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Revisiting the 2010 Ballon d'Or: When Wesley Sneijder made a case to win the award

Elvis Ume O
ANALYST
Feature
Timeless

FIFA Ballon d
FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2010

The 2010 Ballon d'Or was the first to be officially handed out by FIFA. Lionel Messi was named the winner, polling 22.65% of the total votes cast, while Andres Iniesta (17.36%) and Xavi (16.48%) completed the podium.

It marked only the third time in history that all three finalists had come from the same club after AC Milan (who achieved the feat in consecutive years in 1988 and 1989).  

However, Barcelona's achievement in 2010 was more unique in that all three podium places had been mounted by graduates of the same academy -- the famed La Masia.

However, a lot of criticism was directed towards FIFA, with Wesley Sneijder's snub a disservice to the award.

Here, in continuation of our series highlighting players who were denied Ballon d'Or wins between 2008 and 2018, we shall be making a case for why Wesley Sneijder and not Lionel Messi was the deserving winner of the 2010 Ballon d'Or.

Also ReadRevisiting the 2008 Ballon d'Or - when Fernando Torres made a solid case for the award

The 2010 Ballon d'Or winner - Lionel Messi

Messi had the first of 10 consecutive 40-goal seasons in 2010
Messi had the first of 10 consecutive 40-goal seasons in 2010

Fresh off his starring role in helping Barcelona to their first-ever treble which saw him named the 2009 Ballon d'Or winner, Lionel Messi sought to continue from where he left off for the Blaugrana.

However, despite starring on an individual level by scoring 47 goals and assisting 13 times from 53 matches in all competitions, the season still ended somewhat in disappointment, as Barcelona could only manage to win the LaLiga trophy that season.

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Their Copa del Rey journey was ended at the Round of 16 stage by Sevilla, while Inter Milan knocked them out of the Champions League after a defensive masterclass.

This was a far cry from the highs of a year before when they won six trophies, and Lionel Messi was largely powerless to stop it.

This is in no way to downplay the displays of the Argentine, as 2010 marked the start of his legendary goalscoring prowess.

It was the first time he scored above 30 league goals, and since then, he has failed to hit that mark in LaLiga just once (in 2016 when injuries hampered his contribution).

He also hit the 40-goal mark in all competitions for the first time, and that has been the benchmark since then.

He followed his spectacular individual campaign with Barcelona by heading to the World Cup under the management of none other than the legendary Diego Maradona. It was supposed to be a symbolic moment for Argentine football, with the man who inspired them to their last world title guiding his heir to their next.

However, that proved not to be the case, as a star-studded Argentina attack was dumped out by a youthful German squad at the quarterfinal stage (with Messi failing to score a single goal) to continue the South American nation's two-decade wait for an international trophy.


The case for Sneijder to be the 2010 Ballon d'Or winner

Sneijder helped inspire Inter Milan to their Champions League trophy in 45 years
Sneijder helped inspire Inter Milan to their Champions League trophy in 45 years

After being unceremoniously discarded by Real Madrid to Inter Milan (despite impressing for the Spanish club) in the summer of 2009, Wesley Sneijder went ahead to play a pivotal role in the most successful season in the Nerazzurri's history.

The retired Dutch international was exquisite for Jose Mourinho's men in the middle of the park, dictating the tempo of matches and deciding the outcomes of games with his range of passing, excellent vision, precise shooting and goalscoring instincts.

Inter Milan won a third consecutive Scudetti at the end of the campaign and added the Coppa Italia to boot.

However, it was in Europe where Sneijder really showcased the best of his abilities, helping Inter Milan win a first Champions League trophy in 45 years, thereby making them the first Italian team to win a treble.

On the continent, the 35-year-old starred with three goals and six assists from 11 matches, with the most important of those coming in the first-leg semifinal clash with Barcelona.

The Blaugrana came into the fixture as defending champions, and were by far the best team in the world and possibly in history at that point. Their midfield trio of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets were in the second year of what went down as the greatest midfield combination of all time.

Also read: Revisiting the 2009 Ballon d'Or - When Xavi Hernandez made a solid case for the award

However, Wesley Sneijder was one of the standout performers in the first leg clash against the Catalans, scoring one and assisting another in an eventual 3-1 victory for the Italians, and this convincing victory put them in the driving seat heading into the second leg.

Inter Milan put up a defensive masterclass in the second leg and held out till the 84th-minute goal from Gerard Pique breached their backline, despite being a man down since midway in the first half.

Though they lost the battle, Inter Milan won the war and suddenly, the favourites were dumped out of the tournament they were tipped to win.

Sneijder helped eliminate a team containing the three Ballon d
Sneijder helped eliminate a team containing the three Ballon d'Or finalists in the 2010 Champions League

In the final, Sneijder also starred and assisted the game's opener for Diego Milito against Bayern Munich to help Inter Milan achieve immortality under Jose Mourinho.

Unlike Lionel Messi, the then 26-year-old also carried his form over with him to the international scene and was one of the stars of the tournament at the 2010 World Cup.

Heading into South Africa 2010, not many fancied the Netherlands' chances of doing much on the global stage as The Oranje had not truly impressed at the World Cup in over a generation.

