Ballon d’Or: Captains, Coaches, and Media

Would the results of the Ballon d’Or have been different if just the media had been voting?

Click through to find out.

Please note that the statistics come from my own spreadsheet, and don’t completely match up with what FIFA says the percentages are. I’m not sure why, but I’ve checked it multiple times, and I don’t think I made a mistake. Regardless, the few discrepancies that exist are quite small (literally a couple votes), and don’t affect the placement.

I’m not going to list out everyone, just the top 8 – after that the numbers are just so small it starts to get pointless.

Placement Total Captains Coaches Media
1 Leo Messi (41.6%) Leo Messi (39.7%) Leo Messi (44.4%) Leo Messi (40.8%)
2 Cristiano Ronaldo (23.7%) Cristiano Ronaldo (21.7%) Cristiano Ronaldo (23.1%) Cristiano Ronaldo (26.3%)
3 Iniesta (10.9%) Iniesta (10%) Iniesta (8%) Iniesta (15%)
4 Xavi (4.1%) Xavi (5.8%) Falcao (4.2%) Casillas (5.1%)
5 Falcao (3.7%) Falcao (3.5%) Xavi (3.8%) Falcao (3.4%)
6 Casillas (3.1%) Pirlo (3.1%) Pirlo (2.6%) Xavi (2.7%)
7 Pirlo (2.7%) Drogba (2.8%) Drogba (2.6%) Pirlo (2.4%)
8 Drogba (2.6%) Casillas (2.2%) Casillas (2.4%) Drogba (2.4%)

Areas of Interest:

1) Finalists. It’s worth acknowledging that, unlike in some previous years, the finalists would have remained the same (and in the same order) even if the structure of the Ballon d’Or had just included one of these groups.

However, within that, there are some interesting peculiarities.

All three did relatively poorly among captains. That was both Messi and Ronaldo’s poorest showing by a fairly significant margin, and Iniesta didn’t do especially well among them, either (though his poorest showing was among coaches). Conversely, Messi did very well indeed among coaches, where both Ronaldo and Iniesta did best with the media.

2) Captains. There was greater variation among the captains than the other three groups. The average percentage of votes cast for the three finalists was 76.2%. It was 75.5% for coaches, and among the media, it reached as high as 82.1%. Among captains, however, it was only 71.4%. Captains were also the only group whose combined votes did not reach 90% of ballots cast for the top eight.

As I said, they were comparatively unfavorable toward the three finalists, and to most of the players in general. On the other hand, they did provide a substantial boost to Xavi and a more moderate boost to Pirlo and Drogba.

It’s difficult to understand exactly why they voted the way they did and had greater variation than coaches or the media. Club and national loyalties may play some role in it, but given how many captains there are and how few have any meaningful relationship with the finalists, you’d have expected it to mostly even out.

Personally, I suspect that part of it is based in the fact that as professional players, they have a wider range in what skill sets they value. The captains cast a lot more votes for players who are more defensive than anyone else, and most of them weren’t situations like Casillas voting for Ramos, where there is conceivably some loyalty involved. That’s just a suspicion, though.

3) Coaches. They showed less variation than captains, but more than the media, and they also did not provide the most votes to most of the players in the top eight.

The exceptions to that are Messi and Falcao. Messi got a huge boost from the coaches – it wasn’t going to be close, anyway, but they gave him almost 5% more of their votes than the captains did theirs. A player can’t actually win more than about 56% of the vote if most voters use all three of their votes – as almost all of them do – so 5% is pretty significant. Falcao’s boost was smaller – only about .7% – but given the radically lower numbers he got in the first place, that’s still pretty significant.

So what is it about Messi and Falcao that makes them so appealing to coaches? I’m honestly not sure. If you have any thoughts, feel free to share them!

4) The media. As said above, the media provided a significantly greater percentage of Ronaldo and Iniesta’s votes than captains or coaches did. That’s particularly interesting in light of some concerns leading up to voting that the media would be overcritical of Ronaldo. They also really, really liked Casillas, as you can see in the above chart.

Why did the media vote this way?

Realistically, I’m sure they all had different motivations. However, such strong trends shouldn’t just be dismissed lightly, and I think they say something important. My interpretation is that the media as a whole values flashy, and a lot of them also value trophies. That wouldn’t be shocking – that tends to be what they cover. It’s also worth pointing out that

Ronaldo and Iniesta are both players for whom it’s possible to pluck out moments of brilliance in almost every game – as, of course, is Messi, who did get more than 40% of the media’s votes. Casillas has been more inconsistent lately than in the past, but he still produces a lot of great saves which we’ve all seen on match/weekend highlights, which may help explain his comparatively high numbers among the media.

And, of course, other than Messi – who is in his own special category – these are all players who in addition to being some of the flashiest players in the game won important team trophies. I suspect that’s a huge part of why the media valued them so highly.

So ends the Ballon d’Or analysis, part 1. Tune in in a few days for a post that looks at continental differences in voting – I’ll tell you right now that they do exist and are really, really interesting.

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13 responses to “Ballon d’Or: Captains, Coaches, and Media

  1. dream line-up for barca: valdes, alves, puyol, pique, alba, busquets, xavi, messi, iniesta, villa, pedro

    There are those who would replace Busquets with Fabregas (mostly passionate diver-haters) but Busquets is the one midfielder who primarily defends then creates passes upfield.

    I forgot that Messi could be considered as a midfielder. IVP won the world cup, even though Villa and Pedro were subbed off. They repelled a Van Persie, Kuyt, Sneijder, Robben attack. Netherlands, on paper, were equal opponents and IVP got the job done. Only difference I would make with this line-up is switch Iniesta with Messi. Either way, I think they’re lethal and hope they prove it.

