By Jude Eze
The wisdom of former American freestyle wrestler and coach, Dan Gable defined Gold medals as “awards not really made of gold, but of sweat, determination, and a hard-to-find alloy called guts” On Monday, November 29, 2021 Lionel Messi characteristically set up another global record, thus maintaining his steady upward trajectory in raising the bar in the round leather game, when he bagged for the 7th time, the astral Ballon d’Or.
Ballon d’Or (French for; “Golden Ball”) is an annual football award presented by French news magazine — “France Football” that is one of the oldest and generally regarded as the most prestigious individual award for football players. It has been awarded since 1956, although between 2010 and 2015, an agreement was made with FIFA, and the award was temporarily merged with the FIFA World Player of the Year (founded in 1991) and known as the FIFA Ballon d’Or. However, the partnership ended in 2016, and the award reverted to the Ballon d’Or, while FIFA also reverted to its own separate annual award The Best FIFA Men’s Player.
For almost two decades, the struggle for the award has been predominantly a two-horse race between Cristiano Ronaldo and the diminutive Argentine ace player — Messi. Within those prolonged years of sharing the award exclusively between themselves, critics and fans were sharply divided along club/player choice sentiments between the two. Ever since, the world, especially diaspora African fans have endured rife, drawing comparison between the two. A comparison that generates unhealthy rivalry among them. Personally, I jettisoned such route for according to a popular Indian mystic and godman, Rajneesh more commonly called Osho: “Nobody is superior, nobody is inferior and nobody is equal either. People are simply unique, incomparable, you are you and I am I” Messi is Messi, unique and different. C.Ronaldo is C.Ronaldo, unique in his own talent and pattern of play as well. Both have humanitarian attributes. Yet people keeps digging a dungeon of dichotomy between then in malicious envy. But this years edition threw up unusual multi-directional reactions, fanned by strange extrinsic factors. It was for the first time fans were polarized in a novel bilateral paradigm with Ronaldo replaced by Polish prolific striker — Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Munichen in the dormant equation of who deserved the award more.
But how African fans of the game reacted to the whole episode, in both conventional and social media will form the fulcrum of this piece. While the ‘politics’ of who takes home the coveted prize raged across Europe and South America, back home, typical Nigerian fans were busy playing the race card, alleging (from the abode of emotions) that Messi is FIFA’s adopted son but giving him this year’s award over Lewandowski would be a grave injustice. The conspiracy theory is that it was a white-dominated exercise. But they forgot that Lewandowski is a European, and Messi South American. If racism played a role in the choice, it would have favoured Lewandowski more, because FIFA remains a European controlled global body. This is not to derobe FIFA of its alleged corruption garb, but people should learn not see shadows where none exists. Football may be a team effort, but the Ballon d’Or spotlights exceptional players from the previous campaign. Messi’s detractors complain as if he voted himself to victory. The Ballon d’or has its own procedures and set rules on how the best player in all the categories emerge. Messi is not incharge of any of these. How come the criticism? Why all the negative comments? Lewandowski came into the contest with number of goals he scored at club levels only. Messi came in with everything (goals scored and trophy won at both national and club levels); and all-rounder, a complete baller! The initial shortlist consisting of 30 names in contention for the Ballon d’Or is assembled by the editorial team at France Football, a French weekly football publication that is one of the most respected publications within the game.
Following the compilation of the 30-man shortlist, a jury of journalists representing a variety of footballing nations is put together, and they will then be given the task of voting for the players they deem worthy of first, second and third place. After the jury has been selected, they will then choose their top five players from within the 30-man shortlist and then proceed to rank them based on descending order of merit.
The rules and regulations that the jury will need to follow to choose and rank their top five selections are below: Individual and collective performances (winners) during the year. Player class (talent and fair play).Overall judgment of the player’s career. The top-ranking player from each journalist’s selection will receive six points, with the second-ranking player earning four points, then three, two and one going down from the rest of their top five picks. After each jury member has selected their top five players for the Ballon d’Or award, the total points are calculated and added, and the player to receive the most number of points will be awarded the top honour.
In the event of a tie for first place, however, the players are determined by the number of times they are voted in first place. If the tie still stands, then the tie-breaker will consider the number of votes for second place, and then by the number of votes for third place. If the tie continues, then a new ballot is organised to select a winner between the tied players. If, after all of this, a winner is still unable to be named, then the France Football editorial director – as chairman of the jury – will be called upon to make an ultimate decision. In the season under review, Messi won CONCACAF with Argentina for the first time in his career. After all the trolls about his not winning anything with his country. He played that tournament with his life and won. In any FIFA award, percentage points from National team stands at 70% ,then club 30%. That was the areas the coaches and captains look up before voting. Lewandowski points at National team is not up to 15%. The only person who would have beaten Messi is Jorginho, but no much goals and assist to his credit as his country, Italy won Euro 2020. In another lame theory, some of our indigenous fans sold the argument that Edouard Mendy of Senegal and Chelsea was denied being named the best goalkeeper of the year because of his skin colour. Playing racial card has been the forte of many third world countries each time the performance of their contingents fall below standard in career-defining awards.
As far back as 1858, following the U.S slave trade abolition law of January 1, 1808, slave trade was abolished by the same whites who engaged in it. And apartheid was put to an end in South Africa in 1990, when prominent ANC figures such as Nelson Mandela were released from prison. Apartheid legislation was repealed on 17 June 1991, leading to multiracial elections in April 1994.
Yet, many centuries/decades later, blacks still live in the antiquated inferiority complex. Mendy’s record was inferior to Gianluigi Donnarumma’s in that while he has better stats at club level, Donnarumma was pivotal in Italy’s triumph at Euro 2020. Mendy doesn’t have such record with Senegal. Yet we kept alleging racism where there is none. The problem of being accused of racism, when the allegation is untrue, is increasingly being tested by South Africa’s legal system. Whoever has acted improperly in the matter – whether it be the person who actually acted in a racist manner, of the person who made the allegation maliciously to smear the other’s reputation, or where no reasonable grounds to found the allegation exist – must bear the consequences.
Whites are not as discriminatory as we paint them. We’ve kept rating them from the prism of slave trade days, that we refused to see how in 1995, George Weah, won the award and the Whites never disputed it. Africa need to grow up above playing the race card for self-pity and showcasing image of victim by guilt-tripping the West.
May daylight spare us!
Eze writes via [email protected]