Surprise? Maybe with Andres Iniesta’s name, but not by seeing Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have made it once again to the final three on the shortlist for UEFA’s best player in Europe award, with Iniesta guaranteed a third place while the two mega stars battle it out for the second consecutive year.
This is the second time the award is handed out by UEFA. Lionel Messi won it for the 2010-2011 season, scoring 39 points in the final round, ahead of Xavi (11 points) and a disappointed and stunned Cristiano Ronaldo (3 points) who came in third. Iniesta finished fourth in the voting last year, getting 33 points in the first round, denying him of a spot in the “final”.
Iniesta took Xavi’s place mostly for his performances in Euro 2012, appreciated by many to be the best on the Spanish team on their way to a third consecutive international title, with Iniesta making up for a disappointing season with Barcelona, in which he played in only 27 matches (injuries again) and scored two goals. More importantly, Barca were left without any major titles, settling for the Copa del Rey.
However, numbers don’t always tell the whole story. Iniesta was voted as the third best player in the La Liga last season and for the second time was in the Euro team of the tournament, also winning the player of the tournament in a Euro that had no one really stand out. Iniesta all won the final’s man of the match and showed that with Xavi’s decline, he might be capable and more to take over the role of the central midfield pivot for Barcelona and Spain.
But the real battle is between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, with Jose Mourinho and even Usain Bolt giving Ronaldo the usual PR push before these kind of awards. Just one question – if Mourinho thought Ronaldo deserved the award in 2010-2011 because he scored more goals than Messi, how can he argue for the Portuguese star now?
Messi broke every possible record last season, scoring 50 goals in the La Liga (new record), 14 in the Champions League (new record) and 73 in all competitions (new record), while becoming Barcelona’s all time leading scorer with 253 goals. No title in the league or the Champions League, true, but that was more because of what happened around him and not actually himself.
For Ronaldo? A league title with Real Madrid, and just less than Messi when it comes to individual performances. Ronaldo scored 46 league goals, breaking his own record from last year, just being outmatched by Messi. He also scored a career high 10 goals in the Champions League, but also missed out on the final, finishing with 60 goals in all competitions. He added three goals in the Euro, knocked out in the semifinal against Spain.
And his performance in the Euro is the key to winning this award or not in my opinion. Ronaldo needed a great tournament, a historic one, to prove he’s the best in the world. He had a good one – scoring two goals against the Netherlands in the group stage and the winning goal against the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals. But he was shut out against Spain and didn’t take any of the penalty kicks (maybe not by his own fault) in the shootout against Spain. He had a great season, but it shouldn’t be enough to usurp Messi’s place on the top of the award list.
The rest of the top 10
Andrea Pirlo (Juventus) – Had a fantastic season with Juve, showing AC Milan what a huge mistake they made by giving him up, and was even better in Italy’s surprising run to the final in the Euro.
Xavi Hernandez (Barcelona) – Had another good, yet a bit less inspirational than usual, season for Barcelona, and added another title with Spain to his trophy cabinet.
Iker Casillas (Real Madrid) – The Euro probably proved that despite all the rising new names, Casillas is still the best goalkeeper in the world, and his ‘respect for Italia’ request in the final won him even more fans than before.
Didier Drogba (Chelsea) – Not in Europe anymore, but Drogba’s performances in the Champions League in what was mostly a down year for him in the Premier League, including a goal in the final to send the match into extra time got Drogba a deserved place among the final 10.
Petr Cech (Chelsea) – Same as Drogba. Not as good as before, but saved his best for the UCL knockout stages while his team parked the bus, and a few wonderful saves against Barcelona and the penalty kicks against Bayern.
Falcao (Atletico Madrid) – It’s hard to make this list when you play for Atletico, but Falcao had a fantastic debut season in Spain, scoring 24 goals in the La Liga and adding 12 more in the Europa League, including 2 in the final as Atletico beat Bilbao 3-0.
Mesut Ozil (Real Madrid) – Wasn’t as impressive for Germany as he was for Real Madrid in a fantastic second season for him with the Blancos, taking over the role of attacking midfielder instead of Kaka 100%, scoring 4 goals and adding 17 assists.