It surprised FIFA president Sepp Blatter and Maradona claimed it was a marketing stunt, but now one of the men responsible for awarding Lionel Messi with the World Cup's Golden Ball has explained the decision. And it sounds pretty reasonable.
The winner of the award was decided by FIFA's Technical Study Group and after days of debate and theorizing, former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier, a member of the group, has explained the reasoning behind the choice. He told Le Monde (via ESPN):
"I understand that it has surprised, because everyone only remembers the second half of Lionel Messi in the final. We, the commission, we look at all the games, and we judge that he was the most important man for his team. He went to the final, which is one of the conditions for the attribution of the trophy," the ex-Liverpool and Aston Villa boss explained.
"Moreover, Messi was more than decisive in the first four games. In the semifinal against the Netherlands, he took the first penalty and scored. The analysis also takes into account the fact he was the captain of a united team. A team that played well together. That's something we hadn't seen for a long time from Argentina. He was more than key in the squad and the way it was set up. For me, he fully deserves the Golden Ball given he took his team through to the final."
Messi scored four goals in Argentina's first three matches and set up Angel Di Maria's winner in the round of 16. He played a quieter role in the later rounds, but Houllier argued that the Netherlands' Arjen Robben, widely regarded as a top candidate for the award, "didn't carry so much weight with the team." Houllier also reasoned that Colombia's James Rodriguez, who won the Golden Boot as the tournament's top scorer, didn't make it far enough to be considered (Colombia were eliminated by Brazil in the quarterfinals).
Houllier did say that Di Maria would have been "a very serious contender" had he not suffered a thigh injury in the quarterfinals that ended his tournament. But Messi's closest competitor for the award was Germany's Thomas Muller, who scored five goals for the World Cup winners. The Frenchman believes that Messi had the better tournament on the whole and was more vital to Argentina's success than Muller was to Germany's, though.
So that's the explanation/cover story for giving Messi the 2014 World Cup's Golden Boot award. Maradona will surely be revising his conspiracy theories shortly.
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