On the 15th of January, the stage was set in London, with Thierry Henry and Reshmin Chowdhury announcing the FIFA Best player of the year 2023 award.
Nobody shows up and after a few seconds of silence, Henry goes ahead and receives the award on behalf of the player while taking a dig at Tottenham.
Lionel Messi, for the 3rd time in the last four years, had been awarded yet another gold star by FIFA to put on his mantle.
This gold star however, might as well be a lead stone polished to appear like gold, looking to blemish the golden legacy of the legend.
We have all seen movie awards become a facade, just to please the whims and fancies of the top brass.
We used to take pride in our football awards as being the outliers to such showpieces.
But alas, it is looking more so as we have slowly but surely given up on the distinction and are ready to meld with the crowd.
The disdain here is that an award that is supposed to represent peak performance, the star that shone the brightest throughout the year, the best of the best, didn’t stay true to its name.
The unassailable truth is that Messi wasn’t the best player of the year. He has done extraordinary things throughout his career but this year, he surely wasn’t the best.
He was crowned the League 1 champion with PSG and even managed to win a trophy with his new team in the USA, but it was nothing out of the ordinary.
How many times have you seen the best awards being handed out for achievements like a trophy in the MLS or a mediocre 28 goal calendar year.
A couple of months ago, Messi won the Ballon d’OR, and I could argue that it was deserved. The man had completed his trophy cabinet with the most prestigious jewel of them all, the World cup.
Not only that, he did it while being the best player on the pitch, leading the team and scoring the Golden ball and the Silver boot.
You might ask why not apply the same logic for this trophy then ?
Here is where things get complicated. Messi has already been awarded the best player for his World Cup accolades in the previous iteration of the FIFA Best awards.
This year’s award was supposed to be for accomplishments after the world cup had concluded.
The timeline officially stated was 19th December, 2022, a day after the World Cup concluded, to 20th August, 2023.
This clearly means that they didn’t want that particular event to be considered this time.
But to the disappointment of many, the award turned out to be a freebee handed out to the most likable or should I say most known player.
Statistics and talent recognition once again has taken the back burner for PR and branding to take the podium.
Let’s talk about what was passed over, for Messi to get this award.
The runner up, goal machine Erling Haaland, had done everything possible to get acknowledged.
His boots were shining with the polish of 52 goals seeing the back of the net, meanwhile his trophy cabinet shone bright with the sparkle of the European pinnacle, the UEFA champions league, besides three others.
Move over to the 3rd best contender, Kylian Mbappe, the player has also won League 1 and did it while scoring 50+ goals in the calendar year. Captaining France, he even made sure they qualified for the Euro 2024.
Apparently, these extraordinary numbers aren’t enough to get you the ultimate individual prize but instead you just have to be Lionel Messi.
Imagine if Messi was passed over for a Ballon d’Or just for the likes of Ronaldinho.
FIFA takes pride in the fact that the awards work on a transparent voting system.
A quarter of the weightage is given to fan votes, national team coaches, national team captains and journalists, each.
As you would expect, an overwhelming number of journalists and coaches had found Erling Haaland to be worthy of being called the Best.
But the brand value among the fans and the respect for the player among colleagues, made it an equal matchup.
As is the rule of the land, the 48-votes-each tie, was resolved by considering the most first preference votes a player had been awarded by the world football i.e. Captains of the every recognised national team association.
In simpler terms: a popularity contest. Salah, Mbappe, Kane, al the big names had voted for Messi.
Unfortunately, Haaland had no chance here. Messi even had first preference votes from captains of countries like China PR, Estonia and Cape Verde.
How can one justify such a system where facts and stats are considered to be secondary. This is bound to be a huge discouragement for the people who are watching and the generation that is to come.
Messi hasn’t acknowledged or said anything about the award yet. He was busy with his pre-season preparations to even attend the ceremony.
I somewhat understand that it was not his fault or burden to bear that he got handed the award but just like Robert Lewandowski missing out on a Ballon d’OR, Haaland not taking this one home is even more of a tragedy.
The only hope I have is Messi dedicating the award to the true winner or acknowledging that FIFA was in the wrong, but that might be too far of a stretch.
All I have to say is that if not, this will be considered as a monumental stain on the legacy that the name Lionel Messi is.
If this is the standard we are going with, there might be a huge question mark on all that Messi has earned up until now.