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The World Cup Golden Ball:
Honouring the Player of the Tournament or a Consolation Prize?
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Adlul Kamal
November 20, 2019
Ronaldo (De Lima), Oliver Kahn, Zinedine Zidane, Lionel Messi, and Luka Modric. What do these famous footballers have in common other than being unquestionable legends of the game? They are all winners of the FIFA World Cup’s Best Player of the Tournament Award – the Golden ball, and each of them had received this award in a year when their respective teams lost the final game of the tournament.
Although FIFA has later recognized an MVP award for every past edition of the tournament, the official award was first introduced in the 1982 edition of the event where the best performers of the tournament were shortlisted by the FIFA technical committee and a winner was later chosen by the votes of media representatives. While this seems like a fair and balanced method of finding the best player of the tournament, there has never been a formal list provided by FIFA that explains the criteria that qualify someone as the best player of the tournament. Hence, the integrity and objectivity of this award has often been the subject of criticism, and FIFA has been accused of giving the award to someone to fulfill a marketing purpose as opposed to selecting a winner objectively.
Since its inauguration in 1982, FIFA has crowned a total of ten Golden Ball winners. Only 3 of these ten players belonged to a championship team, while the rest of them were all from a team that finished between 2nd and 4th.
Although MVP (Most Valuable Player) by definition is a term that identifies the best player of a competition, the criteria for evaluation of the ‘best’ are often quite capricious across different sports and tournaments. But a few common criteria can often be seen to overlap in several different sports in regards to how MVP’s are assessed. The first obvious criterion is individual statistics such as, goals, assists, steals, passes, touchdowns, homeruns, and so on, that is, the award going to the top scorer of the tournament or the goalkeeper with most saves, etc. The second common criterion is the performance of the team that the MVP candidate plays for, in other words, the MVP award usually goes to a player with good statistics from a winning team as opposed to a player whose team was eliminated early in the tournament. There are other less objective categories that are often cited by sports analysts while debating over MVP contenders, such as, a player’s impact on his/her team, influence over teammates, dominance on the game, and so on.
While there may not be a formal list of codes revealed by any of the modern sports governing bodies, most sports follow a certain set of conventions in their MVP voting rationale, which often includes a combination of several categories mentioned above. For example, in the NBA’s history of 64 years, every MVP was chosen from a team that finished within the top 8 of teams of the season with the exception of a few rare cases – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar whose team missed the playoffs in 1975-76, Dirk Nowitzki (2006-07) and Russel Westbrook (2016-17) whose teams were eliminated from the first round of playoffs. Major League Baseball, on the other hand, gives more emphasis on individual statistics, but that is probably so because it is much easier to separate the individual contribution of a player to his or her team in baseball. 
FIFA seems to follow a convention similar to the NBA in evaluating the candidates for the Golden Ball award where more emphasis is given on the numeric representations of performance while the qualitative aspects of the game are also taken into account. However, excessive emphasis on subjectivity along with the vastly noticeable inconsistency over the years has often put the legitimacy of the award itself in question. If you look at the list of all winners from 1982, you would notice that FIFA has gone from giving it to the best performer of the tournament to the best player of the winning team, and then to the best player of a team that didn’t win the cup but won the popularity contest.
FIFA’s biggest backlash came in 2014 when the Golden Ball was awarded to Lionel Messi, who was arguably the most popular footballer of that time but did not score a goal in the knockout stage of the tournament and failed to lead his team to victory against Germany in the Final. FIFA was accused of trying to capitalize from Messi’s popularity instead of giving it to a more deserving player. Mario Kempes, the Argentinian legend who lead his country to World Cup glory in 1978, was candid about his criticism against FIFA for presenting the award to Messi despite his unimpressive performance towards the end of the tournament. The then FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, also admitted to have been surprised to see Messi as the best player of the tournament. But the most famous and interesting criticism came from the most unlikely of places, someone you would never expect to criticize Messi. Maradona, possibly Messi’s biggest fan, blasted FIFA for giving the award to Messi undeservedly, and called the decision a marketing plan. 'Messi? I would give him heaven if possible,' Maradona said. 'But it’s not right when someone wins something that he shouldn’t have won just because of some marketing plan.'
