Why Messi did deserve the Golden Ball at the 2014 World Cup

For pretty much everyone it was a big surprise to see Lionel Messi waiting to climb the FIFA terrace of the Maracaná in order to receive the prestigious Golden Ball. Although he did not score in any of the matches in the KO stages and he had just lost a final in which he also did not show a stunning performance, the FIFA officials had chosen ‘La Pulga’ as the best player of the World Cup 2014 in Brazil.

In this blog some often- and some not-so-often seen statistics will be used to see to what extent Lionel maybe was the most valuable player of the tournament or wether the critics that the election of football’s most loved son maybe was a marketing indulged decision!


Let’s start at the basics: goals! “Sometimes in football you have to score goals”, as Thierry Henry once said. As mentioned, Lionel Messi, did not find the net in the last 4 games, but he did score 4 goals in the group phase, enough to make him second top goal scorer of the tournament. Equal to Thomas Müller (4) and behind James Rodriguez (5).

(As penalties are converted at a MUCH higher percentage than normal in-game situations, and the chance to do so is dependent on a lot of factors that do not have to do anything with the football qualities of the player, they are subtracted from all statistics in this article.)

To determine the direct influence all players had on their team goals, we added assists (to goal) to the table, making Messi the third most valuable player of Brazil 2014. Only James and Müller both participated in more goals (7).

Captura de pantalla 2014-07-28 a la(s) 11.02.00 PM

Goal influence

James and Müller are clear leaders in this table showing direct participation in goals. But we can take this statistic a step further in order to see what the influence was of the goals and assists of those players on the performance of their team. The result of this, the percentage of the team goals in which the players participated, is shown on the right side:

Captura de pantalla 2014-07-28 a la(s) 11.14.19 PMThe table shows that no team among the best 8 of the WC had a player that participated in more of its goals than Argentina had with Messi: 71%. Only slightly more than James (70%), but much more than Müller (41%). Lionel participated in 5 of the 7 goals (the Bosnia own goal – after a cross from Messi – was deleted from the data) his team scored in the tournament.

(For example Kroos, with also 5 goal participations, fell out of the list, as his Germany scored the enormous amount of 17 goals.)

This gives us a relatively good overview of the influence of the players, however it does not take into account wether the goals at itself were important for the match, as some players might only have participated in the margin of the score (e.g. the 3-0’s and the 4-0’s).

In order to avoid this, we will use another metric: points influence per player. In other words: what would have happened with the team if the goals and assists of those players would not have counted in the score? Messi’s importance for Argentina will become only clearer seeing the overview of the 7 games that Argentina played.

Captura de pantalla 2014-07-28 a la(s) 11.22.47 PM

If the goals in which Leo participated would have been deleted from the scoresheet, Argentina would not have even made it through the group phase. Also progress to the quarter finals would have been less secure if he had no given the last minute assist to Di Marías game-winning goal.

Reading from the match influence table on the right, Messi won no less than 9 points for his country. More than any other player in this World cup:

Captura de pantalla 2014-07-28 a la(s) 11.44.33 PM

Concluding this part it can be noted that Lionel’s influence on the tournament performance and progress of his selection, Argentina, was greater than that of any other player in this tournament.

We will continue with some more in-game statistics.

Correct passes

Captura de pantalla 2014-07-29 a la(s) 12.04.11 AMAlthough he stood in the shadow of top passes like Lahm, Mascherano and Schweinsteiger, Messi showed quality in passing as well. Completing 242 passes, no forward gave more correct passes in the tournament than he did.

Captura de pantalla 2014-07-29 a la(s) 12.05.46 AM



Moreover, no player gave more passes that ended up in the area of the opponent than Messi. In the 7 matches he played, Messi found a teammate in the box of the opponent in 26 cases. Reaching an average of 3,38, far from his nearest opponents Neymar and Benzema, and more than the double of Thomas Müller.


Captura de pantalla 2014-07-29 a la(s) 12.12.39 AM


The last passing statistic we use is the Key Pass, a pass that is followed by a shot. It is a measure which is often used to count the chances created by a player.

In total amounts there was no player who created near as many chances for his teammates as Messi did. Averaging the measure per 90 minutes, there was only one player better, Kevin Mirallas.



Captura de pantalla 2014-07-29 a la(s) 12.20.52 AM

Although it was often commented that Messi seemed tired/lazy and little active, as is shown by the little amount of distance that he covered per 90 minutes (8,14km against an average of 10,42km of the outfield players with 2+ matches), he was the player mist most successful dribbles of the World Cup (6.00 per 90 minutes, and 46 in total). From the well-respected dribble kings, only his team-mate Di María (5.32) and Alexis Sanchez (5.08) came close.

Two maps of his attempted and successful (green) dribbles can be seen here. In the semifinal match against Holland (left) Messi completed 10 dribbles, of which 8 on the half of the opponent. Against Germany he had 6 successful dribbles, 1 more than the entire team of the Germans.

Drib against HolDrib against Ger


It is hard to say who the absolute top playerer was in Brazil 2014. And comparing Messi’s performance at the World Cup with what we expected (and hoped for), it is logical that his election as Golden Ball winner lead to a great amount of discussion.

However, analyzing the influence on team performance that each player had, plus the individual class that was shown through various rankings, is seems valid to say that there was no man who marked his influence more than Lionel Messi did.

He might not have won the edition’s trophy (as none of the 4 previous winners – Ronaldo, Kahn, Zidane and Forlan – of the Golden Ball did), but he was the main responsible man to bring his team to the final and he outclassed the other named candidates like James, Müller, Neymar, Robben and Mascherano in this.

(Note: all data that has been used in this article comes from data providers DataFactory, WhoScored.com, FourFourTwo.com and FIFA.com)

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