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    Why doesn't the Premier League have more Ballon d'Or winners?

    In case you have been living under a rock for the past week, you are probably aware that Lionel Messi has won the Ballon d’Or for the fifth time. His duel with Cristiano Ronaldo for the title of the world’s greatest footballer is a defining feature of our time – two outstanding footballers at the peak of their powers, churning out jaw-dropping statistics year after year. However, not even the most passionate Spaniard would argue that La Liga is the most competitive league. Over the last five years, the gap between the winners and sixth place of La Liga is an average of 38.2 points. Contrast that with the Premier League, where the gap for the same criteria is an average of 24.6 points, a staggering 13.6 points difference. The routine hammerings that Barcelona and Real Madrid hand out to opposition in the lower half of the leagues simply do not happen in England – a league where there are no gimmies, and thrashings of lowly opposition are the exception rather than the rule.

    We are taught that competition supposedly breeds success, that real achievement can only be measured against your peers.  So when choosing the award that is supposedly for the best player on the planet for that year, surely achievements gleaned against a higher quality of opposition are worth more. Two of the Premier Leagues’ stars of last season, Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez, faced more challenging opposition on a more frequent basis than Mr Ronaldo and Mr Messi did last year but trotted out many outstanding performances. Yet Messrs Hazard and Sanchez were never serious contenders for the crown, and it is simply because of the league they play in.

    So why is this? Is it because we play too much football and thus players suffer more from burn-out in the Premier League? Quite possibly. Is it our colder, wetter weather? Quite possibly that too. Conspiracy theorists out there could even argue that the FA’s fractured relationship with FIFA has something to do with it too, and this can’t be unequivocally denied either. The answer lies in the recent history and the criteria that defines the award of the Ballon d’Or; weight of statistics.

    Wonderful teams they undoubtedly are, but Barcelona and Real Madrid know they will have at least 5-10 games per season when their team completely dominates and coasts to victory, affording the likes of Messi and Ronaldo ample opportunities to score several goals. This simply is not the case in England. Ronaldo only had one season in the Premier League (2007-8) when his goal haul came anywhere close to that of his Real Madrid years – but were his performances at Manchester United inferior or less important to his team? Equally, no one is doubting for one minute that Messi is an astonishingly gifted footballer, for some the best ever – but are his performances as crucial to his team as say Luis Suarez’s were in Liverpool’s oh-so-nearly campaign?

    We, the footballing world, are obsessed with the idea that a huge weight of goals and haul of trophies is indicative of achievement, that this is the only tangible measuring stick in the beautiful game. Whether this is right or wrong is a whole different debate but until this assessment changes, it does mean that the competitiveness that makes the Premier League such an enthralling competition is the very same reason it is unlikely that we will have another Ballon d’Or winner any time soon. 
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