Controversy over the Golden Ball award is not a new phenomenon. If you look at the history of this award, traces of inconsistency is easily noticeable. For example, between 1982 and 1994 every Golden Ball winner either finished the event as the top scorer or belonged to the World Cup winning team. The 1982 Golden Ball winner, Paulo Rossi played a pivotal role in Italy’s World Cup Triumph while scoring a tournament-high 6 goals. On the other hand, Maradona (1986) and Romario (1994) did not finish as the top scorer, but both played a key role in their respective team’s path to World Cup victory. The merits behind their golden ball honours were never questioned as they were both ‘winning generals’ of the triumphant armies. In 1990, the best player of the tournament honour was given to the Italian striker Salvatore Schillaci who was also the top scorer of the tournament, although Italy finished 3rd that year. This was the second time since 1982, and the last time that the World Cup would see the Golden Ball and the Golden Boot trophy awarded to the same person. 
Up to this point there were still elements of consistency. But in 1998, FIFA broke away from this norm of giving the Golden Ball to the top scorer of the tournament, or to the ‘general’ of the winning army. Ronaldo (De Lima) became the first recipient of the award without having lead his team to championship or becoming the top scorer of the tournament. Although Ronaldo had a decent campaign at the 1998 World Cup with 4 goals, fans often felt let down by his lack of impact throughout the tournament that did not resonate his stardom of that time. And, his sudden illness right before the final lead to a dismal performance in a 0-3 loss to France. Hence, many people raised eyebrows when he was announced the best player of the tournament, and questioned the real motive behind this decision – was he the most deserving of the award or was it given to aid a marketing scheme, or perhaps a gesture of consolation to help him recover from the dreary loss in the Final? We never heard an explanation from a FIFA representative about this, but this marked the beginning of a new trend. The World Cup Golden Ball Award was never the same and never again did we see the award going to a player from the team of champions.
As the years passed, FIFA continued to substantiate the notion that the Golden Ball award has become a consolation prize. Since the beginning of this trend in 1998, FIFA has crowned five more winners of the Golden Ball Award in five World Cups, and 4 of those awards went to a player that belonged to the team that lost the final of the tournament – Oliver Kahn (2002), Zinedine Zidane (2006), Lionel Messi (2014), and Luka Modric (2018). Diego Forlán was the only exception to this rule because his team (Uruguay) finished fourth in the 2010 edition of the Cup. Hence, we decided to review every Golden Ball winner since 1982 to understand possible arbitrary factors that determine voters’ decision to choose the winner of the Golden Ball award.
YearWinner Team RecordOther AwardsGoals Scored Other Stats
1982Paolo RossiChampionsTop Scorer61 Assist
1986MaradonaChampions2nd Top Scorer55 Assist
1990SchillaciThird PlaceTop Scorer61 Assist
1994RomarioChampions2nd Top Scorer52 Assists
1998RonaldoRunner-up3rd Top Scorer43 Assists
2002Oliver KahnRunner-upN/AN/A*N/A*
2006ZidaneRunner-upNone31 Assist
2010ForlánFourth PlaceTop Scorer51 Assist
2014MessiRunner-up3rd Top Scorer41 Assist
2018ModricRunner-upNone21 Assist
Showing entries (filtered from total entries)
Paulo Rossi (Italy, 1982)
Although the 1982 World Cup was packed with many stars and legends with plenty of good performances by the likes of Zico (4 goals), Falcao (3 goals), Socrates (2 goals), and Maradona (2 goals), Paulo Rossi was the top scorer (6 goals) and the best performer of the tournament, and the biggest contributor to Italy’s winning campaign that included a goal in the final. Hence, there has never been any questions about his accolade as the rightful winner of 1982 Golden Ball award.
Diego Maradona (Argentina, 1986)
1986 was possibly the most star-studded tournament of the modern era that saw an abundance of legends performing at a very high level, such as, Gary Lineker (6 goals), Careca (5 goals), Zico (4 goals), Michele Platini (2 goals), and Socrates (2 goals). However, if there is one edition of the World Cup where the consensus regarding who should be awarded the best player of the tournament was unanimous, this was it. Maradona’s individual performance, impact on the game, and selfless contribution to the team saw him lead Argentina to its second World Cup championship, and Maradona sealed his legacy as one of the greatest footballer of all time. Hence, despite the presence of many legends like Zico and Platini in the same tournament, Maradona’s legitimacy as the Golden Ball winner has never been questioned by the pundits or the fans.
