Towards the culmination of each year, France Football award the Ballon d’Or – a prize widely regarded as the most prestigious individual award in the game – to a recipient subsequently believed to be the best player in world football across the season.
Karim Benzema – formerly of Real Madrid and now of Al-Nassr – is the most recent awardee, and on the 30th October this year, the 67th annual Ballon d’Or ceremony will be held and just one player, above all others, will be named as the deserving recipient.
Lionel Messi is the bookies’ front-runner for the prize, primarily owing to his starring role and heroic performances during Argentina’s successful quest to claim the World Cup for the first time since 1986. The diminutive Argentine was also deservedly awarded the FIFA World Cup Golden Ball for his immense efforts and owing to this, is expected by many to receive the prestigious award for a record eighth time.
Messi also enjoyed a stellar season at club level, as the Argentine recorded 21 goals and 20 assists in 41 appearances across all competitions for Paris Saint-Germain, as the Ligue 1 giants claimed their 11th French top-flight title. However, the Parisian club’s early exit in the Champions League put somewhat of a dampener on what is likely to have been his final season in European football, and may even harm his chances of dethroning Karim Benzema.
Erling Haaland of Manchester City is another serious contender for the award and has a strong case to be named as the 2022/23 Ballon d’Or winner ahead of Lionel Messi courtesy of his phenomenal – and superior – goalscoring exploits during his debut season at the Etihad.
The Norwegian behemoth smashed numerous records as he notched a staggering 61 goal contributions (52 goals, 9 assists) in 53 matches throughout his crucial role in helping Manchester City to a long-awaited Champions League triumph, as part of a historic treble.
Aside from the aforementioned prolific duo, the only other player granted lower than 50/1 odds by many bookmakers is Kevin De Bruyne (33/1), who – along with Erling Haaland – proved vital in Pep Guardiola’s side dominating both domestically and across Europe.
However, a strong and compelling argument can be made for another of Manchester City’s treble winners to be perhaps even more deserving of the prestigious award.
Currently rated at 80/1 to win the Ballon d’Or by some bookies, Rodrigo Hernandez – known better simply as ‘Rodri’ – has enjoyed an incredible 2022/23 season at Manchester City, having played a pivotal role in the side becoming just the second English team to win the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup in the same campaign.
Owing to his phenomenal exploits throughout the season, it could be argued that Rodri has been the European champions’ most consistent performer and without him, Pep Guardiola’s side would never have reached the heights that they did during their historic season.
As Manchester City established themselves as the dominant force in both England and Europe, Rodri frequently demonstrated himself to be a key member of the commanding defensive unit that led the club to go undefeated in their successful Champions League campaign, in which Guardiola’s side also recorded the joint-most clean sheets in the tournament (8), along with also conceding the joint-fewest goals in the Premier League (33).
A master in the defensive side of the game, the imposing Spaniard routinely exhibited an innate ability to break up play owing to his domineering presence, tackling ability, and capacity for reading the game. Whilst this is evident to the eye, statistics corroborate this.
As noted by Opta, throughout Manchester City’s successful Champions League campaign, Rodri won possession of the ball a staggering 105 times – the most in the competition since Claude Makélélé of Chelsea in 2007/08 (109). Whilst in the Premier League, Rodri’s immense defensive acumen was also evident.
Across the 2022/23 Premier League season, the Spanish international regained possession 301 times, fewer than only Declan Rice (334) in England’s top flight – a remarkable statistic considering City averaged a league-high 65.1% possession per game across the campaign.
Along with his instinctive defence acumen, Rodri has repeatedly shown himself to be an expert at setting the tempo and controlling a match from from the base of the Manchester City midfield, and owing to his positional intelligence in conjunction with his astute ball-playing ability, Pep Guardiola has been provided with the essential tool to implement the possession-based system that has yielded phenomenal success for his side in recent years.
To further highlight the importance of the incredible influence that Rodri has had on Manchester City’s current dominance, it is noteworthy that the Spaniard recorded the second-most successful passes in the Premier League last season (2717) behind Brighton’s Lewis Dunk (2900), whilst his pass success rate of 91% was the highest amongst Premier League midfielders who registered over 750 successful passes last term.
Composed under pressure, Rodri’s unique skill-set often proves crucial when the City backline are intensely pressed and tasked with retaining possession whilst quickly manoeuvring the ball through small spaces, and his effectiveness in such positions has frequently proved crucial when his side have found themselves in difficult situations.
Throughout the entire 2022/23 campaign, the consistent Spaniard performed tremendously in defensive aspects across all competitions, with Rodri routinely dominating the midfield area, and notably – en route to the club’s inaugural Champions League triumph – played a crucial role in helping his team in stifling the creative forces of the likes of Jamal Musiala, Luka Modric, and Nico Barella.
Much in part courtesy of Rodri’s dominance and influence, Manchester City conceded a mere three goals in seven matches across the knock-out stages of the competition in which the former Atletico Madrid force started and performed excellently in each game.
Undoubtedly the best in the world in his position, Rodri’s significance to City’s treble achievement is undoubtedly paramount and as the lynchpin of Pep Guardiola’s European champions, it is almost certain that City would not have achieved an acclaimed triple of silverware, and may have even finished the season trophy-less if it was not for the presence of the midfielder.
Speaking on Rodri’s sheer importance to the side following the 4-0 demolition of Real Madrid in May’s Champions League semi-final, Pep Guardiola lauded Rodri as “the best midfielder we have”, and without the player that eventually appeared in the most matches (56) and registered the most minutes (4476) for the side throughout the history campaign, the Catalan coach noted that Manchester City’s achievements last term “would not have been possible”.
Rodri was imperious throughout City’s Champions League campaign and to cap off his exceptional season, scored what could be regarded as the most important goal in the history of the club. In the 68th minute of the final in Istanbul, the Spain international fired the ball past André Onana from just inside the 18-yard box to score the game’s decisive goal and subsequently etch his name into Manchester City and Champions League folklore.
Owing to his tournament-deciding goal along with his consistently excellent performances throughout the latest edition of Europe’s premier competition, Rodri was named the 2022/23 UEFA Champions League Player of the Season – a more than deserved accolade
In addition to Rodri’s magnificent campaign at club level with Manchester City, the Spaniard also impressed on the international stage as the 26-year-old played a key role in his country emerging victorious in the 2023 edition of the UEFA Nations League in the week following his history-making Champions League final exploits.
Just five days on from firing City to European glory in Istanbul, Rodri was awarded the Player of the Match following Spain’s semi-final victory against Italy owing to a typically imperious performance, before helping his side to record a clean sheet in the final against Croatia, after which he was deservedly named as the Player of the Tournament.
Arguably the most important and irreplaceable member in City’s treble winning side, and also Spain’s strongest performer during their Nations League triumph, it is certainly arguable that few players, if any, have performed at such a consistently high level whilst also enjoying immense success on the field throughout the 2022/23 campaign.
Subsequently, it can be perfectly surmised that the world-class Rodri would be a deserving recipient of the 2023 Ballon d’Or.
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