“I would not vote for any Ballon d’Or. I’m totally against it. I’m a team lover and a specialist of somebody who loves team work”. Those were the words of Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger when asked who would get his vote as the best player in world football. This came during his first press conference since Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo was crowned winner of football’s highest individual honour for the third time in his career and for the second year in succession. Wenger’s opposition to such an award highlights the issue in football of the “one-man team”, a term used usually in a derisory context towards a team whose success appears to be dependent upon one player.
Wenger’s Arsenal side have been accused of being just that this season, due to the outstanding performances of the Chilean forward Alexis Sanchez in his debut season with the Gunners. At the time of writing, Alexis has contributed to 19 goals in the Premier League (12 goals, seven assists) which is more than any other player in the league. While many Arsenal players have suffered from spells of poor form, the summer signing from Barcelona has flourished in his new surroundings. He has won the club’s Player of the Month competition for three of the five months polled so far, all coming consecutively before Santi Cazorla regained his best form to usurp that position in December.
It is clear when watching Arsenal this season that Alexis has often been the driving force to carry the team forward, outscoring and outclassing his teammates; however, to call Arsenal a one man team is a huge disservice to Alexis’s supporting cast. This was exemplified in the 2-0 away victory against Manchester City, where an uncharacteristically resolute Arsenal defence caused City to draw a rare blank at home. In that performance, Alexis’s role was a supporting one, full of defensive tenacity and hard work (one thing he guarantees every time he steps onto the field) while Santi Cazorla stole the headlines with an exceptionally midfield performance, scoring a penalty, assisting the second goal, and proving to be the main source of the team’s attacking play.
Defensive midfielder Francis Coquelin also received plaudits for his commanding display in front of the back four. Nacho Monreal has been a very strong defender this season, while Laurent Koscielny, Calum Chambers and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have been consistent performers as well. Alexis is undoubtedly a quality player, delivering the kind of performances expected of a £35m signing, but he owes a lot to the players around him.
Returning to the Ballon d’Or winner, Cristiano Ronaldo scored an incredible 51 goals in 47 appearances last season, including a record breaking 17 in 11 games in Real’s Champions League winning campaign. These are staggering figures that justify his selection as the current best player in the sport, however, doing this once again ignores the contribution of his teammates.
There is a reason Ronaldo only started hitting over 50 goals a season after leaving Manchester United, and while the lower quality of opposition in La Liga certainly is a factor, the players he has around him are the major contributor. The unfairly maligned France striker Karim Benzema encompasses this – a playmaking forward who creates as many as he scores, and who has a brilliant understanding with Ronaldo. Real Madrid pride themselves in collecting the best players from around the world, and while Ronaldo’s individual brilliance surpasses that of any other players in the game at the moment, the overall ability and cohesion in a team should be recognised as the platform that make possible such personal achievements.