Salvatore Schillaci (Italy, 1990)
1990 was the first edition of the tournament where the Golden Ball went to a player that was not part of the championship team as Italy only managed to finish the tournament in third place. However, Schillaci was the top scorer of the tournament and had significant contribution to Italy’s journey to the semi-finals, so there were plenty of factors that would support his place as the best player of the tournament. But if the FIFA technical committee wanted to emphasize more on the team records or pick a candidate from the eventual winners of the tournament (Germany), they would have several respectable candidates to choose from. Lothar Matthäus had an instrumental impact in Germany’s success with 4 goals and 1 assist, Andre Brheme also had a great tournament with 1 assist and 3 goals including the winning goal in the final from a nerve-wrecking penalty kick. Hence, you can’t help but wondering if this was the beginning of the trend when the Golden Ball became a consolation prize – maybe they gave it to Schillaci to console the Italian fans who were heartbroken from losing on home soil.
Romario (Brazil, 1994)
Romario’s case in 1994 was very similar to that of 86’s Maradona, because much like his Argentinian predecessor Romario was the central girue in Brazil's first World Cup glory of the post Jules Rimet era. He fell short of becoming the top scorer by a one goal margin, but managed to score five goals from 7 games, along with the winning goal of the semi-final. However, Romario faced steep competition from several candidates throughout the tournament. Even though the final game was decided in penalty shootout after a scoreless 120 minutes, the tournament saw the most number of goals scored in 12 years. The top scorer honour had to be shared by two players – Oleg Salenko, and Hristo Stoichkov with 6 goals each, and four other players had scored five goals including Juergen Kinsmann, Kennet Andersson, Roberto Baggio, and Romario himself. However, if there was ever an instance where the Golden Ball award should have been given to a tragic hero it would have had to be given to Roberto Baggio who took Italy to the final almost single-handedly, only to miss the final shot of the tie-breaking penalty shootout, an event that arguably remains the biggest tragedy in the history of World Cup to date. But emotions and theatrics aside, Baggio had scored two of his 5 goals from the penalty spot and had zero assist compared to Romario’s flamboyant performance throughout the tournament with five outfield goals and 2 assists. Therefore, Romario was clearly the deserving winner of the Golden Ball in 1994.
Ronaldo (Brazil, 1998)
Ronaldo was the first recipient of the Golden Ball without being the top scorer or having won the tournament. Ronaldo had a respectable but often inconsistent World Cup with 4 goals and 3 assists, and given the level of stardom he enjoyed in the late 90’s the expectations were very high from Ronaldo and many critiques and fans were left unsatisfied by his less than sensational performance at the event. But the highlight of this tournament took place right before the final when Ronaldo suffered from a sudden seizure and his participation in the final became doubtful. Although he ended up playing in the final, he looked all but a shell of himself with zero impact on the game that resulted in a committed France lead by Zinedine Zidane win their first World Cup trophy.
So, when Ronaldo was named the player of the tournament it caught many people by surprise. There were several contenders worthy of the Golden Ball Award with strong performances throughout the tournament. If they wanted to give it to the best performer of the tournament, they could have easily given it to Davor Šuker who lead his country to a third place finish while scoring a tournament-high 6 goals, just as Schillaci did for Italy in 1990. Some argued that Ronaldo’s own teammate, Rivaldo had a better tournament with 3 goals and 2 assists. Or, if they wanted to stick to the ‘winning general’ principle that possibly helped crown the likes of Maradona and Romario, they could have given it to Zinedine Zidane who played a clearly pivotal role in France's first World Cup title with one assist and 3 goals including the two he scored in the Final against Ronaldo’s Brazil. Perhaps, a red card earlier in the tournament blemished Zidane’s chances of winning, but if that was really a deciding factor for the technical committee they should never have given the award to another player with the same record (3 goals and a red card) – Zinedine Zidane of 2006!
Oliver Kahn (Germany, 2002)
If 1998 was the year of birth of the idea that the Golden Ball trophy is a consolation prize awarded to glorify a fallen hero, 2002 would have had to be its coming of age when the award was given to a goalkeeper for the first time in history. Oliver Kahn who was easily the best goalkeeper of the tournament with countless game-saving stops throughout the tournament, but it was his very own goalkeeping error that caused Germany to concede the first goal in the Final and eventually lose 0-2 to Ronaldo’s Brazil. The mistake he made was amateurish and there should be no excuse for failing to hold on to a mediocre strike from Rivaldo that lead to a rebound goal from a poaching Ronaldo. However, because of his previous efforts in tournament, Kahn became, not a villain, but a tragic hero, and were with received much sympathy and condolences rather than criticism.
