The 2004 Ballon d’Or – Did The Right Player Win It?

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The Ballon d’Or is widely regarded as the most prestigious individual award in Football. Dating back to 1956, the news magazine ‘France Football’ has handed the Golden Ball trophy to the player who an arrangement of football journalists deemed to have performed the best over the previous year, with coaches and national teams’ captains also getting the right to vote from 2007. According to the rules and regulations, as of 2018, voters must consider three things when casting their vote. The first is the “individual and collective performances (winners) during the year,” the second is the player class (fair play)”, and the third is the “overall judgment of the player’s career.” Prior to 2018, the criteria simply stated voting must be based “according to on-field performance and overall behaviour on and off the pitch.” These can be interpreted in many ways, leading to disputes about whether the rules need to be more clearly defined. 

The idea was conceived by Gabriel Hanot, the somewhat forgotten football inventor, who also co-founded the European Cup, which is now known as the Champions League, and introduced professional football to France. Since Sir Stanley Matthews won the inaugural award in 1956, the trophy has been presented annually, with 2020 being an exception due to the global pandemic. Many legendary players, including Johan Cruyff, Marco Van Basten, Alfredo Di Stéfano, Zinedine Zidane, Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, have had the honour of being award the famous prize, with Messi holding the record with most wins with six.

In 2004, AC Milan’s Ukrainian striker Andriy Shevchenko added his name to the winner’s list, claiming his first and only Ballon d’Or after an extremely impressive season. However, this decision has been disputed in the following years, with many fans and journalists claiming that three other players could have taken the crown. In this article, I shall be detailing what each of the four men accomplished during the year, comparing them and giving my opinion on who should have won the 2004 Ballon d’Or.


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Andriy Shevchenko (AC Milan & Ukraine) 

Statistics:

Games: 51
Goals: 36
Assists: 5

2004 Honours:

Serie A Winner
Supercoppa Italiana Winner
Ballon d’Or Winner
Ukrainian Footballer of the Year
UEFA Team of the Year
Capocannoniere Winner
Hero of Ukraine
FIFA 100

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AC Milan:

Serie A is often seen as the toughest league to score in. This is due to the Italian tradition of solid defensive tactics and well-disciplined formations. In the five years prior to the 03/04 season, only one player, Hernán Crespo in the 00/01 season with Lazio, broke the 25 goal mark. The league at this point was highly competitive, with multiple teams field impressive sides and plenty of title contenders. The past five seasons saw four different teams win the Scudetto, AC Milan, AS Roma, Lazio and Juventus twice. The 2003 Champions League final was an all-Italian affair, with Milan defeating Juventus to lift the trophy. Due to these reasons, Seria A was considered one of the world’s best leagues in 2004. 

Andriy Shevchenko was, without a doubt, one of the star players in Italy in 2004. During the early-to-mid 2000s, the Ukrainian striker was widely considered the most deadly and feared forward in European Football. Shevchenko often played upfront in Milan’s manager Carlo Ancelotti’s famous ‘christmas tree’ 4-3-2-1 formation, leading the line with the creative duo of Kaka and Rui Costa behind him. This formation heavily relied on the Ukrainian’s finishing ability. He was their primary goal threat, with only two other players managing to score register double digits in goals during the 03/04 season. In the 2004 section of the campaign, Shevchenko notched 12 goals and three assists in 20 games for the Rossoneri as they claimed their first Scudetto, the Serie A title, in five years. He also won the Capocannoniere, the Serie A top goalscorer, amassing 24 goals in 32 games. Milan only lost once and drew four games in the second half of the season, winning the remaining 16 games. These included crucial wins over fellow title challengers Juventus and Roma twice. Shevchenko scored four goals in these three games, two in the first clash against Roma, one in the second and one against Juventus, proving his ability as a big match player. 

