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  • Writer's pictureCoach Enzo

What do 77% of the Ballon D'Or Winners from the last 25 years have in common?

Updated: Oct 7, 2023

As we approach the ceremony for the 2023 Ballon d'Or, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look back at the past winners of the last 25 years and see if any of them had similarities.


This article will have the following structure:


1. Introduction 2. Analyzing Ballon D'Or Winners since 1997

3. Why do these findings make sense?

4. Conclusion

 

1. Introduction - Award details

Ballon D'or Trophy

First, as a reminder, the Ballon d'Or is an annual football (soccer) award presented by France Football since 1956. The Ballon d'Or award honors the player deemed to have performed the best over the previous football season. The voting is composed of the following:


- 100 football journalists (1 per country from the top 100 countries in the FIFA World ranking)

- 100 National team coaches (1 per country from the top 100 countries in the FIFA World ranking)

- 100 National team captains (1 per country from the top 100 countries in the FIFA World ranking)


The measures of success used in voting include both individual performances as well as team performances. Historically players who have just one of the two (ex: score a lot of goals but who are unable to lead their team to a major trophy) have not won the trophy.


For this year's ceremony scheduled for October 30th 2023, the widely accepted favorites are Lionel Messi and Erling Haaland. Messi won the French First Division with Paris Saint Germain and captained Argentina to their first World Cup win in 36 years. While Erling Haaland led European club competitions with 52 goals scored and also won the treble with Manchester City FC for the first time in their club's history (English Premiere League, Champions League & the English FA Cup).


Nevertheless, here is the full list of the 30 nominees who can be voted for:


Ballon D'Or Nominees

The 30 Ballon D'Or Nominees for the 2022 - 2023 Season

 

2. Analyzing the past 25 years of Ballon D'Or Winners


Now that the award details are clear, in anticipation for this year's award I think it's worth looking back at the winners from the last 25 years. Of these players listed below, the ones which are highlighted have one thing in common! Can you guess what it is? Scroll to the bottom to find out....



2022 --> Karim Benzema (French National Team & Real Madrid) 2021 --> Not awarded due to Covid-19 Pandemic

2020 --> Lionel Messi (Argentinian National team & Paris Saint Germain)

2019 --> Lionel Messi (Argentinian National Team & FC Barcelona)

2018 --> Luka Modric (Croatian National Team & Real Madrid)

2017 --> Cristiano Ronaldo (Portuguese National Team & Real Madrid)

2016 --> Cristiano Ronaldo (Portuguese National Team & Real Madrid)

2015 --> Lionel Messi (Argentinian National Team & FC Barcelona)

2014 --> Cristiano Ronaldo (Portuguese National Team & Real Madrid)

2013 --> Cristiano Ronaldo (Portuguese National Team & Real Madrid)

2012 --> Lionel Messi (Argentinian National Team & FC Barcelona)

2011 --> Lionel Messi (Argentinian National Team & FC Barcelona)

2010 --> Lionel Messi (Argentinian National Team & FC Barcelona)

2009 --> Lionel Messi (Argentinian National Team & FC Barcelona)

2008 --> Cristiano Ronaldo (PortugueseNational Team & Real Madrid)

2007 --> Kaka (Brazilian National Team & AC Milan)

2006 --> Fabio Cannavaro (Italian National Team & Real Madrid)

2005 --> Ronaldinho (Brazilian National Team & FC Barcelona)

2004 --> Andriy Shevchenko (Ukrainian National Team & AC Milan)

2003 --> Pavel Nedved (Czech Republic National Team & Juventus)

2002 --> Ronaldo (Brazilian National Team & Real Madrid)

2001 --> Michael Owen (English National Team & Liverpool FC)

2000 --> Luis Figo (Portuguese National Team & Real Madrid)

1999 --> Rivaldo (Brazilian National Team & FC Barcelona)

1998 --> Zinedine Zidane (French National Team & Juventus)

1997 --> Ronaldo (Brazilian National Team & Inter Milan)


Futsal Experience! 77% of Ballon D' Or winners had experience playing futsal in their youth!

Crazily enough the list could be even bigger and include Luka Modric and Andriy Shevchenko since I found evidence that both of them played extensively in their youth on hard surfaces. However, I didn't include them as I could not find any evidence that they had played futsal in a team.