There is nothing inherently wrong about giving the Golden Ball to a goalkeeper, and he was clearly a critical factor behind the German success. But throughout the history of World Cup, we have seen many great goalkeepers, but not only have we never seen another goalkeeper be awarded with the best player of the tournament honour, there has never been another goalkeeper that finished in the top three in the voting polls for the Golden Ball Award. In addition, given the level of performances offered by the other MVP award candidates that year, there was really no rationale as to why it was given to Kahn other than to console him. Kahn’s own teammates, Mikael Ballack was equally influential, if not more, to Germany’s success with 3 goals and 4 assists. His other teammate, Miroslav Klose, and the Brazilian Forward Rivaldo (whose spilled shot by Khan lead to Germany’s defeat), both had an impressive World Cup campaigns with 5 goals and 1 assist each. But in essence, the World Cup 2002 really belonged to one man, Ronaldo, who would put on a display of attacking football unlike anything we have ever seen in the modern era with an astonishing record of 8 goals in the tournament.
Why Ronaldo was the unequivocal best player of the 2002 World Cup?
Ronaldo was on a mission to redeem himself from the tragedy of France four years ago, and a career threatening injury that followed shortly after World Cup 1998. He was successful in his mission in every sense of the word in what would become one of the greatest comeback stories in the history of professional sports. Of all the selection criteria discussed above that qualify someone as the best player of the World Cup Ronaldo fulfilled all of them in 2002, a feat that we have not seen since Paolo Rossi in 1982. 
• Ronaldo was the best performer of the tournament on the stats sheet,
• He was the top scorer of the tournament,
• He was the centerpiece to the success of his team,
• He was consistent throughout the whole tournament, scored at least one goal in 6 out of the 7 games played,
• He performed at critical times,
    -He scored the winning goal of the Semi-final to take his team to the final
    -He scored both goals in the final that saw Brazil win their fifth title
• He scored a record total of 8 goals in the tournament, most since 1970, no other player has ever been able to score more than 6 goals at a single World Cup event in the Jules Rimmet era.
If this isn’t a performance worthy of the Golden Ball Award it is hard to figure out what is, because we have never seen another performance like this in the Jules Rimet era before or since. Yet Ronaldo finished 2nd in the voting poll behind Oliver Kahn. There maybe a few other reasons for Ronaldo losing in the Golden Ball Award voting. First, as mentioned, they wanted to console Oliver Kahn by getting into the bandwagon of celebrating the tragic hero. Or, they were trying to adjust an error made in the 1998 World Cup when they gave the award to Rolando at a time when he didn’t necessarily deserve it. Ironic and satirical as they may sound, there can really be no other explanation behind giving the Award to Oliver Kahn over Ronaldo in 2002.
Zinedine Zidane (France, 2006)
Zinedine Zidane is perhaps the other ironic name in the history of the Golden Ball awards, because they snubbed him in 1998 in spite of winning the Cup for his country with two goals in the final, but decided to give it to him in 2006 despite being sent off in the final for his own act of aggression which also possibly contributed to his team's loss in the World Cup final. Zidane played a key role in France’s journey to the final, and was having a great game until getting involved in an altercation with Italy’s Marco Materazzi who had directed some insults towards Zidane. An aggravated Zidane responded with a head butt to the Italian defender’s chest that resulted in a red card, and consequently a shorthanded France lost the game in the penalty shootout. Despite what remains to date as one of the worst acts of violence in the history of the World Cup, Zidane was received with vast support and empathy from the fans and the media. Zidane was seen as a tragic victim of circumstances, while Materazzi was antagonized for his act of provocation.
