I asked my colleague in Revista de la liga and the Spanish football coverage, the statistician and excellent goalkeeper James Wheeler, to put in stats a feeling I have had for a few months now. That despite what Messi has done for Barcelona this year, there is a case to be made for Ronaldo as the best player of 2012. James has done a brilliant job.
THE CASE FOR RONALDO
Lionel Messi has had a brilliant 2012 for Barcelona and Argentina. Once more endless goals and awards have flowed in the past 12 months. Highlights include becoming Barca’s leading scorer in March with a hat-trick v Granada, becoming the first player to score 5 goals in a Champions League tie, a European record 73 goals last season and finally he is only a few goals away from breaking Gerd Muller’s record of goals in a calendar year for club and country.
So when top Spanish journalist and Sky Sports colleague Guillem Balague asked to me prove that Cristiano Ronaldo and not Lionel Messi is the deserving winner of the 2012 Balon D’Or I thought I had my work cut out.
I firstly would like to say the purpose of this article is not to say that Cristiano Ronaldo is a better player than Lionel Messi. As a statistician that is not for me to comment on. I am just trying to prove that in 2012, Cristiano is a more deserving winner that his counterpart at Barcelona.
When the sides met in the first La Liga Clasico of the season in October many believed it was a straight shootout for the award and not just an early season meeting between both heavyweights. Once again they couldn’t be split as both of our gladiators scored twice in a thrilling 2-2 draw.
So how do I split them? Very difficult . . . . my first argument would be that you cannot judge both players on purely goals. Messi has scored more goals than Ronaldo in 2012. Messi has 72 goals for Barcelona this year while Ronaldo has 57 goals for Los Blancos. Both goal tallys have been outstanding and Messi’s total is truly staggering. Barcelona’s current style of play is all based around getting the ball to Messi in the final third of the field and let him work his magic, while although Ronaldo is Real’s main attacking weapon, he is forced into playing in different positions along the front to suit the team and against stronger opponents they are set up on the break.
When Messi first broke into the Barcelona team in the mid 2000s he played in a front three alongside Eto’o and Ronaldinho and he was primarily playing second fiddle to these great players. As Rijkaard’s team became Pep’s, Messi’s importance grew and grew and after the departures of first Ronaldinho and then Eto’o he became the number 1 attacking weapon and took on the role of the ‘false 9’ position.
Ronaldo while mainly playing on the left of a three behind either Benzema or Higuain, he has also been shifted into the ‘number 9’ position and also into a position off the front man. This switching of positions is always to help the good of the team when in my opinion Barca under Pep and now Vilanova are all set up to feed Messi and get the best out of him.
If you look into possession Barcelona dominate Real Madrid. In 2012 in La Liga, Barcelona have averaged just over 70% possession in games, while Real average just a shade over 57%. More possession means more touches and Messi leads Ronaldo with the diminutive Argentinean averaging 83 touches per game to Ronaldo’s 57. More touches means more chances to impress and thus Ronaldo having 25 touches fewer means he has to make more things happen.
Another argument into why Ronaldo should win the Balon D’Or and not Messi is that although both players are great individuals, it is a team game. In terms of trophies, Real have had a much more successful 2012 than Barcelona. Although both clubs were defeated in the Champions League semi-finals, a Ronaldo inspired Real Madrid lifted their first La Liga title since 2008 while Messi’s Barcelona only lifted the Copa Del Rey. Also although of much lesser importance, Los Blancos defeated Barca in the Spanish Super Cup at the start of this season with both players scoring in each leg.
There was a key period of just over a week in 2012 which I think justifies why Ronaldo would be a more worthy winner of the this year. In the middle of April both sides had 2 legs of a Champions League semi-final with the final El Clasico of the season sandwiched in between. Messi failed to score in all 3 games which is his joint worst run without a goal in 2012 and bearing in mind these 3 games were season defining they have to be taken into consideration. Barca were on the wrong end of all 3 results, seeing their dream of another treble evaporate into thin air.
In both legs against Chelsea he was quieter than normal and he missed a 49th min penalty in the second leg at the Camp Nou which would probably have seen Barca reach the final in Munich rather than the crafty Cockneys of Chelsea.
Ronaldo’s Real crashed out of their semi-final on penalties against Bayern and although he missed his penalty in the shootout, he scored twice in normal time including once from the penalty spot to give Real a chance of reaching the final in Bavaria.
The Clasico meeting in April decided the La Liga title with Real 4pts ahead of Barca at kick off and with difficult remaining games they couldn’t afford to lose at the home of their great rivals. Real won for the first time in 4 La Liga visits and with Messi quieter than usual it was left to Ronaldo to decide the fate of the La Liga title with a brilliant winning goal with the sides deadlocked at 1-1.
Other arguments for Ronaldo and facts that should be considered, are that he has scored more Clasico goals in 2012 than Messi. Ronaldo has scored in all 6 Clasicos this year (7 goals). This made him the first player from either side to score in 6 consecutive Clasicos.
Messi has scored only a shoddy 4 goals in 6 Clasico apps in 2012.
In conclusion so why should Ronaldo be crowned the World’s best player this year? Ronaldo is the heartbeat of Real and I believe if you took both Messi and him out of their respective teams, Real would struggle more than Barca. Although Real’s squad is stronger than Barca’s, in my opinion Messi’s fellow 10 starters are more capable of adapting to life without Messi than their counterparts in Madrid are.
I think Ronaldo showed on his worth to Los Blancos on Saturday night in the Madrid Derby. In a drab first half a world class free kick from CR7 effectively gave Real the win over their City rivals and thanks to Ronaldo they still just about holding onto Barca’s coat tails at the top of La Liga. Real should do whatever they can to keep him happy and contracted to them. With whispers of his unhappiness leaking into the Spanish media, Real cannot afford to let him leave.
Whoever will be announced as the winner in Zurich on January 7 will be a worthy winner and if Messi does win the award for an unprecedented 4th consecutive time who am I to argue. His performances, goals and stats speak themselves in 2012. However if you did a little deeper, you may just think that the boy from Madeira may for this year, be a slightly more deserving winner.
James Wheeler is a Football Statistican for Sky Sports
Follow him on twitter : @Wheels_1980