Ballon d’Or 2013 – Battle of the Titans!

First awarded in 1956, the Ballon d’Or has come to exemplify brilliance on the football field. As in previous years, three footballers have been nominated for the award which will be handed out in Zurich on January 13th. The three nominated for this year’s award are current holder Lionel Messi, previous winner and last year’s runner’s up Cristiano Ronaldo and lastly, member of the all conquering Bayern Munich team Franck Ribéry.

It must be noted that there is some controversy surrounding the concept of such an award. In the 57 years that the award has been given out, only twice has it been given to a defensive player. First in 1963 it was given to Goalkeeper Lev Yashin of the then Soviet Union and then in 2006 it was given to Italian centre back, Fabio Cannavaro. The argument is that the constant giving of the award to attack minded players does not give justice to the importance of defenders and goalkeepers who also play a vital role in their team’s success as well as the need to possess the skill to succeed in these positions.

That being said the award will be given on Monday evening to one of Messi, Ronaldo or Ribéry. Everyone has their favourites for one reason or another so we decided to put subjectivity aside and let the stats decide who the better player is.

Any analysis, of course needs to begin with the basics and then move on from there. As we know goals win games and attacking players are paid to create and score goals. None do it better than these three. Ronaldo played 57 games scoring an incredible 67 goals over the course of the calendar year. Messi managed to score 45 goals from his 46 appearances. Ribery, on the other hand, managed to score 22 in his 51 games.

Of course, there is more to it than just scoring goals, creating chances for oneself as well as other players too is also important. Messi manages to create such chances 4.4 times per game. Ribéry follows with 3.4 chances created and Ronaldo trails behind with only 2.3 chances per game. When talking about actually being in a chance situation, either by his own ability or thanks to one his teammates, we can see that Messi had 5.9 chances on goal, scoring 1.1 goals in the process and creating 0.2 assists. Ronaldo had 5 such chances, scoring 0.8 goals and making 0.2 assists. Ribéry found himself with such a chance on 4 occasions, scoring 0.5 goals and creating 0.2 assists. This might look strange as Ronaldo has scored more goals than games played but this just shows how many goals Ronaldo actually scores from situations which are not considered chances.

It goes without saying that you can’t score a goal unless you take a shot on goal so with that in mind, we looked at shots on goal by these players (not necessarily from chances). The average player takes 2.9 shots per game and Ribéry just tops this with 3.2 shots per game. Messi is significantly better with 6.1 shots per game but Ronaldo is the runaway leader in this department with an average of 8.0 shots per game. In terms of the quality of those shots, Messi gets 48% of his shots on target, Ribéry 47% and despite taking the most number of shots, Ronaldo only get 41% of his shots on target. Ronaldo also has the lowest number of goals per shot with 16% resulting in goals. Ribéry scores 19% of the time and Messi with 23% of his shots. It is important to note that whilst Ronaldo’s stats are lower in terms of success rates, he has taken almost double the number of shots than Messi and three times as many as Ribéry so this impacts the percentage. This certainly could also be construed as selfish play on behalf of the Real Madrid man who we know likes to take shots from distance whenever he is given the opportunity.

When looking at their 1-on-1 skills, and in particular at dribbling, we see some interesting and surprising stats. Ribéry leads with an average of 20.3 dribbles per game. Messi is in second with 15.7 per game and Ronaldo, who burst onto the scene thanks to his dribbling abilities is third with an average of 11.2 dribbles per game. It must be noted that the average number of dribbles is 6.9 so despite being third, Ronaldo still dribbles substantially more than the average player. Constant dribbling is risky as it is easy to lose the ball to the opposition defence so the fact that Ribéry is involved in so many dribbling actions, could show selfishness on his part. This is enforced by the fact that only 45% of his dribbles helped advance the team to a better position – lower than the other two.

Anyone who watches football knows that Ribéry plays in a slightly different role to that of Messi and Ronaldo. He is thus more involved in the building of attacks as well as defensive actions on the opposition than the men from La Liga.

We looked at every action by these players during the course of the season and measured their influence on the team in order to determine the value that each player adds when it comes to goals being scored by their respective teams. Now bear with me as I try to explain this: so if a player is in situation where there is a 20% chance of scoring a goal, directly or indirectly, and he passes the ball to a teammate who is now in a position where there is a 60% of scoring, we could say that one action is worth 40% of a goal. Simply, his action added 40% to his team’s chances of scoring. On the flip side, if he makes a bad pass he will have a negative percentage against his name.

From this we were able to determine that Messi’s actions are worth an incredible 0.91 goals per game for the team that he represents, whereas Ronaldo is worth 0.52 goals and Ribéry 0.39. This again looks strange given that Ronaldo has scored more goals than games this season. This can be explained as follows – just because a player scores an actual goal does not mean that he is 100% responsible as one of teammates could have dribbled through the opposition defence and all he had to do was tap the ball in.

So the question remains – who will win the Ballon d’Or trophy come Monday night? When it comes to value to the team, Messi is the standout winner there. If it is on goals scored as well as carrying his national team on his back to the World Cup in Brazil, it has to be Ronaldo and if it is based on titles won then Ribéry wins hands down. Essentially the statistics have led us along a windy journey right back to the beginning again! The only thing that comforts us is the fact that all will be revealed on Monday evening!

For more detailed stats on these players, see our dynamic infographic below and enjoy the incredible contribution these footballers have given to the beautiful game.

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