Congratulations To Barcelona's Messi: The Selfless Team Player Who Became An Individual Legend

To the surprise of absolutely no-one, Lionel Messi won the FIFA Ballon d’Or on Monday for a fourth consecutive time with 41.6% of the vote. In fact, the only surprise of the evening was that 58.4% of those polled had evidently decided his 91 goals in a calendar year were all fine and dandy, but this year they were looking for something really special. Baffling. Messi is so good that an awful lot of time and money would have been saved by FIFA had they just texted him last week and said, “Keep trophy m8, will catch up in 2014 x”

That said, without the Ballon d’Or, we’d miss the opportunity to stare at Cristiano Ronaldo’s spoiled toddler face and wonder if this will be the year that he cracks, smashes Messi in the face with the microphone stand and runs off with the trophy, screaming, “In any other era they would have just WELDED THIS TO MY HAND!”

Ronaldo is reported to be upset and on the brink of severing ties with Real Madrid because of their failure to lobby harder on his behalf for stuff like this. Now, we’re all a little jaded and de-sensitised by modern football, so just read that again. One of the world’s biggest players is prepared to leave one of the world’s biggest clubs because he doesn’t win enough individual trinkets. That’s absolutely terrifying.

Football has never been about the individual. That’s why golf was invented. Football was developed as a means of channelling the chaos and aggression of uppity 19th century public school boys. Stuck in their cloisters without any of three things that all teenage boys need to survive (porn, Football Manager, their mum), these students had a nasty habit of running amok. They kept invading wings of their schools and occupying them, leaving only when the staff called in the army. I am not making this up. It was the view of a number of forward-thinking masters that if the boys were taken out into a field and given the regular opportunity to kick lumps off each other, they might stop kicking lumps out of the masonry. If the boys could be organised and made to work as a team, all moving forward to a share aim of kicking lumps out of the other lot, ‘the team’ would aid their development as young gentlemen.

Football spread swiftly, was codified, refined and spread around the world. In the north, ‘the team’ became a banner for the people of industrial towns to rally behind, something to look forward to after a week in the mine, frantically poking the canary (that’s not a euphemism) and wondering where that smell was coming from. Elsewhere, ‘the team’ might become a symbol of regionalism, of nationalism, of Corinthian ideals. The game hasn’t survived for so long because it’s more exciting, more innovative or more marketable than any other game. It’s survived because it isn’t really about the game. It’s about ‘the team.’

Messi gets this. That’s why he has no intention of leaving Barcelona. Suggestions that he lacks bottle, made by British radio presenters that our namby-pamby, pinko government still allow to walk the streets, are laughable. He doesn’t lack bottle. He just knows that he represents a great team, that his talents have been developed by great men and that he fights alongside a host of great players who do the dirty work for him.

There is another awards ‘ceremony’ in every country, every year. It’s not a perfect way of judging footballing talent, but it’s as close as we’ll ever get. It’s called a ‘league table’.  Ronaldo would do well to focus on that, rather than upsetting himself with the vain pursuit of individual baubles.

Click here to read more from the marvellous Iain Macintosh.

Unibet are already offering a market on the 2013 Ballon d'Or prize, with Lionel Messi the early 2.00 favourite to make it five in a row.