Chhetri: Why I voted for Messi

There’s never a dull moment when you’re watching a game that Lionel Messi is part of. Even the sanest of commentators let their guard down while describing the Argentinian wriggling past four, five and six defenders with alarming ease.

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have made the Ballon d'Or their own little affair, winning the last eight awards between them.   -  AP

Neymar was the first Brazilian to finish in the top three of the Ballon d'Or awards after Kaka had won the honour in 2007.   -  Getty Images

The debate will keep raging on, but the FIFA Ballon d’Or has settled matters, at least for now. Lionel Messi walked away with the prestigious gong a record fifth time earlier this month, and I had my own ‘I told you so’ moment with a voting form to back the claim, thanks to the FIFA allowing captains of national teams to have a say!

 

Before I dissect the reasons for my choices — I called Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar, in that order — I’d like to highlight the honour that lies in being able to have an opinion that counts while choosing the best footballer in the world. As professional as I try to be, there is that fan inside me that jumps with excitement at being able to have a say in something that involves absolute legends of a game that is my life.

It’s no secret how big a fan of Messi I am, but I’m being honest when I say I kept every hint of bias aside while making my choice. It was a small battle I kept having with my conscience but Messi did more than enough on the pitch to kill any sort of doubt about whether my choice was tinted with partiality. To throw numbers at you, most of which you may already know, Messi was part of a Barcelona squad that won five trophies in the year, including the Champions League and the La Liga. That apart, he had 52 goals and 26 assists in 61 games for club and country in 2015! He averaged a goal every 101 minutes and an assist every 202 minutes. To top that, he scored in all six tournaments that Barcelona played in, in 2015 and of which they won five. If those staggering numbers won’t win you the award, I’ll stop believing in the sport.

But more astounding than what he does is how he does it. There’s never a dull moment when you’re watching a game that he’s part of. Even the sanest of commentators let their guard down while describing Messi wriggling past four, five and six defenders with alarming ease. That drop of the shoulder, the effortless change of pace and direction and the nutmeg that embarrasses the best — he has them all in his armoury. To have tricks is one thing and to have a finish like that of Messi is another. That’s what sets him apart. If he starts something crazy 60 yards out, he matches it with a perfect finish.

Assuming the Ronaldo fanatics are still reading this column, let me tell you that I have immense respect for the player that he is. I haven’t let my admiration of Messi turn a blind eye to what Ronaldo has been doing. He is a machine in every sense of the word. Messi is gifted while Ronaldo is crafted. The Portuguese has worked hard to reach where he has and I respect that immensely. However, when it comes to choosing between the two, Messi has done enough and more to swing my vote in his favour.

The other day, I was reading some statistics on social media that had listed the total number of goals a few top clubs in Europe had scored in all competitions over two seasons, and it ended with the number of goals shared between Messi and Ronaldo. The numbers drew a gasp!

Messi and Ronaldo have made the Ballon d’Or their own little affair, winning the last eight awards between them. While Neymar may be a footnote in all of this, I can assure you that the Brazilian will very soon do enough to make this more than just a two-horse race. The 23-year-old was the first Brazilian to finish in the top three of the awards after Kaka won the honour in 2007. He has a great future ahead of him. Neymar has shown that he can step up and lead the charge when Messi was ruled out for a bit recently.

To serve you a reminder of how tough this field is, I would like to throw up the name of Suarez again. How he hasn’t made the top of the nominees may be surprising but it also tells you of the level these players are performing at. The Uruguayan’s switch to Catalonia was met with a few doubts that he laid to rest with every passing goal. He is a treble winner, who has a goal in a European Cup final, spearheaded Barca’s Club World Cup triumph with five goals and currently leads the La Liga goal scoring charts. Again, the point of highlighting all this is to explain that casting your vote is not the easiest of tasks.

But, at the end of it, knowing that I had a part to play in deciding something this prestigious is always humbling. That my favourite player happened to earn my vote and win will always be a pleasant coincidence!