Statistical analysis proves Lionel Messi deserved to win Ballon d'Or

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Barcelona’s star man Lionel Messi won the FIFA Ballon d’Or for the fourth time – fifth when you include his 2009 FIFA World Player of the Year Award. This has, of course, flared up one of the more heated football debates of the modern era. Who’s better, Ronaldo or Messi?

The FIFA Ballon d’Or is an annual award given to who is deemed to be the best male footballer in the world, over the past calendar year. A shortlist is created by FIFA, and then football writers, international team captains and international managers vote for the winner.

The 2015 Ballon d’Or found that Lionel Messi won with 41.33% of the total votes, as per FIFA Resources. Cristiano Ronaldo came second with 27.76%, then Neymar on 7.86%. Robert Lewandowski came in fourth with 4.17%, being favoured over the other member of the Barca trident, Luis Suarez.


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But did Lionel Messi deserve to win? Many will argue relentlessly that Ronaldo deserved it more; so let’s look at the 2015 statistics for the top four in football.

(All statistics have been compiled and calculated from Transfermarkt)

First of all, ignore the silverware

Football is a team sport, and clubs win trophies because of the set of players in their team, not because of one individual. Unless one player gets on the score sheet more than the rest of his team – i.e. getting over 50% of the team’s goals and assists – then the team won the silverware, not the individual.

Therefore, it would be unjust for trophies won to be considered when selecting the best footballer in the world. In any case, the figures below reveal if Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar or Lewandowski won trophies mainly down to their goals.

(The numbers below are calculated on the player and their team’s 2015 performances as that’s what the most recent Ballon d’Or was judged on)

Barcelona won five trophies in 2015: La Liga, Copa Del Rey, Champions League, FIFA Club World Cup, and the Euro Super Cup. Bayern Munich won the Bundesliga, and Real Madrid ended the year without any silverware.

Messi, Neymar and the Barcelona trophy raid

The 2015 part of Barcelona’s La Liga-winning campaign last season saw the Catalan giants score 67 goals from 58 assists, totalling 125 direct goal involvements throughout the team. Lionel Messi provided 32% of the total goal involvements in 2015 – scoring 28 goals and setting up 12.

Neymar managed to total 13.6% of Barca’s goal involvements in the 2015 part of last season’s La Liga. He netted 11 goals and set up six.

The 2015 section of the Champions League last season started with the final-16 stage and ended with the final. Barcelona’s team compiled 32 goals and assists in these knockout stages.

Neymar tallied more goals and assists than Messi in the 2015 part of the Champions League – which included the goal to finish the final at 3-1. Neymar was involved in 29.2% of the total 31 goals and assists, and Messi provided 24% of them.

Then there are the lesser cups. In the 2015 section of the Copa Del Rey, Messi provided 31.0% of the goals and assists, with Neymar getting on the board for 26.7% of the scoring.

In the two-game series of the FIFA Club World Cup, Messi claimed one out of 12 of FCB’s goals and assists tally, and Neymar zipped in two – making their percentages 8.3% and 16.7% respectively.

The Euro Super Cup was a one-game trophy which saw Messi claim three of the total eight goals and assists – which also pegs him below the 50% mark. The Argentine was involved 37.5% of the direct goal contributions, whilst the Brazilian failed to get onto the scoreboard.

Lewandowski and Bayern’s silverware

On to Robert Lewandowski, who won the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich last season. In the 2015 Ballon d’Or consideration section of the German league, Lewandowski scored ten goals and four assists, accounting for 20.6% of Bayern’s players’ total 68 goal involvements.

As shown by the direct goal contribution percentages above, none of Messi, Neymar or Lewandowski contributed to the majority of their team’s scoring; meaning that Barcelona and Bayern Munich won all of their 2015 silverware as a team.

There’s no doubt that they all contributed considerably to their team’s successes, but they didn’t do it alone.

The goals don’t lie

Now that a level playing field has been established, by not attributing their team’s trophies to the individuals, we can look into the statistics.

The four players played roughly the same amount of games in 2015. Messi and Neymar clocked 53 Barca appearances; Ronaldo played 52 games and; Bayern’s Polish frontman appeared in 51 club contests.

Below are the four players ranked on the important stats, such as goals, assists, bookings, etc.

Goals: Ronaldo (56), Messi (47), Neymar (41), Lewandowski (38)
Assists: Messi (26), Neymar (24), Ronaldo (17), Lewandowski (10)
Total Goal Contributions: Ronaldo/Messi (73), Neymar (65), Lewandowski (48)
Goals per game: Ronaldo (1.08), Messi (0.89), Neymar (0.77), Lewandowski (0.75)
Bookings: Lewandowski (1 y), Messi (5 y), Ronaldo (6 y, 1 r), Neymar (11 y)

Important non-goal stats

As viable stats sources don’t record over a calendar year, we have to look into this season’s end of 2015. However, this works out quite well because when the voters are casting their selections, they’ll naturally draw on their recent opinion – so this season’s form will forge a huge part of the selection process.

The following stats and rankings, from this season, have been calculated using the numbers provided by Who Scored. Warning: the dribbling stats for Ronaldo fans may be disturbing.

Key passes per game: Neymar (4.05), Ronaldo (1.6), Messi (1.45), Lewandowski (0.6)
Dribbles per game: Neymar (5.1), Messi (4.65), Lewandowski (1.3), Ronaldo (1)
Pass Success rate (%): Messi (82.1), Ronaldo (82), Lewandowski (81.9), Neymar (81.4)

By accumulating the ranking positions of the four superstars, you can establish who was the most deserving of the 2015 FIFA Ballon d’Or award.

Should Messi have won the Ballon d'Or?

The lowest overall ranking here was clearly Robert Lewandowski. The striker had a great year with Bayern Munich but it just couldn’t mark up to the La Liga stars.

In third comes 23-year-old Brazilian Neymar. He’s having a far better second half to 2015 – and will once again be a top contender in 2016.

It was a lot closer than the voting would suggest, but Lionel Messi is deemed as the statistical winner of the FIFA Ballon d’Or 2015. Ronaldo just seemed to slack this season when it came to his performances away from the goal mouth – especially with him averaging just one dribble per game.

They’re both incredible footballers and have easily been the best two players in the world, for just under a decade. The stats don’t lie, so hopefully this puts the Ronaldo v Messi issue to rest for last season, but feel free to reignite the debate again this year!

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Robert Lewandowski
Lionel Messi
Real Madrid
Bayern Munich
Cristiano Ronaldo
Ballon d'Or

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