Former Liverpool and Aston Villa manager Gerard Houllier has defended FIFA’s decision to award Lionel Messi the World Cup’s Golden Ball, reiterating that the Argentine was the standout performer in Brazil.
There was global outcry after Messi was named the best player of the tournament following his side’s 1-0 extra-time defeat to Germany in the final, with many believing him to have flattered to deceive during the knockout rounds, including FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
A member of FIFA’s Technical Study Group, whose sole analysis saw the Barcelona star take home the award, Houllier believes however there was no better contender.
‘I understand that it has surprised, because everyone only remembers the second half of Lionel Messi in the final. We, the commission, we look at all the games, and we judge that he was the most important man for his team. He went to the final, which is one of the conditions for the attribution of the trophy,’ he explained.
‘Moreover, Messi was more than decisive in the first four games. In the semi-final against the Netherlands, he took the first penalty and scored.
The analysis also takes into account the fact he was the captain of a united team – a team that played well together. That's something we hadn't seen for a long time from Argentina. He was more than key in the squad and the way it was set up. For me, he fully deserves the Golden Ball given he took his team through to the final.’
The ex-Premier League boss also went on to explain why the other prime contenders for the award, such as Arjen Robben, James Rodriguez, Neymar and Thomas Muller, ultimately missed out.
‘Robben was exciting and very good, but he didn't carry so much weight with the team. He didn't score in either the semi-finals or the quarters. Even though he won the penalty against Mexico, he was much less influential in his team's play,’ he added.
‘James Rodriguez stopped too soon, just like Neymar or the other key player in the Albiceleste's performance, Angel Di Maria. Di Maria might have been a very serious contender had he been able to go all the way. He was excellent, and very creative.
‘There was a competition between Muller and Messi, but I repeat, we looked at all seven matches. The final counted, but only at the same level as the other games.
‘Given the whole of the World Cup, the commission was unanimous that Lionel Messi win the trophy. I think public option was 'biaised' by the anti-Messi strategies of opposing teams, which caused him a lot of problems. Despite that, he almost always managed to get himself out of them. But everyone is entitled to their opinion.’