The Ballon d’Or has had its fair share of controversy over the years.
Matthias Sammer was hardly undeserving of the award in 1996, but even now there’s still confusion over how he was picked ahead of Ronaldo Nazário. Michael Owen over Raúl in 2001 was perhaps a little bit more of a blatant mistake.
But it was in 2013 where the focus on the Ballon d’Or really shifted.
From then on, a player’s performances seemed to be secondary to the number of social media followers they had. That year, 2013, was the final nail in the coffin as the once-coveted Ballon d’Or became the popularity contest we know it as today.
In fairness, second place Lionel Messi and the eventual winner Cristiano Ronaldo had come off the back of incredible campaigns.
Barcelona’s Argentine wizard had scored 42 goals for club and country, while Ronaldo’s eyewatering tally of 66 left him far ahead of anyone else as 2013’s best goalscorer.
The Ballon d’Or’s other finalist, Franck Ribéry, had scored 22. Even his tally of 18 assists was only just ahead of Ronaldo and Messi’s 15 each, but the Bayern Munich star was more deserving than any other player to lift the award in 2013.
Even collectively, Messi and Ronaldo won less silverware than Ribéry. The two then La Liga stars only had one major honour between them thanks to Barcelona’s success in the league – Atlético Madrid had lifted the Copa del Rey, beating Real in the final – while Bayern Munich had an unprecedented treble.
Ribéry was the star of that team too. He was involved in 34 goals during Bayern Munich’s treble-winning campaign and truly was the best player in the club’s most successful team, achieving something that even Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Müller hadn’t managed some 40 years earlier.
Football can often be oversimplified when looking at the numbers, and that’s because even the most basic statistics don’t always give you the full picture.
Ronaldo scored 66 goals in 2013, that much is true. But he also achieved that after having more shots than the other two Ballon d’Or finalists combined.
Messi and Ribéry had a total of 238 shots either on or off target in that calendar year, while Ronaldo had taken 296. The Portuguese superstar was also worse off when it came to accuracy, conversion, passes, pass completion, interceptions, fouls committed, yellow cards, red cards… the list does go on.
But all that seemingly didn’t matter and Ronaldo won, proving once and for all that the quality of a player’s season doesn’t matter in the slightest.
Ribéry had been the best player on the planet in 2013 – that, if there is actually any doubt, was made pretty obvious when he scooped UEFA’s version of the Ballon d’Or – but the Frenchman didn’t have a country behind him, not even his own.
Did beach-goers who were dipping their feet into the sea on the Algarve want Ribéry or Messi to win? No. Were climbers on the Aconcagua mountain back Bayern Munich’s Frenchman or Ronaldo? Of course not.
But were the streets of Paris filled with Messi and Ronaldo fans? You bet.
Ribéry never stood a chance.
Luka Modrić’s Ballon d’Or title wreaked of a pathetic attempt to make up for 2013’s injustice, as well as Wesley Sneijder’s in 2010, with the goalposts constantly changing over what makes someone the best player in the world.
But one thing is for certain. The once great, respected award that went to the best player from our beautiful game in any given year is now nothing more than a popularity contest which, even after Messi and Ronaldo retire, will only go to those with the most followers on Instagram.
Ribéry wasn’t the first player to ever be cheated out of the Ballon d’Or and the likelihood is he won’t be the last either, but it will always be that award in 2013 which is remembered as the time the coveted individual award really lost its shine.
For more from Ben Carter, follow him on Twitter!