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Messi vs Haaland: Who Deserved to win the 2023 Ballon d’Or?


Messi vs Haaland: Who Deserved To Win The 2023 Ballon d’Or?

Lionel Messi picked up a record-extending 8th Ballon d’Or on Monday night at a glamorous awards ceremony in Paris, with the Argentine obviously being the firm favourite heading into the ceremony having led his country to their third World Cup success and first since 1986 at the most recent tournament held in 2022, but many people were aggrieved at the fact that Manchester City’s Erling Haaland missed out on the award despite the Norwegian scoring over 50 goals last season as part of what was a treble-winning season for the club.

But the moment that the final whistle blew at the Lusail Stadium in Qatar in December of last year, was probably when Messi's 8th Ballon d'Or was sealed. The narrative was simply too fitting, and too great. The World Cup is the creme de la creme of football. It was the one thing that the magical Argentine had not won in his long and distinguished career. And yet, he had finally won it at what then seemed like last chance saloon, in one of the most dramatic matches of football, and after so much heartbreak previously - after Mario Gotze's late winner in 2014 at the Maracana, and after future teammate Kylian Mbappe would run Messi and his men ragged at Russia 2018.

Messi vs Haaland

However, there is also a case for Haaland to have won the award – a very strong case. Therefore, we are going to take a quick look at the factors that played a part in tipping the balance of power toward Messi's direction and subsequently handing him his 8th Ballon d'Or...

The first thing to look at is the silverware won by each player respectively. Messi took home a Ligue 1 and Trophee des Champions winners medal during his time at PSG to go alongside his World Cup winners medal. But the Argentine also won the Leagues Cup with his current club side Inter Miami, taking his total trophy count up to 4.

That success with Miami, which was also the franchise's first-ever piece of silverware, will have played a small part in tipping the balance of favour in the direction of the Argentine. Of course, his World Cup triumph will have played the largest role in his Ballon d'Or success, but a league title in France alongside playing a key role in winning his current side's first-ever trophy might also have been considered.

Meanwhile, Erling Haaland won a famed treble as part of a historic 2022/23 campaign with Manchester City, with the Blues winning the Champions League continentally, and the Premier League and FA Cup double domestically. Haaland's goals were central to that trio of successes, with the Norwegian plundering over 35 goals in the Premier League alone while also hitting a double-digit goal tally in the Champions League.

Now while Haaland was an absolute phenomenon for City for the vast majority of last season, there were two sticks to beat the young Norwegian with – the first was that apart from sheer goalscoring, he failed to offer anything else when leading the line. So if he was having a (rare) off day, then Haaland would be completely anonymous.

The second point was that Haaland had a tendency to disappear in the big games, giving him somewhat of a reputation as a flat-track bully. The Norwegian failed to either score or assist after the quarter-final stage of the Champions League, despite being so prolific in all of the rounds beforehand. He scored just a solitary goal in three outings as City exited the Carabao Cup at the quarter-final stage against Southampton, while in four FA Cup appearances, Haaland's three goals all came as part of a 6-0 mauling of Burnley in the quarter-finals.

In the FA Cup’s fourth round, semi-final and final, Haaland failed to register either a goal or assist, despite his opponents in those respective games being an understrength Arsenal side, Sheffield United and city rivals Manchester United, whom Haaland has an excellent record against. In stark contrast, the man who took the award from Haaland on Monday scored a brace in a World Cup final to finally win the one trophy his career required.

Comparing Records

Statistically, it was Erling Haaland who had the better season out of the pair. Haaland broke multiple long-standing English football records on the way to recording a final total of 61 goal involvements (52 goals & 9 assists) in all competitions in 2022/23, with an astonishing 36 of those goals coming in just the Premier League.

The 23-year-old scored four hat-tricks, two of them coming within the space of five days against Crystal Palace and Nottingham Forest. Ultimately, Haaland wound up surpassing Mohamed Salah’s record of 32 goals in a 38-game Premier League season while also beating both Alan Shearer and Andy Cole, both of whom managed 34 goals back when the Premier League was a 42-match competition in the early-to-mid 90s’.