Ancelotti elected to use a reserve side during Milan’s Coppa Italia games in 2004, meaning Shevchenko was not in the squad for three of the four games they played. He only featured for 45 minutes in the one game he eas selected in as Milan lost the semi-final 2nd Leg 4-0 to eventual winners Lazio. In European competition, Milan came into the 03/04 Champions league as the reigning champions. They emerged from the group stage as Group H winners with 10 points, setting up a round of 16 tie against Sparta Prague. After a 0-0 first leg at the Generali Arena in the Czech Republic, Shevchenko scored twice in Milan’s 4-1 victory in the San Siro, advancing them to the next round. Milan repeated this performance in the first leg of the quarter-finals, winning 4-1 at home again against Spanish side Deportivo de La Coruña. Shevchenko was once again on the score sheet, finishing a chance one minute into the second half. However, disaster struck for the Rossoneri in the second leg. Deportivo managed to overcome the three-goal deficit in the Estadio Riazor. The Spanish side tore Milan apart, winning the game 4-0, scoring three in the first half. Deportivo won on aggregate 5-4 to eliminate the reigning champions and advance to the semi-finals. 

Shevchenko was in the headlines over the summer of 2004, as talks of the Ukrainian striker leaving Milan circled around the press. Chelsea’s new owner Roman Abramovich was a massive admirer of Shevchenko, desperately wanting to bring him to London. Abramovich was spotted meeting with Milan’s vice-president Adriano Galliani. Both men insisted they were not discussing a potential move. However, very few believed that. Despite the rumours, Shevchenko remained a member of the Rossoneri for the 04-05 season. 

Milan’s first game of the season was against Lazio in the Supercoppa Italiana. They won 3-0, with Shevchenko scoring all the goals for his side. Not only did he score a hat-trick, but he also achieved a perfect hat-trick, scoring the first goal with his left foot, his second with his head and third with his right foot. By the end of 2004, Milan found themself second in Serie A after 16 games, trailing Juventus by four points, drawing with them on the last game of the year. Shevchenko continued his goalscoring form from the previous season, netting 11 goals and two assists in 14 appearances. 

In the Champions League group stage, Milan was drawn against Barcelona. Shakhtar Donetsk and Celtic. They once again topped their group and qualified for the knockout round. The Rossoneri won four of their six games, defeating each team in their first three games before losing to Barcelona away, beating Shakhtar again at home and drawing to Celtic away in the final match. Shevchenko scored three goals and registered one assist in five games, missing one game through injury. He notably scored in both the home and away game against Barcelona, once again proving his worth in big games. 

Ukraine:

Ukraine failed to qualify for Euro 2004. This meant Shevchenko’s international games were limited to World Cup qualifiers and friendlies. The striker scored four goals in four World Cup qualifiers for his country, netting a brace against Turkey and one against Georgia and Euro 2004 winners Greece. Ukraine managed to finish the year unbeaten, winning three and drawing two, leaving themself in an excellent position to qualify for the 2006 World Cup. Shevchenko also featured in two friendly games, losing 1-0 and 3-0 to Macedonia and England. 


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Deco (Porto/Barcelona & Portugal)

Statistics:

Games: 54
Goals: 9
Assists: 25

2004 Honours:

Primeira Liga Winner
UEFA Champions League Winner
UEFA Club Footballer of the Year
UEFA Club Midfielder of the Year
UEFA Champions League Final Man of the Match
Ballon d’Or Silver Ball
European Championship Runner-up
Taça de Portugal Runner-up

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Porto/Barcelona:

2004 was a strange year in Football. Two of the most unlikely finals in the sport’s history occurred within months of each other, with Deco at the heart of both of them. The Brazilian born Portuguese international started the year playing for Porto. Deco played a pivotal role in José Mourinho’s 4-3-1-2/4-1-2-1-3 system, effectively acting as the team’s heartbeat. Nearly every offensive play went through the attacking midfielder, connecting the midfield to the strikers. In domestic league competition, Deco registered one goal and 12 assists in 17 games for the Dragões as they won their 20th Primeira Liga championship, finishing eight points ahead of bitter rivals Benfica in second place. The creative maestro only featured in two of Porto’s four Taça de Portugal games in 2004 as they looked to retain the cup. His lone assist came in his sides 3-1 semi-finals victory against Braga. However, the reigning champions failed to keep their crown, losing to Benfica 2-1 in the final after extra time. Deco’s international teammate Simao headed in the winner in the 103rd minute. 

