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What makes a footballer great?

What makes a footballer great?


Simon Kjaer has been nominated for the biggest individual award in football, the Ballon d’Or. Is it recognition of his skill as a player, or what he did to help save the life of his team-mate, Christian Eriksen?


Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker. 

One story every day to make sense of the world of football. 

Today… did Simon Kjaer deserve his Ballon d’Or nomination?


We’ve witnessed some extraordinary moments in football in 2021. 

“Here’s Messi. Little pitter patter stride of Lionel Messi. Little touchback to him…oohhhh and it’s his first goal! The Parc des Princes explodes! And the little genius with a wonderful goal!”

BT Sport

Lionel Messi scoring his first goal for PSG after seventeen years at Barcelona.

“Guedes… trying to find a way past McLean and he has! Ronaldo’s header… And he has done it! He just had to! The man who has an addiction to headline making has become the global goal scoring supremo, his 110th international goal, more than any other man!”

Sky Sports Football

Ronaldo breaking the international men’s goal scoring record.  

And shockingly, there was this:  

“Goodness, he’s gone down there Eriksen, that’s worrying. Well this is really disturbing.” 

BBC Sport

Christian Eriksen collapsing during Denmark’s Euro 2020 match with Finland, fighting for his life.   He’d gone into cardiac arrest on the pitch.    

And while the players waited for the medics, Denmark’s Captain – Simon Kjaer – put Eriksen into the recovery position and began the initial CPR. 

It’s been widely acknowledged – including by Eriksen himself – that Kjaer saved his team-mate’s life.

Kjaer also consoled Eriksen’s distraught wife once the medics had taken over.  Acting with humanity, he had done the right things at the right time. 

And so – along with the superstar footballers like Messi and Ronaldo – Kjaer has made this year’s thirty man list for the Ballon d’Or. 

And it’s been a big talking point. Some think that the list should be made up of those with sublime footballing ability alone. 

It’s not like Kjaer isn’t a good footballer – he’s led his club side AC Milan back to the Champions League after a long absence.  And under his leadership, Denmark have broken a record after keeping a clean sheet in eight of their last World Cup qualifiers. 

Kjaer is a really good defender. But arguably there are other players who could have been nominated.

Yet some think that Kjaer’s actions that day make him the perfect candidate for football’s most prestigious individual prize. 

I spoke to fans in both camps. Those not in favour of Kjaer’s nomination…

“So we absolutely need to celebrate the courageous act and selfless leadership that Kjaer demonstrated on that day. But, to maintain the integrity of the Ballon d’Or, it needs to remain awarded for sporting endeavour. And I’m sure he would agree and not want to be overly rewarded for his actions when it was for him, at least on the face of it, the natural thing for him to do, for his friend.” 

Roberto Vacca

And those firmly in favour…

“The actions he took on that day to save his team-mate’s life, Christian Eriksen is something where I think can be a teaching moment for kids, for adults learning CPR. It could help save the life of somebody walking down the street, somebody that you know. And it’s a human side to football that I think has been lost and it showed a great moment of leadership, of character, of courage and it showed there’s more to football than just being an excellent footballer. You can be a great human being as well.” 

Gino De Blasio

To look at this issue objectively, we need to take a look at what the Ballon d’Or voting rules actually say.

The award is run by France Football Magazine, and they say that it’s judged on three categories. 

The first is individual and collective performances over the year. That explains why Chelsea have five nominations from the thirty in total as they won the Champions League. 

The second is player class. They say that includes talent and – crucially – fair play.

The third and final category is player career. That’s where the likes of Ronaldo and Messi come in. And either one or the other has won the award in eleven of the last twelve years.

It seems that Kjaer has been put forward largely on the basis of fair play. And when you think about the other candidates, it’s unlikely – on paper – that he will be voted in as winner when the ceremony takes place in November. 

France Football – who run the award – well, they decide on who is nominated. So strictly speaking, it doesn’t really matter what the rest of us think.. 

In theory, they could put Marcus Rashford forward for his lobbying work in fighting child poverty. Or one of the many black footballers who have spoken about their experiences having suffered racist abuse. 

Simon Kjaer says that he’s not a hero for what he did on the pitch that day. However, his club  AC Milan have told him: “For us, you have already won.”  

They won’t be the only ones thinking that….

Today’s episode was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Tom Kinsella.