Just some of the records Haaland broke include…

  • His goal against West Ham in August meant that he became only the second Man City player to score twice on his Premier League debut, after Sergio Aguero in 2011.
  • His goal against Aston Villa in September meant that he became the quickest player to hit 10 Premier League goals, doing so in just 6 matches.
  • His goal against Sevilla in September meant that he became the first City player to score on both their Premier League and Champions League debut.
  • His goal against Wolves in September meant that he became the first player to score in his first four Premier League away games.
  • His hat-trick against Manchester United in October meant that he became the first Premier League player ever to score hat-tricks in three successive top-flight home matches.
  • His goal against Leeds in December meant that he became the fastest-ever player to score 25 goals under Pep Guardiola, doing so in 20 matches – eight fewer than it took Lionel Messi to reach that figure under Guardiola.
  • His second goal against Leeds in December meant that he became the first Premier League player in history to score 20 goals before January, despite there being a six-week break for the first-ever winter World Cup.
  • His goal against Tottenham in January was his 22nd league goal – the most ever scored by a City player under Pep Guardiola.
  • His goal against RB Leipzig in March meant that he became the youngest player to score 30 goals in the Champions League.
  • His goal against Southampton in April meant that he equalled the record set by Mohamed Salah and Ruud van Nistelrooy for the number of goals across all competitions scored by a Premier League player in a single season.
  • His goal against Bayern Munich in April saw him confirmed as the player who had scored the most goals by a Premier League player in one season across all competitions.
  • His second goal against Leicester in April saw him equal Mo Salah’s record of 32 goals in a 38-game Premier League season, with his goal against Arsenal seeing him surpass Mohamed Salah to hold the record for the most goals scored in a 38-game Premier League season.
  • His goal against Fulham in April saw him become the first top-flight player to reach 50 goals in a single campaign since Aston Villa’s Tom Waring in 1931.
  • His goal against West Ham in May saw him become the leading Premier League goalscorer in a single campaign, surpassing even the 34 goals scored by Alan Shearer and Andy Cole (whose hauls came in 42-match campaigns).
  • However, Messi wasn't far behind the electric Haaland - in 2022/23, the Argentine racked up a total of 57 goal involvements (32 goals and 25 assists), meaning he was just 4 short of matching Haaland's total.

And once again, this is where that World Cup success is so crucial. Despite the diminutive Argentine registering less goal involvements than Haaland in club football, his seven goals in as many games at Qatar 2022, leading his country to glory for the first time in over 3 decades in the process after so many years of coming up short, further bump Messi’s total tally up.

Except for one group-stage outing against Poland, Messi scored in every other match at the 2022 World Cup, including a crucial second-half strike against Mexico in Argentina’s second group-stage match to keep them in the competition while also bagging a brace in the final. Now while Haaland himself did score a respectable amount of goals on the international stage, primarily in Euro qualifiers and the Nations League, those goals against the likes of Cyprus, Georgia and Sweden pale in comparison to Messi scoring seven goals in seven matches under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages in Qatar.

So, how did Messi win the Ballon d’Or?

So as you may have noticed, Messi’s World Cup win has been referenced a lot in relation to his most recent Ballon d’Or win. That is because, unfortunately, while the Ballon d’Or should, in theory, be awarded to a player based on their individual performances across a calendar year, the award has not worked like that for quite a while now.

Instead, there is a perception that what a player’s team has also achieved plays a huge part in voting now – as a quick example, Jorginho posted a 3rd-place finish in 2021 after Champions League success with Chelsea and Euros success with Italy, while Luka Modric won the award in 2018 after Champions League success with Real Madrid and playing a central role in Croatia’s shock run to the 2018 World Cup final.

Now, while these two players, Modric especially, might have had superb seasons individually, were those seasons worthy of a top-3 finish in the Ballon d’Or? Did these players deserve to finish where they did, higher than other, more deserving players?

That is exactly what some people argue has happened once again - of course, Erling Haaland deserved to win the Ballon d’Or! The Norwegian etched his name into Man City folklore due to his huge role in winning a historic treble (including a first-ever Champions League and third Premier League title on the bounce), scoring an insane amount of goals in a single season, and breaking multiple records in what was also his inaugural season in English football. And again, we repeat – Haaland won the treble. That is no easy feat, and yet Haaland’s output made it seem that way as City went on to achieve it with a sense of swagger and nonchalance.

There is also an argument that Messi won just a single league title with PSG last season, which would have happened even if Messi were not at the club, and he did not break record to the extent that Haaland did. Instead, Messi’s Ballon d’Or win was confirmed based off of his (elite) performances over the course of a seven-game tournament in the December of 2022, while his performance levels dropped to just fine throughout the rest of the campaign. Many players have won the World Cup, but less have won the treble. Erling Haaland’s achievements were therefore more spectacular and unique in comparison to Messi, who despite winning a World Cup, didn’t come close to beating Haaland’s 50+ goals and three major trophies.

Ultimately, who should have won the 2023 Ballon d’Or is up to how you view football – do you appreciate pure output and the prestige of winning a treble, or do you take a more romantic approach to the beautiful game – finally seeing the greatest footballer of all time write a fairytale ending to his career by playing a central role in winning the one trophy that had eluded him throughout his career, and doing so in the most dramatic of circumstances and in one of the greatest football matches of all time.