Following their UEFA Cup win a season prior, Porto looked to take the step up and challenge for the most prestigious competition the continent had to offer, the UEFA Champions League. Going into the 2003/04 edition, the Portuguese side were 50-1 heavy outsiders and not considered a threat. They finished 2nd in the group stage, three points behind Spanish giants Real Madrid, to qualify for the knockout rounds in 2004. In the round of 16, the Azuis e brancos faced the reigning English champions Manchester United. Porto pulled off a major upset by defeating the 1999 Champions League winners 2-1 in the home leg. With the second leg entering additional time with Manchester 1-0 up, it looked as if the Portuguese side’s European journey was over due to the away goal rule. However, United’s goalkeeper Tim Howard parried a Benni McCarthy free-kick into the path of Francisco Costinha. The midfielder turned the ball into the open net, equalising the game and allowing Porto to advance 3-2 on aggregate. 

In the quarter-finals, the Dragões defeated the reigning French champions Lyon 4-2 on aggregate. Deco’s dominating performances over the two legs were crucial for the Portuguese side. He scored and assisted in his team’s 2-0 home victory before providing both assists in their 2-2 away draw. In a semi-final clash that nobody could have predicted, Porto took on Spaniards Deportivo de La Coruña, who were 20-1 outsiders before the competition. The two teams’ defences largely dominated the tie, but ultimately, Deportivo’s lack of discipline cost them. They received a red card in each leg and conceded a penalty, which allowed McCarthey to score the only goal across the two games. Deco was once again instrumental to his team’s success. He drew the foul that led to Jorge Andrade’s dismissal in the first leg and won the crucial penalty in the second.

For just the fifth time in the tournament’s 49-year history, the 2004 Champions League final was contested between two teams from nations outside of the traditional top-four countries in Europe. Portugual’s Porto faced France’s Monaco at the Arena AufSchalke in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. This is considered the most unlikely final in the competition’s history. Both sides were heavy outsiders before the season’s edition started, with Ladbrokes offering 66-1 odds on Monaco and 50-1 odds on Porto. The game itself was a relatively straightforward and comfortable 3-0 victory for Porto, handing them their first Champions League/European Cup Victory since 1987. Monaco totalled more shots and had more possession throughout the game, but they were limited to attempting long balls over the top for the majority of the contest. Porto’s tactical setup was simply too much for them to overcome. The game’s opening goal came in the 39th minute when teenager Carlos Alberto volleyed effort flew past Flavio Roma. Deco cooly slotted in the second goal after 71 minutes before Alenichev sealed the victory four minutes later by hammering in a shot following a counter-attack. Deco was awarded the man of the match award after putting on yet another terrific and influential performance in what would be his final game for Porto. The Portuguese international also led the competition in assists with six. Monaco’s Jérôme Rothen also had six assists, but he played more minutes than Deco, resulting in him finishing second. 

With his stock at an all-time high, Deco left Porto in the summer. Many European powerhouses were looking to sign the Brazilian born Portuguese international, with Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Barcelona emerging as the favourites. Chelsea, now managed by José Mourinho, looked to have won the race. A deal between the two teams had been agreed upon. However, Deco told Portuguese magazine O Jogo that he would prefer to join Barcelona than follow his old boss to London. A day after the Euro 2004 final, the Catalan team reached an agreement with Porto, signing the playmaker for a €15 million fee in cash and giving Porto the complete rights of Riccardo Quaresma. The move was met with some criticism from the Barça fanbase. This was primarily due to the team already possessing highly touted playmakers such as Ronaldinho, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and fellow new signing Ludovic Giuly. There were also doubts about where he would fit in, as Manager Frank Rijkaard tended to implement a system that did not feature a traditional number 10 role, which Deco had previously excelled in. 

