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The 1st Annual Ballon d’Ata Awards

Photo (Infantino): Russian presidency

Photo (Infantino): Russian presidency

Today I got to thinking that the Ballon d’Or wasn’t flawed so much because it was a popularity contest, but rather because it didn’t have awards by position. Goals are very salient, and it’s can be tough to compare skills across positions. Lionel Messi may be a once-in-a-lifetime player as a forward. But is Virgil van Dijk just as significant as a center back? By the way, who’s the best fullback of all time – Paolo Maldini? He never finished above third in the Ballon d’Or voting, and there may actually be less debate about his supremacy than there is about Messi’s.

To correct this obvious oversight, NYA is proud to present the first-ever Ballon d’Ata awards. According to NYA’s models, the lists below contain the best players at their positions over the past season. Of course, even using data, there’s room for argument; baked into this list are judgment calls about which skills are most important. Also, there’s nothing at all here about winning a trophy or being an especially clutch player, a giant motivator, etc. And there were quite a few near misses, too, so let the debate begin….

GK: Jan Oblak (gold), Alisson (silver), David de Gea (bronze)

CB: Virgil van Dijk (gold), Sergio Ramos (silver), Chris Smalling (bronze)

FB: Aleksandar Kolarov (gold), Marcos Alonso (silver), Marcelo (bronze)

DM: N’Golo Kanté (gold), Sergio Busquets (silver), Casemiro (bronze)

CM: Toni Kroos (gold), Paulinho (silver), Luka Modric (bronze)

AM: Kevin de Bruyne (gold), Dimitri Payet (silver), David Silva (bronze)

W: Lorenzo Insigne (gold), Raheem Sterling (silver), Sadio Mané (bronze)

ST: Mohamed Salah (gold), Cristiano Ronaldo (silver), Lionel Messi (bronze)

One quick comment… the odd thing here is that there’s not a single player from the Bundesliga. Robert Lewandowski just missed the ST list, and a few CBs were close to the top as well. But the models think that the quality of Germany’s top tier has been dropping, so it’s difficult for players from there – even ones who get some minutes in the Champions League – to rise above their peers. That could change, though, with the injection of young talent that we’re seeing this season… so stay tuned for next year’s Ballon d’Ata!