Henceforward, FIFA overlooked his red card in the final game and decided that his 3 goals (2 of which were scored from the penalty spot) and one assist were good enough to be the player of the tournament while disregarding several credible candidates, such as the top scorer Miroslav Klose with 5 goals (none from the penalty spot) and 1 assist, Ronaldo and Hernan Crespo with 3 goals and 1 assist each. If there was a time when were to give the Golden Ball to another goalkeeper or a defender, the 2006 World Cup would be a very fitting occasion, because the 2006 tournament was very low scoring in nature and saw plenty of great defensive and goalkeeping performances including Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon who conceded only 2 goals from 7 games while registering five clean sheets in the process. Although two defenders did finish the voting polls in the top 3, FIFA eventually gave the award to Zinedine Zidane despite the controversies and his less than impressive statistics, thus, further substantiating the Golden Ball Trophy as the consolation prize for the losing hero.
Diego Forlán (Uruguay, 2010)
Although Diego Forlán was not exactly the tragic hero straight out of homer’s iliad, and his story clearly lacked the same level of theatrics and drama that Ronaldo (1998), Zidane (2002) or Oliver Kahn (2002) had to offer, Forlán’s commendation as the best player of the 2010 World Cup may still seem like a continuation of the same voting trend set by FIFA.  Forlán had a respectable World Cup as he finished the tournament as a joint top scorer (5 goals, 1 assists) but missed out on the golden shoe award on account of fewer assits, and he also played a key role in leading Uruguay to the semi-final for the first time in 30 years. Therefore, all things considered, he was certainly a deserving candidate for the Golden Ball trophy.
But Forlán clearly faced steep compeition from several contenders with strong performences. For example, David Villa played an instrumental role in Spain’s first World Cup championship with a performance of five goals and one assist, which matches Forlán's stats. He also scored in several critical games of the tournament that saved Spain right from the brink of elimination, including the match winning goal in the round of 16 and in the quarter final. Such addition of value and contribution to a championship campaign can be only reminiscent of Brazil’s Romario in 1994. 
Thomas Mueller and Wesley Sneijder were two other strong contenders for the award that year. Sneijder had a slightly less impressive record (5 goals with no assists) but his Dutch side finished the tournament in 2nd place while beating Forlán’s Uruguay (3-2 in the semi-final) in the process. Thomas Mueller, on the other hand, had a far more impressive record (5 goals and 3 assists) compared to Forlán, and his German side finished the tournament in third place by defeating Forlán’s team in the third place playoff game. Yet, for some reason, FIFA’s distinguished voting panel preferred Forlán over Mueller, Sneijder, or Villa. 
Lionel Messi (Argentia, 2014)
If Oliver Kahn or Zidane’s cases were not sufficient to establish our proposed theory, FIFA made sure that glorifying the poetic hero becomes a thing by giving it to Lionel Messi in 2014, an outcome that was criticized by Messi’s own countrymen such as Mario Kempes and Maradona. Statistically Messi he had the best World Cup of his career with 4 goals and one assist, and deserves much credit for his role as a player and a leader that helped Argentina reach the final. But he had disappeared during several pivotal moments of the tournament when his team needed him the most. He failed to score a single goal in any of the knockout stage games, and eventually failed to get the job done for Argentina or lift the World Cup as the third Argentine captain in history.
In addition, the 2014 edition of the Cup saw a very steep competition for the Golden Ball honour with noteworthy performances by a number of players including Colombia’s James Rodriguez with an astonishing 6 goals and 2 assists, Thomas Mueller with a repeat performance of 2010 (5 goals and 3 assists), Neymar with 4 goals and 1 assist that matches Messi’s numbers, Robin Van Persie with 4 goals, and 5 other players with at least 3 goals.
Out of these players, Rodriguez and Mueller had the strongest of cases against Messi. First, you have to wonder why Rodriguez, the winner of the golden boot, did not finish in the top three in the voting with a far superior statistical record (6 goals and 2 assists). Perhaps they didn’t want him to have a second trophy given that he already won a trophy for being the top scorer of the tournament. Mueller, on the other hand, was the de facto hero of the German triumph and the center piece of their championship campaign. He also had a visibly better record (5 goals and 3 assists) than Messi and unlike Messi he performed and delivered for his team in important games. Yet, FIFA decided to go with the fan favourite Messi, and, thus, cementing the legacy of the Golden Ball as the award reserved for the losing superstar.
