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Ballon d’Or 2023: Erling Haaland or Lionel Messi, Who Will Clinch the Coveted Award?

Haoyu Zhang

Lionel Messi lifts the World Cup Trophy with Argentina after defeating France in the final.

It is near that time of the year, October 30, a day to remember for Soccer fans across the globe…the much anticipated Ballon d’Or ceremony. With the 2023 nominees introduced on September 26, this year’s race is stacked with historically great seasons and talents. However, most analysts have reached the consensus that the two favorites are Manchester City’s Erling Haaland and Inter Miami’s Lionel Messi. But, who exactly is more deserving of the coveted award?

2023 is a year to remember for Haaland and City fans, as he achieved historical records and simply had overall great team success. Individually, Haaland surpassed Alan Shearer and Andy Coles's 34-goal record, setting a new Premier League record of 36 goals in a season. Furthermore, across the entire 2022-2023 campaign, Haaland had an extremely impressive near 1-to-1 goal-to-appearance ratio, including a total of four hat tricks. From a team perspective, it was a near-flawless season, with Man City winning the treble, only to lose out on the EFL Cup and Community Shield. On the other hand, Haaland’s biggest counterargument is his lack of quality in the World Cup and decisive matches. Not only did he not score in the Champions League (UCL) Finals, but he also only touched the ball a measly 21 times, least among all 22 starters. This is not even mentioning how Norway failed to qualify for the 2022 World Cup. With that said, a treble and a new Premier League record is no short of an amazing season, but now let us have a look at Lionel Messi.

La Pulga, Alien, the Messiah, and the little boy from Rosario are among the many names Lionel Messi has been called. But none have fit him better than the GOAT: Greatest of All Time, solidified by his masterclass performance leading Argentina to their first-ever World Cup Trophy since 1986. Though there may be some bias due to his incredible homecoming story, it is without a doubt that Messi is still among the best players in the world despite having transferred to Inter Miami.

At PSG, Messi consistently had a higher performance grade than his two teammates and Ballon d’Or finalists Mbappe and Neymar. To support this, throughout the 2022-23 campaign, Messi had an astonishing 65 goals/assists at 36 years of age, surpassing even Haaland’s 61. Messi also matched Haaland’s 1-to-1 goal-to-appearance ratio by scoring 11 goals in 11 games played for Inter Miami, though it is in the Major League Soccer (MLS). Nonetheless, Messi’s cream of the crop is still his World Cup performance, as some of his achievements include four man of the matches, being joint top scorer and assister, as well as being the World Cup Finals most valuable player, scoring a brace. From a team standpoint, Messi won Ligue 1 with PSG, and with Inter Miami, Messi led them to a blistering nine-game win streak, along the way defeating Nashville FC to claim the League Open Cup. Keep in mind, that Inter Miami was a bottom-two team in the Eastern Conference before Messi’s arrival. All things considered, now let’s compare and contrast, to determine who is the rightful recipient of the Ballon d’Or.

To compare Haaland and Messi, let’s first look at the stats. Among the major categories, Haaland leads in goals, but Messi clears in assists, chances, performance grades, and overall consistency. This is a knock at Haaland’s poor performance in the UCL finals, so in this category, Messi takes the lead. From a team standpoint, even with how well Inter Miami has performed, it is still incomparable to Man City’s treble, so this one easily goes to Haaland. Lastly, on the international stage, Messi completed his promise to give Argentina a World Cup, whereas Haaland’s Norway failed even to qualify. Quite literally stating the obvious, this one goes to Messi. To sum all of that up, Messi clears Haaland in international competitions, whereas Haaland does the same to Messi in domestic once, but ultimately, Messi triumphs slightly in the stats category. Although it’s a very close race, and there are plenty of arguments in favor of Haaland, it all comes down to Haaland’s lack of success in big moments, whereas Messi thrived. Individually, Messi was simply the better player, hence why Messi is my pick for the 2023 Ballon d’Or, further concluding his GOAT career with his eighth Ballon d’Or.


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