Rijkaard decided to deploy Deco on the left in a midfield three in a 4-3-3 formation. The playmaker often played alongside Xavi on the right and Rafael Marquez in the holding in the middle. This role saw the Portuguese international get the best out of his incredible passing abilities whilst also allowing him to showcase his high work rate and tactical intelligence, proving any doubters about his summer move wrong. During the first half of Barcelona’s La Liga campaign, Deco started every game for his new side, picking up four goals and five assists in 17 games. The former Porto man helped his team lead La Liga at the end of 2004 with 42 points, sitting 10 points ahead of their biggest rivals, Real Madrid, in second place. In the Champions League, Barcelona qualified for the knockout round, finishing second in Group F behind AC Milan. Deco scored twice and registered an assist in five games, with both of his goals coming in the first two matchdays against Celtic and Shakhtar Donetsk. 

Portugal:

On the international stage, Deco represented his adopted nation of Portugal during Euro 2004, which would be on home soil for the Portuguese. Since Deco was Brazilian born and raised, his inclusion was met with controversy. The national team vice-captain and 2000 Ballon d’Or winner Luis Figo was notable against the move, stating a player should play for the country he was born in. Despite this, Luiz Felipe Scolari, the Brazillian who managed the Portugal National Team, still listed Deco in his 23-man team for the tournament. 

Deco was not initially in Portugals’s starting line-up for the tournament. With only one place for an attacking midfielder in Scolari’s 4-2-3-1 system, the veteran Rui Costa was selected ahead of the Champions League winner for their opening game against Greece. However, Deco was not on the bench for long, replacing Costa at half time in Portugal’s shock opening game 2-1 defeat. Despite the loss, the soon-to-be Barcelona playmaker impressed enough to be named a starter against Russia. He played the full 90 minutes as Portugal earned a 2-0 win, with Deco assisting Maniche for the games opening goal in the 7th minute. 

Deco kept his place in the team for the rest of the tournament, playing every minute for his adopted country. Portugal defeated their neighbours Spain 1-0 in their crucial, must-win final game of the group stage, sending them through to the knockout stages and finishing top of the group. They met England in the quarter-finals in one of the most intense and entertaining games of the tournament. The game ended 1-1 after regular time and 2-2 after extra time, sending the clash to a penalty shootout. After David Beckham missed the opening kick for England, Deco converted Portugal’s first penalty to give them the advantage. Every player for both sides scored their following penalties, except Rui Costa, who’s miss evened the shootout and sent the tie to sudden death. England’s striker Darius Vassell’s attempt was saved by Ricardo on their seventh penalty. The goalkeeper famously took off his gloves before the kick, saving it bare-handed before stepping up himself to take and score the winning penalty for Portugal. 

Deco’s influence was felt once again in Portugal’s semi-final clash with the Netherlands. The midfield maestro perfect delivery from a corner allowed Cristiano Ronaldo to head in the game’s opening goal in the 26th minute. The host nation emerged victorious, winning 2-1, with Maniche scoring their second goal after a stunning strike. This left the final to be contested between two teams who had never reached this stage in any major competition, Portugal and Greece. The Greeks were the 80-1 pre-tournament underdogs and had only ever qualified for two tournaments in their history before 2004, failing to win a single game at either of them. Despite losing to Greece in the group stages, the hosts were the heavy favourites for the game. Deco played the full 90 minutes but failed to make a significant impact as Portugal were limited mainly to long shots. Greece stunned the world by winning the European Championship, defeating Portugal 1-0 thanks to an Angelos Charisteas header in the 57th minute. 

Deco played 525 minutes during Euro 2004. After coming on off the bench in Portugal’s opening game, his impressive work rate and stamina allowed him to play every other minute of the tournament. Unlike the other players in Portugal’s outstanding attacking quartet, he was never substituted in any game. The Brazilian born attacking midfielder failed to score a single goal but did convert a penalty in the quarter-finals during their shootout with England. The playmaker did register two assists, the joint third-highest alongside teammates Luís Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo, the English duo of David Beckham and Michael Owen and Greece’s Vassilios Tsiartas. Despite the somewhat underwhelming statistics, Deco’s influence on the Portuguese team can not be understated. He provided the much-needed link between the midfield and the forwards, allowing the two units to link fluidly. 


