Ballon d'Or award announces rule changes after controversial Messi win

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Paris Saint-Germain's Argentine forward Lionel Messi arrives to deliver a speech after being awarded the Ballon d'Or award during the 2021 Ballon d'Or France Football award ceremony at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris on November 29, 2021.


The Ballon d'Or, widely considered as the most prestigious prize in world football, will go through drastic reforms ahead of the next award ceremony late this year.

France Football magazine, which has been handing out the Ballon d'Or since 1956, announced on Friday night that the award will now be based on performances over the course of a regular European season from August to July, rather than a calendar year.

The switch means the next Ballon d'Or will only take into account the women's European Championship, which takes place from July 6 to 31, but not the men's World Cup in Qatar, scheduled November 21 to December 18. 

The jury that selects the winner will be reduced as only the representatives of the top 100 countries in the FIFA rankings for the men's award and the first 50 for the women's will be permitted to vote. Last year, 170 journalists voted for the men's award.

France Football also made it clear that voters should focus mainly on the players' individual performances over collective achievements. A player's reputation and performances in the previous years will not be considered.

The [Ballon d'Or] rules have not changed much since their inception and the criteria frequently give rise to debate," said France Football's chief editor Pascal Ferre. "So we thought it appropriate to refresh the hierarchy of the constituent elements in the vote for greater consistency and clarity.

A tightening that reinforces the level of expertise and limits the fanciful votes. What will be lost in picturesqueness will be gained in legitimacy and reliability, he added.

The significant alterations came after Lionel Messi beat the odds to win the Ballon d'Or for a record-extending seventh time in November.

The 34-year-old superstar led Argentina to Copa America success in Brazil in July for their first major trophy since 1993, but struggled to impress after joining French giants Paris Saint-Germain from Spanish powerhouse Barcelona.  

Many believed Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski was a more worthy winner of the prize, than Messi. The Polish talisman enjoyed an exceptional 2020-21 campaign for Bayern Munich, breaking Gerd Muller's single-season Bundesliga goal record in May after he netted 41 league goals in just 29 games, as well as winning the European Golden Shoe.

During his acceptance speech, Messi admitted Lewandowski also deserved the award. I want to tell Robert that it is an honor for me to be up against him, he said. Last year everyone agreed that you were the winner. I think France Football should give you your Ballon d'Or so you can have it like you deserve.

The sentiment was echoed by Lewandowski's Bayern teammate Thomas Muller. We know that the award is decided by journalists' votes, and the winner, if everything goes well, is based on who gets the highest number of votes, and that's why Messi won, Muller told reporters last month.

But in Munich we have a different opinion because we see Lewandowski score and play every day, and in Egypt it's normal that many see [Mohamed] Salah worthy of the prize, I can understand that because everyone wants that player who represent their team or country to win, the same for South American fans and journalists who saw Messi in the Copa America, he observed.

It's always difficult, everyone has their own favorite player, but individual prizes aren't the most important thing in football, what happens on the field is.

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