Luka Modric (Croatia, 2018)
Then came 2018, and FIFA continued to strengthen the legacy of the Golden Ball as the ‘Tragic Hero’ award by giving it to Luka Modric. Although Modric was clearly the cornerstone to the Croatian team that stunned the world by reaching the Final, but his statistical record of 2 goals and one assist makes him the most statistically underachieved Golden Ball winner of all time. There were at least 15 more players who could match his record in terms of goals and assists including Eden Hazard (3 goals, 2 assists), Artem Dzuyba (3 goals, 2 assists), Kylian Mbappe, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Denis Cheryshev with 4 goals each, Romelu Lukaku with 4 goals and 1 assist, and the top scorer of the tournament Harry Kane with 6 goals. But if there was one man that made the most compelling case against Modric as far as the Golden Ball is concerned, it would have had to be Antoine Griezmann who not only outperformed Modric in the stats sheet (4 goals 2 assists) but also lead his team successfully to their second World Cup victory. Although I am not going to say he played the same type of role as Maradona or Romario did to lead a team to championship, he was clearly the biggest reason for the French triumph. Modric is a hard-working footballer in every sense of the word, and he may not be the most undeserving Golden Ball winner in history, but when you compare his case with the past trend of selections, it’s hard to overlook that there is a clear inclination and bias on part of FIFA technical committee. At this point, FIFA appears almost committed to protecting the legacy of the Golden Ball as a token of sympathy, an honour reserved to glorify the fallen hero.
Football is not a sport that provides a lot of quantitative data that can be used for statistical analysis. Many of the performance factors in football are of qualitative nature which makes it extremely difficult to isolate the value, impact, or contribution of each individual player on the pitch. One key performance factor is the quality of teammates, and the weight of responsibility that a player has to carry on his shoulder. For example, many would argue that Messi carried a far greater weight than Mueller in 2014 because Argentina did not have the same level of talent as the Germans, or Modric in 2018 deserves more credit for his efforts than Griezmann because Griezmann had a much better supporting cast. Another prevalent performance factor is the strength of the opposition. Hence, some may also argue that performances by the likes of Harry Kane (6 goals in 2018) or James Rodriguez (6 goals in 2014) would carry less weight because they scored a majority of their goals against relatively weaker oppositions. In addition, football is an ever dynamic game in terms of how the game strategies and tactics change and evolve over time, which is possibly why we have never been able to settle the debate who is better between Maradona and Pele.
By these measures, it is completely understandable that the Golden Award honour did not always go in the hands of a player with a specific set of homogenous characteristics. But even having considered all of that, there still needs to be a degree of consistency. Statistics surely aren’t everything in football, and voters are wise to take the qualitative elements of the game into account while judging a player’s performance, but at least a certain level of consistency should exist in regards to how much weight is given to each performance category. For example, how much credit should we assign to a player for successfully leading his team to win the tournament (e.g. Griezmann in 2018, Mueller in 2014, Villa in 2010) as opposed to failing at that task (Modric in 2018, Messi in 2014, Robben in 2010, Zidane in 2006)? How much significance should it carry for registering lots of goals and assists, or how much credit should a player receive for performing in critical times for his team (Maradona in 1986, Romario in 1994, Ronaldo in 2002)?
These questions should be clearly answered and a standardized system of assessment should to be defined by FIFA because currently there is no evident standardized set of protocols that are being followed by the technical committee or the voters, and their selections are raising more questions than they are answering. From giving it to the top scorer of the tournament, we have seen the award going to the best player of the winning team, only for it to change into an award reserved for the best player of the losing finalist team, including a goal keeper. Someone needs to answer why Oliver Kahn was awarded the Golden Ball and no other goalkeeper was ever made it to the top three, because that essentially makes Oliver Kahn the best goalkeeper in the history of the tournament. And, when Maradona challenges Messi’s position as the best player of the tournament, one really needs to question if there is a need for revision.
From the anecdotes discussed in this article, we can observe the following trends in FIFA’s selection of Golden Ball winners:
• An inclination towards famous players – Ronaldo in 98, Zidane in 2006, Messi in 2014
• A bias against the top scorer of the tournament (no top scorer of the tournament has received the best player award since 1990)
But the most perceptible trend set by FIFA in the last two decades is their bias towards the best player of the losing finalists, because five of the last six Golden Ball award has gone to the best player of the losing finalist team. Hence we ask – is the Golden Ball a trophy that crowns the best player of the tournament, or is it a consolation prize reserved to glorify the one with the most tragically beautiful story, the one who defied all odds to lead his side to the brink of impossible, only to fall just short of the ultimate glory right before the final curtain – the tragic hero of the fallen Kingdom.

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