3. Why do these findings make sense?

The nature of the futsal game places a large emphasis on technical skill and ability in situations of high pressure and is subsequently an excellent breeding ground for football competencies that can be translated into the 11-a-side format of the game. In the following paragraphs, I'll break down what the game of futsal is and the incredible benefits that crossover to the bigger game of soccer (11v11). If you'd like to refer or read the definitive guide to understanding the differences between futsal and soccer go here.


Translatable Benefit #1 - Speed of Play


Most coaches will say that the difference between a good player and a great player is the player's ability to have a quick speed of play.

The fast-paced and demanding nature of futsal requires players to be able to think quickly and make decisions under pressure. The smaller court means less time and space on the ball, so players need to be able to make decisions quickly. Additionally, Futsal-specific tactical movements empower players with tools to be creative with their decision-making.


After learning to problem-solve in such a tight area, the transition to the big field appears easy. The brain which has been trained to operate with 1 yard of space on the court, now has to problem solve comparable problems with 4-5 more yards of space.


Pelé bicycle kick

"I played futsal growing up in Brasil. In futsal you need to think quickly and play quickly so it's easier for you when you move to normal football." - Pelé


Translatable Benefit #2 - First touch and Ball Control


A study by Dr. Emilio Miranda from the University of Sao Paulo found that futsal players have an average of 600% more touches on the ball than soccer players in a typical game. This is due to the smaller field size and faster pace of play in futsal.

The smaller field in futsal forces players to be closer to each other and the ball, which leads to more passing and dribbling. Additionally, the faster pace of play means that players have less time to think on the ball, which forces them to make quicker decisions and rely on their technical skills.

As a result of having more touches on the ball, futsal players tend to have better ball control and technical skills than soccer players. Futsal really empowers players with better close control skills.


Ronaldinho celebrating

"A lot of the moves I make originate from futsal. It's played in a very small space, and the ball control is different in futsal. And to this day my ball control is pretty similar to a futsal player's control." - Ronaldinho

 

Translatable Benefit #3 - 1 v 1 Dribbling ability


Futsal players are involved in more 1v1 situations than soccer players. This is because the field is smaller and the game is more fast-paced. The more 1v1 situations that players are involved in, the better they will become at them.


Vinicius Jr, the player who completed the most successful dribbles in the 2022-2023 season credits his dribbling success primarily to futsal (below is the top ten).


1. Vinicius Junior (Real Madrid) – 103 dribbles

2. Lionel Messi – (PSG) – 91 dribbles

3. Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund) – 83 dribbles

4. Jeremie Frimpong (Bayer Leverkusen) – 82 dribbles

5. Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal) – 76

6. Rodrygo (Real Madrid) – 74 dribbles

7. Leroy Sane (Bayern Munich) – 71 dribbles

8. Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich) – 70 dribbles

=9. Lee Kang-in (Mallorca) – 69 dribbles

=9 Rafael Leao (AC Milan) – 69 dribbles


Vinicius Jr dribbling

"Futsal helped me develop my dribbling skills. In futsal, you have to be able to dribble past defenders to create chances. This helped me develop the confidence to dribble past defenders in football." - Vinicius Jr

 

The ability to run past defenders is not only valuable for attacking scenarios in the attacking third, it is an integral skill set that teams look for in every position. When players have the ability to break lines on the dribble and not just on the pass, the options for the team to progress up the field tremendously increase. Dribbling ability destabilizes defensive organization as it forces players to press, and leave their position. Here's a video below that details how Pep Guardiola focused on acquiring top dribblers in different positions this previous summer 2023 transfer window:



 

Translatable Benefit #4 - Improves timing and creativity

To gain an advantage over the opposition and increase the chances of receiving the ball, players need to move off the ball. Futsal games which have consistent high-pressure situations force players to constantly create space for themselves.

The individual creative off-the-ball movements to create separation paired with the team's rehearsed offensive rotations help open up the opposition's defense to ultimately create chances and score goals.


Marcelo champions league

"Futsal is a game where you have to be able to move creatively. You have to be able to dribble past defenders, create space, and find your teammates with passes. If you can't move creatively, you're not going to be successful in futsal." - Marcelo Vieira (5-time Champions League winner)

 

Below is a video depicting gameplay examples of clever individual off-the-ball movements in futsal games:

Here is an example of Mbappe, one of the world's best players, doing the same movement in the game to create separation from his defender and maximize the chances of receiving the ball.



