For the first time since it was created in 1956, the Ballon d´Or will not be awarded.
French magazine France Football announced Monday that the 2020 edition of the Ballon d’Or — awarded annually to the best footballer in the world over the course of the year — has been cancelled.
It is evident that when things get derailed from the norm, France Football is not capable of dealing with the consequences. Perhaps it is time for the world of football as a whole to take a deeper look into the concept of the Ballon d’Or and use this “gap year” as a transition into something less controversial and more universally accepted altogether.
France Football Editor-in-Chief Pascal Ferré cited the coronavirus outbreak as the reason for the Ballon d’Or cancellation, saying that “all the conditions are not met” and that “such a singular year cannot and should not be treated as an ordinary one.”
In reality, the football world did not need a reminder that this year is not an ordinary one. Over 600,000 people have died as a result of the pandemic, with millions more affected. If cancelling the Ballon d’Or saved even one human life, of course it would make sense to cancel it, but there is no direct benefits to anyone from this award being cancelled.
Ferré said that only two months of the generally required eleven months had been played in an ordinary fashion. He cited the lack of fans in games, the upcoming one-legged Champions League ties, and the use of five substitutes as “unordinary conditions,” which while true, do not make this decision a justifiable one.
Every team and every player went through similar confusion, as coronavirus shocked the world as a whole and sports were the last thing in most people’s minds. There was plenty of uncertainty regarding whether football would return this season, and if so, when and how they would make this happen. However, almost every league acted quickly and did a great job in returning to action.
The first league to do so was Bundesliga, which had not only an extremely successful return, but also set the bar for other leagues upon their own returning. While Bundesliga, Serie A, La Liga, and many other leagues returned to action, the French Ligue 1 and the Dutch Eredivisie ended their seasons prematurely. Ligue 1 awarded PSG, the league leaders at the time, with the title, while Eredivisie voided the season, awarding no title at all.
While different teams and players are in different parts of their seasons, every single player who would have had a chance of winning the 2020 Ballon d’Or pre-pandemic, would have still had a chance to do so today, the day the award was cancelled. Taking away the potential individual glory from these players is an unreasonable decision.
The front-runner for this year’s award was Robert Lewandowski. The Bayern Munich striker was the season’s top scorer in Bundesliga and the DFB Pokal, two titles Bayern already won, and leads scoring in the Champions League, a competition Bayern are still very much alive in. Lewandowski, at the age of 31, has scored 51 goals in 43 games, and with or without Bayern winning the treble, would have been the favorite to win the award.
While Lewandowski will feel hard done by the decision, he is far from the only player dreaming of their first Ballon d’Or.
Kevin De Bruyne has been the best player in the Premier League this season. He is on the verge of breaking the league assists record, with Manchester City having already won one trophy and still in the running for the Champions League.
Karim Benzema and Sergio Ramos were key figures in Real Madrid’s La Liga triumph, and Real Madrid are also still in the Champions League, though they have to overcome a disadvantage against the aforementioned Manchester City.
Even the Ballon d’Or veterans who have already tasted victory several times were still in the running. Lionel Messi became just the second player ever to score over 20 goals and provide over 20 assists in the same season in the top five leagues, after Thierry Henry. Meanwhile, Cristiano Ronaldo is leading Juventus to another Serie A title with 30 goals scored. Both Juventus and Barcelona, while not at their absolute best, are still in the Champions League as well.
Then come the Ligue 1 stars. Yes, there is an argument to be made that Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, PSG’s star players, may have a disadvantage due to the season not being continued in France. However, PSG were still awarded the title and are in the finals for both of France’s domestic cups, as well as the Champions League.
2020 would have been one of the most competitive years for the Ballon d’Or in recent times. Lewandowski may have been the top contender to win the award, however, there were at least five or six players with a realistic path to the most coveted individual award in the sport.
But to no one’s satisfaction, the Ballon d’Or will simply not be awarded this year. Ferré also stated that the award was being cancelled in order “to avoid overly convoluted calculation and projections,” which as far as excuses go, is the worst of the bunch. The Ballon d’Or is not awarded on an algorithm or an overtly complex way; it is a very simple vote by journalists, coaches, and captains.
To claim that finding the rightful winner would just be too difficult is to give up on one of football’s longest traditions and to betray many players who may not be able to replicate the outstanding seasons they are having.