Lionel Messi, the football icon, is once again a frontrunner for the Ballon d’Or, a record eighth time if he secures the coveted trophy given to the best footballer of the season (previously, yearly award). Thanks to his World Cup 2022 victory in Qatar, Messi’s claim to the award seems strong, but it raises the question: does he genuinely deserve the 2023 Ballon d’Or?
Let’s look at the key criteria and the stats of Messi vs Erling Haaland, the other frontrunner for the France Football Magazine award.
Criteria to Become a Ballon d’Or Winner
It’s essential to note that the Ballon d’Or criteria changed in 2021, a shift from the traditional, now focusing on a complete football season rather than the calendar year.
This shift means Messi’s last season, that started in August of 2022 and ended late in July 2023, with PSG and the Argentine National Team is under scrutiny. Same goes for Haaland.
The Ballon d’Or considers individual performance above all else, followed by the team’s performance and the athlete’s fair play, in that order.
As per official X handle of Ballon d’Or, following is the criteria to win the Ballon d’Or award:
- Individual performance, crucial actions and impressive on-field behavior
- Vital role in the team and honours
- Be fair-play and classy on-field
Messi vs Haaland – Who Leads in Individual Performance?
When evaluating Messi’s season at PSG, his statistics do shine as he participated in 41 games, he scored 21 goals and provided 20 assists, stats from both Ligue 1 and the Champions League.
Though, he scored 4 goals in the Champions League, Messi failed to deliver anything crucial in PSG’s haunt for their first UCL title in their history. This ultimately led to both parties agreeing to part ways after Mess’s 2-years contract expired at the club.
It was clear from the very beginning that Messi was brought in PSG to help them win the UCL title and he failed to bring any substantial difference. Winning Ligue 1 title has not been hard for PSG considering they already had a star-studded side led by Kylian Mbappe and Neymar Jr.
PSG clinched the French league once again by a mere one-point margin over Lens in 22/23 season. However, their Champions League journey ended in disappointment as Bayern Munich overpowered them in the round of 16 with a resounding 3-0 aggregate score. Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe’s powerful attacking trio failed to deliver on the big night once again.
Now for PSG’s teammates, statistically speaking, Kylian Mbappé outperforms Messi, with 41 goals and 9 assists in 43 games. This raises questions about Messi’s Ballon d’Or candidacy, especially when factoring in Mbappe’s World Cup performance where he almost single-handedly won France back-to-back title.
Messi’s World Cup stats show 7 goals and 3 assists. However, 4 of his 7 goals came from penalties, plus one missed penalty against Poland. Notably, no World Cup team has ever taken 5 penalties (excluding tiebreakers), with only two teams attempting 4 penalties in a tournament, a major controversy till date.
Even Netherlands’ coach Van Gaal, Croatia’s captain Luka Modric strongly spoke against the level of soft referees calls going in favor of Argentina and that World Cup was rigged for them.
Kylian Mbappé’s performances in the same World Cup should not be overlooked. France played against Argentina in the final, ending in a 3-3 draw and being decided on penalties. In that match, Mbappé scored a historic hat-trick, becoming the tournament’s top scorer with 8 goals and providing 2 assists.
However, Messi won the Best Player at World Cup for winning the title and desrvingly so. But his performance in a 3 week tournamnet couldn’t possibly be reason enough for him to win another ‘scandalous‘ Ballon d’Or. We will talk about how Haaland performed every single week for the whole season unlike Messi.
But before that, if Ballon d’Or criteria is for individual performance, Mbappé has a compelling case for the Ballon d’Or as well, possibly making him the favorite over Messi based on the numbers alone.
However, another key player emerges: Erling Haaland. The Norwegian forward had an outstanding first season at Manchester City, boasting staggering numbers that shadow those of Messi and Mbappé.
Haaland played 52 games under Guardiola, scoring 52 goals and recording 9 assists, making him the top scorer in the Premier League and the Champions League, two of the highest competive football competition of the season.
Manchester City secured both titles convincingly also winning the domestic cup to complete the treble, with Haaland leading the charge. He won best player awards in all these competitions with ease.
While Norway did not qualify for the World Cup in Qatar, this is unrelated to Haaland’s performance, as he has scored 16 goals in his last 14 games with the national team. Anyway, World Cup Golden Ball is literally there to award the best player at the tournament.
Comparing Messi’s statistics and individual importance to his team’s achievement to Mbappé’s shows a marked difference, and then Mbappé falls short of Haaland’s exceptional performance, both individualy and for his team.
It is clear Messi was the best player for Argentina at the Qatar World Cup, but he failed to have any real footballing impact outside that tournament. This brings the question in minds of many that how and why Messi is the favorite and a confirmed winner weeks before the Ballon d’Or ceremony and whether he truly deserves this year’s Ballon d’Or?
It’s going to be another controversial title in his otherwise illustrious career. What do you think, tell us in the comments section below!