The Utrecht native did not do too much in the early stages, scoring just one goal from three group stage matches as the Netherlands topped their group with a 100% record, but was still named as the man-of-the-match in his nation's opening two fixtures.

However, as the saying goes; 'the bigger the stage, the brighter the stars shine,' and Sneijder truly began to shine from the knockout rounds.

He scored the winning goal and assisted Arjen Robben's opener as the Netherlands narrowly eliminated Slovakia with a 2-1 victory in the round-of-16.

In the quarterfinal, the he shone even brighter, scoring both goals to complete a comeback victory and send shockwaves by eliminating perennial favourites Brazil with another 2-1 victory.

Sneijder
Sneijder's brace helped eliminate Brazil at the quarter-final stage

By contrast, a day later, Lionel Messi put up a no-show as Mesut Ozil and co. decimated Los Albiceleste 4-0 to send them packing from South Africa.

Suddenly, everybody stood up and took notice of the Netherlands, and this was largely down to the performance of their number 10.

He was however not done, as he scored the second goal of a highly entertaining and end-to-end semifinal clash with Uruguay which the Netherlands won 3-2.

This saw them progress to the final to face Spain in what was Netherlands' first appearance at this stage in 32 years.

The ultimate fixture saw Holland enter the game as massive underdogs against a Spanish side that was almost unstoppable at that time.

However, the Dutch matched the Spaniards' and took them all the way to extra-time where an Iniesta goal just four minutes from the end of 120 minutes ultimately decided the destination of the trophy.

The game should not have gone that far, as, in a highly charged and physical match, Netherlands had an excellent chance to win the match in the 60th minute when none other than Wesley Sneijder played an excellent through ball to release Arjen Robben face-to-face with Iker Casillas.

The former Chelsea man fluffed his lines and shot straight at the Real Madrid legend to ensure the game remained scoreless in regular time.

Though the Netherlands failed to win their first World Cup, they had captured the imagination of the general public, with Wesley Sneijder's performance being the most noteworthy.

His five goals were the joint-highest scored at the tournament and were enough for him to win the Bronze Boot.

He was also one of the best players of the tournament, and apart from 'the master of the Jabulani' Diego Forlan (who deservedly won the Golden Ball), no one else can claim to have outperformed Wesley Sneijder at the 2010 World Cup.

For Sneijder's efforts in South Africa, he was given the Silver Ball as the second Most Valuable Player of the tournament.

The World Cup is the biggest competition in football, with the Champions League coming a distant second, and performances at both tournaments have gone long ways in determining the legacies of players.

Historically, the World Cup has always been used as the yardstick for which to decide the Ballon d'Or, and cases abound of players winning the award in a World Cup year based on their displays at the Mundial rather than anywhere else.

Prior to the Ballon d'Or being handed out to players from all nationalities, the award in a World Cup year was always given to the best performing player of a winning European nation.

In the absence of a European nation winning the World Cup, the best player from the best performing European country was chosen instead.

When it became open to players from all nationalities, in a World Cup year, it was handed to the best performing player at the World Cup until the farce that was the 2010 awards.

Belanov won the 1986 Ballon d
Belanov won the 1986 Ballon d'Or off his performance at the Mexico World Cup

Every four years from 1958 to 2006, the Ballon d'Or generally followed this pattern, with the only exception being Kevin Keegan's win in 1978 (England did not qualify for the 1978 World Cup in Mexico).

Every other Ballon d'Or winner bar none in this timeframe was rewarded based on their showing at the World Cup, regardless of what they did on the club scene in the year in question.

Take 1962's winner Josef Masopust for example, chances are that 95% reading this have never heard of him, but the late retired midfielder is one of just 44 men to have won the Ballon d'Or.

The 1962 World Cup was played in Chile, and despite not inspiring his country to victory, they went all the way to the final where they lost 5-2 to Brazil (whose players were ineligible for the Ballon d'Or).

His Ballon d'Or win in 1962 had everything to do with his starring role at the World Cup, and not his club performance (he was then representing lowly Dukla Prague).

Another good example would be 1986's winner Igor Belanov who though inspired Dynamo Kyiv to the European Cup Winners Cup that year, it was largely because of his output in Mexico 1986 that he won the Ballon ';Or.

He scored four goals (including a hat-trick against Belgium) and assisted a further, cementing his legacy by becoming the second Ukrainian to win the Ballon d'Or.

Some might argue that the World Cup is just a seven-game tournament and performance here should not weigh above that in a nine-month-long club season.

However, those that opine that simply do not understand the magnetic pull of the greatest single sporting event in the world of professional sports.

It brings together hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world together, as well as draws in audiences of billions around the world for a one-month period.

The World Cup draws out the deepest emotions from fans, while the fact that it comes around just once every four years adds to its romantic feel.

A good performance at the World Cup should thump anything done elsewhere, and the fact that Sneijder performed extraordinarily at both the World Cup and Champions League made him a shoo-in for the 2010 Ballon d'Or.

That he suffered the ignominy of not even making the top three in 2010 made the Balon d'Or lose some of its prestige in the eyes of fans, and this is a loss that the award still feels to this day.

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