    • that is, switch iniesta/messi positions. valdes, alves, puyol, pique, alba, busquets, xavi, iniesta, villa, messi, pedro.

      what is your line-up for the best starting XI RM can present?

      • God, the best starting line up for Madrid… who’s available, again?

        It depends on a few things. First, is Diego Lopez cup-tied? He should be, since he’s played for Sevilla in the Copa del Rey, especially Sevilla are still in the competition – most loopholes in the CL/Europa League, at least, require the team to have been knocked out already, but Sevilla are one of the last four – but I haven’t seen any mention of it in the media, so I don’t know. If he isn’t, for whatever reason, he should start. If not, it’ll have to be Adan.

        Outside of that… I honestly have no idea about the back line, because I really am having a tough time remembering who’s available. I’d probably put Albiol and Varane as the CBs, because I just don’t think Carvalho has the pace to deal with the likes of Iniesta, Messi, or Pedro/Villa, but I’m not sure about the fullbacks, in part because I don’t know Marcelo’s status at this point (which would obviously change things).

        Beyond that… I’d probably field Alonso and Khedira as the DMs, then Ozil, Modric, and Ronaldo, and Higuain up front. Di Maria is just too unreliable (and often downright poor) this season, and Modric is a much better player IMO. I also prefer Higuain to Benzema – statistically, he’s tended to show up more in big games in the last year and a half, and he’s been very effective against Barcelona recently. I think that it’s likely that Benzema will start, though, and I suspect Di Maria will as well.

    • Not to be rude (well, maybe a little), but anyone who would replace Busquets with Cesc when Busquets was actually available is insane. Cesc is a very, very good player, but he’s not a defensive midfielder, and he’s not Busquets.

      Messi can play as a midfielder and Iniesta can play as a winger, but I definitely wouldn’t switch them around. Spain is different than Barcelona in some key ways, and most importantly, Iniesta-Villa-Pedro didn’t win the final. When the goal finally came, it was Iniesta and the three substitutes – Navas, Cesc, and Torres – who made it happen. That buildup was quintessential Cesc and Navas – Villa and Pedro couldn’t have done it in the same way.

      I love Villa, but I think that ultimately, you can’t argue with Cesc’s form of late, or with his great connection with Messi. Villa’s got a good connection with Messi, but there’s something really special about the way Cesc and Messi work together that I think probably comes in part out of the fact that they played together back in the beginning – though Alba and Iniesta also have the same kind of special telepathic link up play in a lot of ways, and I have no idea where that comes from. I expect to see Cesc start in the midfield and Iniesta up on the wing, with Villa subbed in at some point for either Cesc or Pedro.

      But who knows – Tito likes to surprise us! I have faith in him – I’m sure he’ll make the right call.

  2. Only professional football match I’ve been to was Barcelona v Real Betis in Sevilla last May. Great atmosphere, great team, great game. The crowd cheered Iniesta when he was subbed off, grateful for his contribution to Spanish football.

    • Betis are such a great team. I’d love to see them in Europe next season (though not at the expense of Valencia). If Messi wasn’t going to beat the record at the Camp Nou, I was so glad that he did it in Betis – it’s such a great atmosphere. (And in terms of pure aesthetics, I love their stadium.)

      • Beautiful city, beautiful stadium. All the Betis fans were kind to me as well, even though I was supporting Barca (I kept calm during the match, ha ha).

      • Yeah, I remember that game – it was really good! (And further evidence that Busquets scoring is like a jinx that proves Barcelona are not going to win. :P)

      • Finally Villa plays an entire game.
        He didn’t score but he still proved his worth by providing two great assists.
        The only waste of pitch today was Alexis. I don’t understand why Barca keeps passing him the ball. I guess they feel bad for him.

        I expect a very similar line-up for RM match on Wednesday.
        Valdes, Alves, Puyol, Pique, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Fabregas, Pedro, Messi, Iniesta is my prediction, although I prefer Pedro, Messi, Villa.
        I love Fabregas but I wouldn’t mind Iniesta mid and Villa on the wing instead. Wouldn’t be surprised if Adriano or Thiago saw pitch time either. What do you think?

      • Villa was great today. I was really hoping for him to score, but honestly, he did well enough that hopefully they’ll see his worth and he’ll get more time. It’s unfortunate that he’s having to fight with Iniesta for a spot now, too. Iniesta being up there is probably helping the team more as a whole, but MVP is just lethal.

        I agree that your line up is the mostly likely, other than Valdes – since it’s a CDR match, Valdes would really only step in if Pinto was injured.

        The Cesc/Villa question is a good one, and one I’m not sure I know the answer to. I love Cesc, and I think he really adds an enormous amount to the attack and helps to control the midfield and push the opposition back. That will be vital if Barca’s defense continues to be dodgy. I also think that Iniesta’s ability to walk through people while maintaining possession could be vital, especially considering the backline they’ll likely be fielding, and that’s something that only Iniesta can do. Additionally, Madrid have very little experience containing a Xavi-Busquets-Cesc midfield with Iniesta on the wing, and it’s a formation Barcelona have become quite accustomed to playing with, which could give them an edge.

        Ultimately, I think I prefer Iniesta-Messi-Pedro, Iniesta for the reasons I mentioned and Pedro because he got a little extra rest and has been in good form for a longer period of time. However, if Cesc (or Pedro) isn’t getting the job done (or perhaps even if he is), I think Villa will probably be subbed in at some point.

        If Adriano or Thiago come in, I suspect it’ll be toward the end, but it wouldn’t shock me if they did.

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