A gilded few

FIFA is yet to announce the official nominee list for its Ballon d'Or, but the debate over who should win it has already begun. Last week, Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho, sage and impartial as ever, plumped for one of his own players. "If (Lionel) Messi is the best on the planet, (Cristiano) Ronaldo is the best in the universe," he said, after a fortnight spent poring over stats from the first division of the Corona Borealis constellation. "It would be a crime if Ronaldo did not win the Ballon d'Or."

Ronaldo last won it in 2008. Since then, Messi has won three in a row. Last season, both racked up frankly ridiculous goalscoring records. Ronaldo scored 60 goals in 55 appearances for Real; Messi 73 in 60 for Barcelona. In the face of such numbers, it's hard for anyone else to argue a case for themselves. Goals, unfortunately, are football's only time-tested statistical measure. It's only from subjective judgement that we know Franco Baresi was one of the greatest defenders of all time. Statistically, his career output simply reads "719 games for AC Milan, 33 goals."

It's only recently that stats nerds began counting assists and interceptions and blocks and clearances. Even so, how many interceptions equal a goal? Because of this, there is little chance of other players superseding Messi and Ronaldo when the votes are counted. Take, for instance, Vincent Kompany, the centreback who was probably Manchester City's most important player when they were on the road to their first English league title since 1968, or Sergio Busquets, the holding midfielder who is a fulcrum for both Barcelona and Spain, a reference point for all his teammates, or even Andrea Pirlo, the regista who played a crucial role in Juventus going unbeaten through their Serie A campaign and in Italy's journey to the final of Euro 2012.

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