Paul Kelly (France Football magazine’s Ireland correspondent) and Jimmy Magee (RTÉ) omitted Lionel Messi in their vote for the Ballon d’Or prize. Here Kelly explains the reasons for their decision.
Sublime individual talent that didn’t translate into major team trophies. Such was the story of Lionel Messi’s 2012, when his amazing tally of goals could not prevent FC Barcelona losing their La Liga and European crowns. Significantly, the great man fell short in the three matches that mattered most of all (against Real Madrid and Chelsea, twice, in April).
So when Jimmy Magee and I cast our vote in the media college for the Fifa Ballon d’Or, we favoured three players whose gifts throughout the year contributed more to the collective success of their respective teams.
We gave our first preference to Cristiano Ronaldo. His consistent striking helped Real Madrid replace Barca as champions of Spain, most notably when he scored the winning goal at Camp Nou on a night when Messi failed to shine. Ronaldo also enjoyed an impressive — if not stellar — Euro-2012 for Portugal, scoring three goals.
Our second choice was Andres Iniesta, the stand-out figure in Spain’s superb European Championship triumph.
His speed of thought and footwork set him apart as the tournament’s most influential performer, a point recognised in his award as Uefa Player of the Finals and the Best Player in Europe prize for Season 2011-12.
Since then, his brilliant form has been key to Barca’s return to the top of La Liga.
In third place we named Andrea Pirlo. The pass master took on a new challenge by joining Juventus last season, and he inspired them to the Serie A title with a series of authoritative displays as Antonio Conte’s team remained unbeaten. Then, at Euro 2012, he proved the value of vision and distribution as Italy unexpectedly progressed to the final.
If five votes were permitted (as they were up to 2009), Messi’s magnificent scoring spree would have been reflected in our list, of course.
We gave him our first preference on two previous occasions (2009 and 2011), when he delivered in the biggest club matches to win major trophies.
But in 2012 we believed Ronaldo had a stronger claim to the prize (just as we preferred Xavi two years ago), while the achievements of Iniesta and Pirlo also deserved recognition.
Messi, who admitted in 2010 he thought Xavi should have been honoured following Spain’s World Cup win, said yesterday he would have liked Iniesta to be crowned this year, a sentiment echoed by 1969 Ballon d’Or winner Gianni Rivera.
Reflecting on his bleak April, which featured defeats by Real Madrid and Chelsea in three crunch matches when he failed to score, Messi told France Football: "That [the Chelsea tie] makes me sick. I still think about it a lot.
"I suffered a long time after that.
"All that [including the Madrid defeat] makes me sad because I want to win every time, but that’s not always possible. So now you have to learn to accept it."