By Manuel Traquete

Italian newspaper Gazetta Dello Sport guarantees that Andrés Iniesta will win the Player of the Year award, while Vicente del Bosque will take Coach of the Year.

Just a week ago, the same newspaper guaranteed that Messi, Xavi and Iniesta would be the three Ballon d’Or finalists and they were proved right, which makes one think that it might be the case again.

The newspaper claim to have the inside scoop of the Ballon d’Or and last week’s nominations seem to be proof of that.

According to Gazetta, Iniesta will take the Ballon d’Or, Xavi will be second and Lionel Messi will be third. As for the coaches, Del Bosque will win, José Mourinho will take second place and Pep Guardiola will be third.

Del Bosque winning is not really a surprise; José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola have been very successful (in fact, the Portuguese manager won the treble with Inter Milan last season), but this is a World Cup year and winning the most mediatic football competition in the world trumps Mourinho’s historic treble, thus making Del Bosque a fair winner of the first edition of this award.

However, giving the Ballon d’Or to Iniesta is a lot more controversial and seems very difficult to justify. El Ilusionista is undoubtedly a truly fantastic player; he’s the most complete midfielder in the world and he is the ultimate big game player; not only does he perform consistently at a high level, but he always steps up in the big matches (Stamford Bridge, World Cup Final, 2009 Champions League final, El Clásico…), which makes him arguably the best player in the world today.

Iniesta undoubtedly has the quality to be called “the best in the world.” However, this is supposedly an award for the best player during the year, and Iniesta was the least brilliant member of Barcelona’s Holy Trinity during 2010 by a large margin. He dealt with injuries for the whole season, was sidelined for the last few months of the club season and was a shadow of his 2008/2009 self. He did have a brilliant World Cup, scoring the winning goal in the final, but should that be enough to get him the award?

Lionel Messi proved that he is the most talented player of this generation and had arguably the best individual year in modern football history. In 2010, the Argentine genius scored an unbelievable 43 goals in 34 league matches and, overall, 59 goals and more than 20 assists in only 49 matches. The highlight was undoubtedly his four goals against Arsenal.

This might not be enough to win the Ballon d’Or though, as Lionel Messi failed to perform according to his standards in the big moments. He was good, but not spectacular, in the 2010 World Cup. There’s no doubt, however, that Lionel Messi will have no problems collecting more Golden Balls during his career. He’s only 23 and he has been becoming a more and more complete player by the year.

Xavi, on the other hand, was Mr. Consistency as usual. He commanded Barcelona’s and Spain’s midfield, and had a truly fantastic World Cup; he beat the record of most passes completed in a single World Cup and in a single World Cup match (against Germany), he ran more and created more chances than any other player in the tournament, leading Spain to their first World Cup title. How he did not win the Player of the Tournament award is a true mystery.

El Maestro was fifth in 2008 and third in 2009 and he now had arguably his best year ever. At 30-years old, the Ballon d’Or would be an award to Xavi’s absolutely magnificent career.

It seems quite clear that both Xavi and Messi deserve the Ballon d’Or more than Iniesta. Iniesta had a fantastic 2009 and he could have won the award in 2009. Both he and Xavi were arguably more influential than Messi in Barcelona’s unprecedented sextuple.

But this year, Iniesta was just not that great. The January through June period was actually a very difficult one for Iniesta. Even his inclusion in the top three has raised some eyebrows among football fans.

On paper, Messi and especially Xavi would be more deserving recepients of this award, due to their consistency throughout the year. That said, it was national coaches and captains who elected Iniesta. Being involved in the game at a competitive level, they certainly must have seen something in Iniesta’s season that the average football fan just can’t see.

Then again, Gazetta dello Sport is not a 100 percent reliable source, although they did get the top three right.

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