 

Translatable Benefit #5 - Passing Ability


A talent development research paper published in April 2019 by authors, Oppici, Panchuk, Serpiello, and Farrow found that the game of futsal developed a "higher relative passing standard" than the game of soccer.


"Practicing futsal for more than 1000 h and learning the passing skill with the futsal ball promoted the development of a higher standard of passing relative to practicing with soccer constraints. Futsal task constraints promoted players’ education of attention towards information specifying affordances and functional adaptability of the passing skill. These results should encourage national soccer federations and coaches to strongly consider the systematic introduction of futsal in the early stages of soccer development programs to promote talent development." The small space of the court forces players to have accurate sharp passes to avoid interceptions which could immediately lead to a chance on goal. Furthermore, futsal has distinct passing techniques which are not often practiced in soccer. These techniques include a number of flicks and scoops which can be tremendously effective to unlock defenses. Below is an example of an outside-the-foot flick down the line:



Lastly, the futsal game model has rotations (offensive patterns of play) that highly depend on game intelligence, creativity, and timing of different types of passes. Rotations are practiced movements for different scenarios of the game to provide a blueprint to the players to help them create in the opposing team's defensive structure. Below is an example:




 

Translatable Benefit #6 - Explosiveness


Every player wants to get faster and be able to cover more ground faster. Speed mechanics and motor skills can and should be improved through dedicated speed work, however, futsal is also an excellent way to make progress in a game scenario which includes the ball. Futsal is a very fast-paced and unpredictable sport. Players need to be able to change direction quickly and react to changing situations. This helps to improve their agility and explosiveness.


Iniesta celebrating a goal

"Futsal is a great way to improve your overall athleticism, including your speed and acceleration. It is a very fast-paced and demanding sport." - Andres Iniesta



Neymar dribbling

"Futsal helped me to develop my speed and acceleration. I learned how to move quickly and react to changing situations." - Neymar

 

Transferable Benefit #7 - Joy


In modern times, it's not uncommon for youth soccer players to feel underwhelmed and disappointed by their experience with the game at some stage. According to Arsene Wenger, the famous former Arsenal manager, 67% of academy players are not anymore in football by the age of 21. He expands to say: "The stamina in the motivation is more important than the intensity of the motivation. Because you have to deal with frustrations, disappointment, with not being selected, and still keep going. And, those who keep going make it!”



This stamina of motivation can be impacted negatively by many things, however, I think it can it can also greatly improve with the game of futsal. More actions, more goals, and more celebrations ignite emotion in players. They make for an incredibly fun playing experience which can fuel players to keep going!


Alex Witsel

"Futsal is a great sport. It's fun, it's fast, it's technical. It's a great way to improve your skills and your fitness. I loved playing futsal as a kid and I still enjoy playing it today." - Alex Witsel (Belgium National Team & Atletico Madrid)


Conclusion


Whether the end goal is to get to the top in futsal or football (soccer), futsal is an irreplaceable tool for player development that all competitive soccer players should be playing regularly until at least 13-14 years old.


Lastly, to finish with some food for thought... The important caveat is that these transferable benefits mentioned above will not be able to just transpire naturally from playing on a hardwood surface. Futsal is a variation of the beautiful game, but it is still a distinct game. Many of these benefits will only happen from being coached by a coach using a specific game model (technical and tactical approach for all phases of play) created in response to the specific futsal rules and gameplay constraints.


All hybrid coaches who have coaching licenses both for soccer and futsal will agree that they need to switch hats when coaching each sport (soccer & futsal). Simply put, futsal-specific education and experience go a long way to harnessing futsal's benefits effectively.


If you are interested in playing competitive futsal please check out the Playmaker Lab programs here or reach out to me directly about trying out.


Cristiano Ronaldo celebrating

"The small playing area helped me improve my close control, and whenever I played futsal, I felt free. If it wasn't for futsal, I wouldn't be the player I am today." - Cristiano Ronaldo




"As a little boy in Argentina, I played futsal on the streets and for my club. It was tremendous fun, and it really helped me become who I am today.” - Lionel Messi


Bonus: The Author of Atomic Habits - James Clear wrote a nice article about futsal constraints in case you are interested. You can find it here








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