A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Analyzing Ballon d’Or Voting: Coaches vs Players vs Media

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In a move I didn’t expect, FIFA has broken down the voting for their new Ballon d’Or award based on the 3 different voting groups:  Coaches, players, and media.  Fantastic, it often comes up what affect the voter pool has on awards, but we typically don’t have data from different groups assigned the exact same task.

The link I’ve listed above actually shows how much of the vote each player received, but here is how it looks just by ranking, sorted by the overall finish.  Blanks indicate that the player received no votes from that contingent:

Arbitrariness:  “Sneijder would have won” & Iniesta COULD have won

The obvious thing that has been noted elsewhere is that Sneijder finished 4th, but among the media, he finished 1st.  This has people particularly up in arms because the 2010 FIFA Ballon d’Or is the first year after the 2 big player of the year awards were combined.  The first, the Ballon d’Or was voted on by the media.  The second, the FIFA World Player of the Year was voted on by coaches and players.  Had the old school Ballon d’Or still existed this year, Sneijder would have won it, but instead he wasn’t even a finalist here.

Let’s also note, the old Ballon d’Or group only got half the weight in the new award as the FIFA Player of the Year award.  Had the weighting been reversed, the Lionel Messi doesn’t win the award, Andrew Iniesta does.  (Had the two sides had equal weight, Messi still wins the award).  It really goes to show how arbitrary this all is, and as you know, tearing down false objectivity is kinda my thing, so I’m loving it.

Who is the Voice of Sanity?  Coaches vs Players vs Media?  Eh, depends

Now, thinking beyond who deserved what and focusing in on how players vs coaches vs media think, the clear stand out is that the players and coaches think similarly, but the media thinks quite different.  In my analysis of the Ballon d’Or nominees, I praised the list with the word “rationality” as evidence for looking beyond the miniscule sample size of the World Cup.  In the voting breakdown we see that it was the players and coaches pushing away from the World Cup much more so than the media.  Can we thus say the players and coaches are more rational in their voting than the media?  Wouldn’t that be funny?

Alas, when we actually go back and look at old votings of the two awards, a cursory glance seems to indicate just as much reliance on the World Cup and European Cup in the player & coaches award than in the media award.  Zinedine Zidane for example won the 2000 FIFA Player of the Year after leading the French to a European Cup victory, but didn’t win the Ballon d’Or, and finished 2nd in the 2006 FIFA POY after his amazing World Cup run, but only 5th in the Ballon d’or.  Clearly the major discrepancy we’re seeing this year between the voting blocks cannot be chalked up to simply how much each side weighs international tournaments.

The trend that seems pretty consistent to me, looking at both the current and previous years’ votes, is that the biggest stars seem to do better with the players and coaches than with the media.  Messi is the biggest star in the game right now, and the players and coaches supported him this year.  The two big stars in recent history are Zidane and Ronaldo, both did much better in the FIFA Player of the Year than in the Ballon d’Or.  (6 POYs and 11 top 3 POY appearances between them, but only 3 Ballon d’Ors and 7 top 3 Ballon d’Or appearances)

My hypothesis thus is that players and coaches don’t put as much attention on the details of what happened in the current year.  They have an idea of who the best players in the world are, and if one of those players has a year that fits with their perception of his greatness, they’re inclined to vote for him.  The media on the other hand, pays far more attention to what is actually happening, and really look at awards in terms of what a player accomplished this year even if that means giving an award to a player they see as inferior in general.  I think these trends probably provide good stereotypes for how these types of people vote for awards in all sports.

Which is better?  Players & coaches, or the media?  I think it depends on what’s being judged.  In soccer, as I’ve talked about before, the schedule is so strange and glory so out of whack with reliability, I’m inclined to say that the players and coaches might be the more useful measure.  On the other hand, in a sport like basketball where sample size is much more reasonable and statistics much more plentiful, I think the media’s detail-orientedness is more appropriate, and that the players & coaches reliance on their existing perceptions means that they’d rely on reputation more than is necessary.

You say “Xabi”,  I say “It’s Xa-VI you idiot!”

2 last voting points:

1. Xabi Alonso finished 10th in the voting despite the fact that no one really talked about him as a candidate.  “Xavi” looks a lot like “Xavi” and they both play for Spain.  This is leading some to speculate that voters meant to vote for Xavi but made a mistake.  If we give Xavi the points that Xabi received, this bumps Xavi up to 2nd place over Iniesta.  How embarrassing if true.  Also worth noting that the potentially “sloppier” players & coaches voted for Xabi significantly more than the media.

2. The media voted for significantly LESS players than the players and coaches, as in a less distributed curve.  This would seem to play into a narrative of the media having put more thought and discussion into the happenings of the year than the players and coaches, and thus having come to more of a consensus.

One Response

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  1. Sneijder should win, he is the best, better than anyone.

    Adrian Marino

    May 22, 2011 at 1:45 pm

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