The Observer (Kampala)

10 January 2013

Uganda: Blueprint On Solving Ballon d'Or Controversy

I have every reason to love Lionel Messi. We share a birthday- June 24. And what a pleasure it has been seeing him break all these records, including his 91 goal haul in the calendar year of 2012.

He's undoubtedly the world's best player. But that isn't to say that his latest Fifa Ballon d'Or accolade, picked up on Monday night in Switzerland wasn't contested. If you asked me whether I would have picked Messi as the world's best this time, my answer would be:

"I don't know."

It's not a case of sitting on the fence. I've simply failed to dissect the criteria used to pick these great players. The selection process is so consistently undefined. In the 2007/2008 season when Manchester United won both the Premier League and the Champions League, Ronaldo was unstoppable, scoring 44 goals that season.

He won the Ballon d'Or consequently.

Equally, there wasn't any dispute when Messi took the 2009 following his treble (La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League titles) with Barcelona in the 2008/2009 season. But in the 2009/2010 season when clearly Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder and Argentine striker Diego Milito were instrumental in leading Internazionale to a treble, neither of them made it even on the short-list of the final three.

In addition, Sneijder was impressive at the 2010 World Cup, leading Holland to the final. Yet, even if Messi underperformed in South Africa, the Ballon d'Or went to him. This made me wonder and while I still follow the proceedings, the Ballon d'Or isn't a subject that takes my breath anymore. But as someone who loves football, I can chip my two cents worth on how Fifa could pick an authentic winner.

A panel of technocrats

Let's face it; the winner of this award must emerge from a scientific process, not just a popular vote. Because few people invest time in watching football and all its detail, football experts are needed to thoroughly scrutinize every technical detail. The popular vote is misleading and subjective. Because Sneijder wasn't widely known, few constituents would ever vote him. Just imagine a situation where Ugandans were the ones voting.

Few of them watch Serie 'A', the Bundesliga, La Liga and the French Ligue 1 let alone their own Super League. To most, the world begins and ends with the English Premier League and if they had their way, Wayne Rooney would be the Ballon d'Or winner.

Continuous appraisal

A year is a long time and unless a process of continuous appraisal is undertaken, it's hard to remember one's all-year performance. Maybe a world player of the month is worth considering, so that whoever wins most monthly awards emerges winner.

A statistics module

This is where aspects like passes completed, tackles won, successful crosses, defensive blocks, saves by goalkeepers, assists and, above all, goals would be tallied. This looks like hard-work but it's vital because it's a tie-breaker in presenting individual performances. Applying information technology systems to keep such data is of utmost significance.

Specify criteria

There's no chance in hell that a footballer plying his trade outside Europe could ever win this award. The top leagues and players are in Europe. So Fifa can set up a league coefficiency platform where each bit of success is given a weight. Since the Italian, English, German and Spanish leagues are on equal footing, whichever top player wins any of those titles should receive equal marks.

The same evaluation should be undertaken for the World Cup, Euro Championships, Champions League, Europa League Cup and other pieces of silverware competed for domestically in Europe. Once that's done, valid concerns like the one raised by Ronaldo (he wondered, following Monday's events, whether it was individual brilliance or achievement that mattered) won't arise.

To some, Ronaldo is simply sour-graping. But Fifa is duty-bound to explain their criteria as they pick the world's best.

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