Ballon d’Or Analysis: Why Hasn’t Xavi Been Recognized?’s Ashish Sharma questions why the maestro hasn’t been duly acknowledged for his brilliance. recognized

There is no doubt or argument that Lionel Messi is worthy of receiving the highest accolades in football for what he has achieved particularly last season for Barcelona.

He finished as the fourth top scorer in La Liga and only Diego Forlan, Samuel Eto’o and David Villa netted more than he did. An astonishing feat considering that, unlike that exceptional trio, he is not a center forward. Messi of course also helped Barcelona to win a unique treble and scored a spectacular goal with his head in the Champions League final, against Manchester United.

Messi’s graduation to the Ballon d’Or summit has come after a solid apprenticeship, which has seen him eventually climb from third, to second last year, to finally become the winner this year. In a way, he really is the first, second and third best player in the world… and not Cristiano Ronaldo, as he had claimed last year.

What is truly typical of this humble mega star of the game – Messi, not Ronaldo – is that he recognizes that his feat is a team effort.  Speaking shortly after being named the 2009 European Footballer of the Year, Messi admitted that he felt any one of his other team-mates who were also nominated could have, and would have deserved to win the award. And Messi was also quick to praise Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola for what he has done for the player in helping him progress and develop.

So all is well. The world hails a new winner, an immensely likable, humble, down-to-earth player with an embarrassingly enormous amount of talent. At only 22 years old, Messi is one of a handful of players who in an instant can have the whole stadium leap up onto its feet with a moment of exceptional magic and skill.

Messi giving his club-mate Busquets a taste of thin air

But still something nags away in the background. You begin to wonder that if Messi is that fantastic, cool looking elegant sports car that everyone simply purrs at when it’s moving into top gear as smooth and quiet as anything, what about the designer? What about the engineer? The architect? The genius with the vision to come up with the concept and make it reality. What about that master craftsman who, on a turn, can slip a ball through an entire defense and give that motor the free space to show what it can do?

In the traffic jam of a congested midfield, what about that silky technician who can spin a ball out to any flank or ride a challenge and suddenly create space? The one who moves the ball with such ferocious burst of speed that opponents fall down in a twisted heap having been turned one way then the other with his mesmerizing passes? What of that professor of the game who controls the pace, rhythm and the tempo of everything not only for Barcelona but the Spanish national team as well? The player who Maradona recently singled out for praise among all the embarrassing riches of talent that Spain has to offer as a footballing nation?  

In short, what of Xavi Hernandez?

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Xavi is today by far and away the best footballer in the world by a country mile, or a million kilometres or by any other Earth or Martian measurement of distance you care to use. The diminutive midfielder who reminds me so much of the Hollywood star Andy Garcia with his clean cut Latin looks, is the best thing that has moved a midfield since any player you care to mention.

The intelligence in his eyes both on and off the field is remarkable. At 29 he is now playing through the peak of his career. And the only disappointing aspect about the Ballon d’Or is that it failed this year is to recognize that Xavi has consistently been an outstanding player for both club and country since coming back from tearing his knee ligaments in the 2005/2006 season.

It also failed to take into consideration that the incredible season Barcelona had was built upon the outstanding gift this player has for football. Failed to acknowledge that Spain winning the European Championship in 2008 was down to two key players: Marcos Senna and Xavi, who was named as the player of the tournament by UEFA.

The mastermind at work

If Fernando Torres scored an exceptional goal in the final against Germany to illustrate his talent as an outstanding marksman, then what words to describe the pass by Xavi that released him? That it failed to honor the player who, while Messi was heading home the second goal in the Champions League final, he was heading off to be named as the man of the match.  

His abilities are so great that you only have to look at the current winner, Leo Messi, in another context to realize how great Xavi is. Messi has struggled to work his magic for Argentina, who in the end despite having his rare skill to call upon, struggled to qualify for the World Cup finals. One of the reasons given for this, aside from the way the Argentine team is set up, is that there simply is not a player in the national team of the ability of Xavi who can release Messi to do his thing in the way the Spaniard does.

Similarly for all his individual brilliance, last year’s winner Cristiano Ronaldo for the most part of Portugal’s qualifying campaign, (when he wasn’t injured) failed to inspire his country. Whereas, whether its Messi or Samuel Eto’o in front of him, or if it’s David Silva or Villa, whether it’s Seydou Keita or Yaya Toure alongside him or if its Xabi Alonso and Senna, Xavi controls, dominates and inspires the national team in equal measures as he does his club side.  

Given all this you have to ask the question. At what point and what more does this player have to do to receive the recognition that is his entirely?

This time next year Xavi will be 30. There is no guarantee that by then Barcelona will again have won any of the major titles of the triplete. There is no guarantee that Spain will have been crowned as world champions which they are such hot favorites to do at the moment of writing.

If Xavi, with all that he has achieved in this last season has not won those honors, then what chances of him winning the award next year?  He has only finished in the top three once and that was this year’s edition when he came in behind Ronaldo and Messi. If you care to glance at past winners, it’s astounding to think that if the likes of Michael Owen, Fabio Cannavaro, Steven Gerrard, David Beckham, Deco can be on the honors list, why is it that Xavi still have to wait to be recognized for the extraordinary player that he is.

Leo and Cristiano are still so young they have not even reached their peak. They have plenty of time to win this award over and over again to the point of boredom. But Xavi is in his ascendancy now. He is also an exemplary role model off the field and a player of tremendous loyalty. Barcelona is his only club, having been with them since he was eleven.

If this rare and exceptional talent is not given the individual recognition that he deserves, then the concept of football being a team game is made into a mockery.

Ashish Sharma,

Who is the Very Best? Just the coolest world music group right now. They talk about their love of football--Henrik Larsson!--in the DEC/JAN issue of Magazine.