Ballon d'Or: Defending Roy Hodgson for picking Javier Mascherano ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi
By Peter Smith
Last Updated: 15/01/15 11:17am
Roy Hodgson caused a stir with his Ballon d’Or votes, naming Javier Mascherano as the world’s best player, while winner Cristiano Ronaldo and runner-up Lionel Messi didn’t even make his top three.
Germany duo, defender Philipp Lahm and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer – who finished third in the final standings – completed the England manager’s treble, with Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher joking on Twitter that Hodgson was playing for a clean sheet.
However, is there a case for tough-tackling Argentina midfielder Mascherano, who plays centre-back for Barcelona, being named the world’s best? Can his feats for club and country outweigh over 100 goals scored by Ronaldo and Messi in 2014?
Here, we try to defend Hodgson’s selection…
World Cup star
Voters are asked to judge players on their performances for their club and/or national team – and there’s no doubt Mascherano was one of Argentina’s shining lights at the World Cup in Brazil, playing a key role as Alejandro Sabella’s side reached the final.
The 30-year-old made the second most number of tackles at the tournament (22), joint-third most blocks (six), and recovered the ball for his side on 49 occasions, putting him fourth in that category, while only two players covered more ground than his 82km. He was also third in the passing rankings, making 626 passes with an 86% completion rate. Only Toni Kroos and Lahm could better those numbers.
However, beyond the raw data, never was his contribution to the cause more apparent than in the semi-final when his last-ditch injury-time tackle denied Arjen Robben what would have been a match-winning goal. And that after a painful clash of heads with Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum earlier in the game had almost forced him off the field.
“'Masche' was exceptional," said Argentina legend Diego Maradonna after the game. "When I said it was 'Masche' and 10 more, they laughed. Today they could not laugh. The example on the pitch is Mascherano. Everyone follows his rhythm. So they cannot score against us.”
Argentina eventually succumbed to a Mario Goetze extra-time winner in the World Cup final, but Mascherano's performance in Brazil warrants merit.
Barca just fall short
Mascherano may have won Hodgson’s vote but 2014 was a year of runners-up medals for the former West Ham man. Gareth Bale denied the Catalans in the Copa del Rey final, while they missed out to Atletico Madrid by three points in La Liga’s title race.
However, Mascherano impressed at the heart of Barca’s defence and was named the club’s player of the year ahead of Lionel Messi in October. “When your name came up, the response was unanimous and so this a very well deserved prize,” Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu told Mascherano at the awards ceremony. "It’s an honour for Barca to have a player like you.”
The Argentine made La Liga’s top 10 for passing success (88.9%) in 2013/14, but his battling displays in Barcelona’s defence during a season of struggles for the Spanish giants typified his importance to a team more renowned for their flamboyant forward play.
Mascherano’s performances for Argentina at the World Cup in Brazil were impressive and key to his nation’s progress to the final. Technically, Hodgson is permitted to judge him on those performances alone – but Mascherano didn't even make the team of the tournament, while Messi, to the surprise of some, landed the golden ball award as best player.
It is also difficult to argue a player who failed to pick up a single winners’ medal in 2014 should surpass 52-goal Cristiano Ronaldo – who won the Champions League and Copa del Rey double – ever-impressive Messi or World Cup-winning ‘keeper Manuel Neuer – who also picked up a league and cup double with Bayern Munich – in a vote for the world’s best player.