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Thursday, July 7, 2022

Messi wins Ballon d’Or but data doesn’t forget

You should not care about the Ballon d’Or. It is not a forum where our brightest footballing minds engage in rigorous debate to determine the year’s best player. It’s an awards show like any other awards show, an excuse for tipsy celebrities to make unfortunate choices about evening formal wear, for Zendaya to show up to promote a Spider-Man movie and then, four hours later, almost as an afterthought, for someone to shove a trophy at the most famous attacking player from the one game voters actually watched.

But we all still do care, deep down, at least a little bit, who wins the Ballon d’Or, and if the history of the award is any indication, the thing we care about the most is goals.

So let’s be clear about one thing: Robert Lewandowski was robbed when Lionel Messi won the men’s award last night.

For starters, this is the same calendar year in which Lewandowski broke Gerd Muller’s 49-year-old record by scoring 41 goals in a single Bundesliga season. Have you heard of Gerd Muller? Do you realise how insane this is? Going home with a made-up “Best Striker” award after that is like selling more records than Michael Jackson and winning a Grammy for Best Album by a Solo Polish Tenor.

Forty-one goals in a domestic campaign. Eight of them were penalties, it’s true, but even if we toss those out, even if we skip over the whole month of April that he missed with a strained ligament, and even if we spot Messi the four extra games that Germany’s 18-team league doesn’t play, Lewandowski still scored 22 per cent more non-penalty goals than every single other player in Europe. His 1.21 non-penalty goals per 90 minutes make Erling Haaland’s 0.

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