldo will never stand a chance.
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