Andy Mitten

The best man won the Ballon d’Or

Andy Mitten

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Everyone is talking about the Ballon d'Or award. Some awards are based on tangibles like goals scored or clean sheets, but the award - a merger of the FIFA Player of the Year and the Ballon d'Or - is subjective.

Style can triumph over substance, reputation over performance, but the journalists, coaches and captains from national teams around the world got it just about right when they voted on who they thought was the best player of 2010.

Unless they were the Dutch captain or coach, in which case they invalidated their votes, no doubt seething at a perceived injustice at Wesley Sneijder not being in the top three.

For the first time since Milan over two decades ago, one club triumphed at 1-2-3. And just as Milan's Dutch striker Marco van Basten was the last player to win the Ballon d'Or twice in a row in 1988 and 1989, Barcelona's Lionel Messi repeated that feat. Barca's Ronaldinho did win the FIFA award in 2004 and 2005, but the Catalans have never before dominated across the board.

With Andres Iniesta second and Xavi third, the whole team and coach Pep Guardiola flew to Zurich for the ceremony on Monday. Guardiola is as keen as Messi to state that there's no 'I' in 'team', yet the quality of a team undoubtedly influences voting for individuals.

I watched Messi, Iniesta and Xavi play around 25 times live in 2010, plus around the same again on television. Messi? The right man won the award. His 62 goals in 62 games is a staggering statistic and as freakish as his brilliance.

But did Iniesta have a better 2010 than Xavi? I'd say Xavi was more influential as Iniesta missed a chunk of the year through injury. Xavi became Barca's record appearance holder, yet he didn't score the winning goal in the World Cup final and just moments of glory decide votes.

Opinions on the pair are divided and maybe split the vote to aid Messi. I spoke to two players who played directly against them for Manchester United.

Spanish football fan Darren Fletcher said: "Iniesta and Xavi are fantastic. Xavi is better in possession, but Iniesta gives Barca a little more creativity going forward. If he's asked to play on the left wing, he plays there. If he plays in the middle, he's exceptional there. And I've watched him play up front by himself.

"He's also very humble, the anti-galactico as the Barca fans like to say. Wazza (Wayne Rooney) said after the (Rome) final that we'd just witnessed the best player in the world and he had a point."

Asked where he stood on Xavi or Iniesta, Michael Carrick replied: "Both are brilliant. They're so difficult to play against, but if pushed to say one I'd say Iniesta. He's a little bit sharper than Xavi and plays off both feet, where Xavi is one footed.

"Iniesta is more of a threat attacking wise too. I'm more likely to say him though because he's the one I played against (in Rome)."

Barca fans have the same arguments every week, though they wholly appreciate they are privileged to be watching the best two midfielders in the world.

Not that many in Holland or Milan would agree, incredulous that Wesley Sneijder didn't make the top three. The Dutchman was a talismanic figure as he won the treble with Internazionale and reached the World Cup final with the Netherlands, but he didn't go onto win the World Cup final.

Then again, Messi didn't score a single goal in South Africa. The arguments will rage and Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque stated that he was disappointed one of his Spanish World Cup winners didn't get the vote, but I think the best man Messi won.

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