It’s 2017 and Lionel Messi has now won five ballons d’or, but the most recent winner is Cristiano Ronaldo, winning his fourth in 2016; here’s a throwback to the time I wrote about how they are perceived by world football’s governing body.
“Founded in 1823 and described as ‘the last bastion of free speech’, the Oxford Union is the most famous debating society in the world.”
That is what the Oxford Union has to say about itself on its official, verified Twitter page. This slogan is derived from Harold Macmillan’s opinion of the Oxford Union which became apparent when he called it.. Guess what? “The last bastion of free speech in the Western world.”
So, what part has the Oxford Union Society to play in an article with a very provocative title that has a clear indication towards the international governing body of football? Well, it was on their invitation that the President of FIFA, Joseph Blatter addressed the audience on various aspects of world football. It was in the venerable independent debating hall of this Society that he was posed a question on a very divisive issue; one that can be compressed down to this: Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi? His answer was interesting. I’m sure every football fan has heard it as it seems to be the most talked about issue in football fandom, in multiple social media forums, throughout the past month. On the other hand, if you haven’t heard it yet, let me pull you out of your shell and introduce you to the crux around which the substantive matter of this article revolves:
After having watched this segment of the interview quite a few times and having analyzed all the 3 minutes of it that “Sepp” Blatter spoke for, I must say that the conclusions arrived at aren’t as damning as some of those that are in free circulation today. Let’s all not just give this segment a superficial watch, rather let’s get into the depths of what has transpired here before adding to the hue and cry that was engendered as a result of the comments made.
We must keep in mind that the questioner asked the President of FIFA a very direct and pointed question. We must also keep in mind that the question has no right answer. There is only one player that Blatter can choose of the two options and he’s done a commendable job in putting across his point.
He begins by complimenting the exceptional abilities of both the players in question. He also displays awareness of what is currently going on in football by stating that Ibrahimovic too must be considered when this topic is being debated as he has shown that he possesses an extra gear in the twilight of his career, or rather the age at which most footballers are considered to be in the twilight of their careers. Without a doubt, Ibrahimovic is like wine, seems to be getting better with age. At this point, we can say that he has rated Messi and Ronaldo to be equally great players. A fair 1 all, in scoring terms. He then chooses to point out the differences in style between the two players. He acknowledges that they’re “totally different” which in more ways than one, is absolutely true. No doubts about it, no qualms either. Thereafter, he doesn’t castigate any player in absence by stating one style is better than the other. Rather, he says that football thrives on this difference of stars.
Moving on to the differences pointed out by Blatter. In a condescending fashion, he states that “Lionel Messi is a good boy that every father, every mother would like to have at home”. Doesn’t sound like the highest of praises when you’re talking about a professional footballer, who would consider it an honor if his characteristics on the field were being complimented by the President of FIFA as opposed to how nice it would be to have him at home, as a son, no less. The FIFA President goes on to correct this by saying that Messi is really fast, not exuberant and he’s dancing with the ball at his feet. After stating these facts, he comes back to the point where he says that Messi’s a good boy. These qualities in conjunction with each other, according to Blatter, are what makes him so popular and garners him so many votes. This may or may not be true, but the fact that Messi has won so many Ballons D’Or in the recent past make this a viable premise to that apparent result. He then talks about the qualities of ‘The Other One’, Cristiano Ronaldo. I’m quite surprised that this appellation hasn’t caught on, due to the precedence of Portuguese in football with a nickname having a ‘One’ in it. This time, on the other hand, Blatter begins with a massive compliment to the on-field qualities of the player he’s talking about. He calls him a “Commander of the field of play”, which for some inexplicable reason has drawn a lot of ire from football fandom, the world over. He also explicitly points out that this other side of football is something that football requires, that it is good to have such commanders on the field. Soon after, the President again goes lax on the compliments and states that “one has more expenses for the hairdresser than the other but that doesn’t matter”. In essence, there is nothing wrong with what he said. He was, at all times, either pointing out facts or stating what was factually correct, from his viewpoint. He didn’t state that any player was better than the other all throughout the comparison but thoroughly entertained the crowd with the way a septuagenarian would play with a ‘Good Boy’ at his home and by saying that ‘The Other One’ spends a little extra on looking good. Both of these could be interpolated to be demeaning to the sportsmen but were never meant to be. So, overlooking the equivocalness of these and because of the compliment that each man has received from the President of FIFA, we set the score at a final 2 all.
This little talk by the often bumbling President of FIFA also shows his astute political side. Near the final third of the talk he says that he cannot point out the best but deflects the decision to the competition in which the football community will decide who is. He also tells the audience about the competition among the lady footballers, a way of saying that the sport and its governing body does not discriminate on the basis of gender.
Finally though, he takes advantage of the occasion and speaks freely at ‘the last bastion of free speech’. He does so by giving a decisive answer to the divisive question. He says that he likes both players but he prefers Messi. This is a personal viewpoint but has raised a further hullabaloo where it shouldn’t have. The President clearly stated that there is, in his eyes, no difference in talent, quality and on-field accomplishments between the two superstars of football. He didn’t show one player to be of a lower caliber than the other. He also cracked a few jokes about and had a good laugh at the expense of both of them. But, it must be kept in mind that the President of FIFA and his staff never vote to decide the winner of the FIFA Ballon D’Or. The coaches and captains of international teams, as well as journalists from around the world cast their votes to pick the winner. The staff of FIFA only counts them. Therefore, his personal viewpoint does not affect the result of the competition and shouldn’t cast any doubts about the legitimacy of its results, as many people have opined.
So again, FIFAvored?
No. Not a chance.