Leo Messi should win the 2015 Ballon D’Or, and arguments against the best player on a treble-winning club who also provided spectacular moments like this are more contrarian than legitimate.  When thinking about what a world class player looks like, Messi is an unrealistic expectation.  He is a generational player, one who’s performance exceeds his peers by an unbelievable amount.  By broadening the scope of what a world class player is, we see that the path to becoming world class is a varied one.

I looked at the 23 finalists for the Ballon D’Or, where they played the prior seven seasons, and the ELO scores for those clubs at the start of each season.

Ballon dOr

(Click here for an interactive version)

A few observations:

Virtually everyone changed clubs along the way.  Messi, Andres Iniesta, and Thomas Mueller are the only three players who stayed with the same club over this timespan.  Not surprisingly, there’s a strong gravitational pull toward Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich – the three clubs have 16 of the 23 players nominated for the award.  These squads are historically strong, and among the largest revenue generators in the world.

Many players made large jumps in club prestige successfully.  Eight of the 23 players made substantial leaps to a much stronger club.  James Rodriguez’s move from Monaco to Real Madrid and Alexis Sanchez’s move from Udinese to Barcelona both included increases of more than 400 Club ELO points.  Additionally, Rodriguez and Neymar were the only two who moved from the Americas to Europe.

Robert Lewandowski and Kevin de Bruyne made the furthest journey.  In 2008, Lech Poznan and Genk fans were watching future Ballon D’Or nominees.  Neither player went directly to their current club; Lewandowski played for Borussia Dortmund before Bayern Munich, and de Bruyne played for Chelsea, Werder Bremen, and Wolfsburg before joining Manchester City.