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Ronaldinho (Barcelona & Brazil)

Statistics:

Games: 53
Goals: 18
Assists: 10

2004 Honours:

Don Balón Award
FIFA World Player of the Year
UEFA Team of the Year
World Soccer Magazine World Player of The Year
FIFA 100

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Barcelona:

Ronaldinho is one of the greatest entertainers ever to grace a football field. The mixture of his scintillating samba skills, his mesmerising dribbling, his impeccable close control and his unrivalled flair made it so you could never take your eyes off the Brazilian whenever he was playing. Combine all of these with his pace, athleticism, balance and surprising strength, the Brazilian international was near-impossible to stop when he got into his stride, often beating multiple opponents as he set off for an individual run. Alongside his outstanding dribbling abilities, the 2002 World Cup winner’s playmaking abilities were phenomenal. He often managed to see chances and opportunities no one else could recognise and executing pin-point accurate passes with either foot. As well as creating chances, Ronaldinho could convert them too. His accuracy and ability to use both feet made the attacker deadly in and outside the penalty area. He was also a set-piece specialist and one of the most prolific free-kick takers of all time. This was due to his incredible capacity to bend his attempts and versatility over a dead ball. 

After his €30 million transfer from Paris Saint-Germain before the start of the season, Ronaldinho was undoubtedly the star player not just for his new club, Barcelona, but in the entire La Liga in 2004. The flashy playmaker made 19 appearances in the second half of the 03/04 season, scoring ten goals and registering two assists. His performances against the bigger sides in Spain were notable. He set up the game-winning goal in the last minute of play in ‘El Classico’ against Real Madrid, scored twice in his side’s crucial 3-2 victory against Deportivo de La Coruña and scored whilst running the show as a 10-man Barcelona defeated Atlético Madrid 3-1. One downside to the Brazilian’s season was his discipline, picking up five yellow cards, one red card and missing two games through suspension. Despite Ronaldinho’s best efforts during his debut season in Spain, Barcelona finished runners-up in La Liga, with Valencia winning the league by five points. A four-game stretch in 2003 where Barça failed to win, losing three and drawing one, is primarily considered the reason for the Catalan side not lifting the title. It must be noted that Ronaldinho missed all these games through an Achilles tendon injury.

Barcelona failed to qualify for the Champions League during their 02/03 season but did enough to earn a 03/04 UEFA Cup spot instead. They cruised through the first two rounds of the tournament, defeating Punchov 9-1 and Panionios 5-0 over two legs. As the competition resumed in 2004, Barça was drawn against the Danish team Bröndby IF in the third round. Ronaldinho scored the only goal during the Catalan team’s first leg 1-0 away victory before earning a 2-1 win at the Camp Nou to send them into the last 16 round. This turned out to be the end of their European journey as they fell to Scottish powerhouses Celtic. They failed to score over both legs of the tie, losing 1-0 away and drawing 0-0 at home to send them crashing out of the competition. 

Barcelona did not fare much better in their domestic cup, the Copa Del Rey, either. Ronaldinho featured in all four games they played in the competition in 2004. He only scored one goal and failed to record an assist as the Spanish giants won just one game, drawing once and losing twice, including a humiliating defeat to Segunda División side Levante, before being eliminated by Real Zaragoza in the quarter-finals.

After a trophyless campaign and an unusually quiet summer for the Brazilian superstar, Ronaldinho and Barcelona came out swinging to start the 04/05 season. The former PSG playmaker missed the opening two games due to being on international duty but reclaimed his place as Barça’s main man as soon as he returned. While he may not have scored or assisted a goal in every game, his influence on the team was unparallel. The skilful winger immediately formed a connection with new signings Deco and Samuel Eto’o, which pushed the Catalan side to the next level. They gained La Liga’s top spot in week seven and never relinquished it for the rest of the season. In the 2004 part of the season, Ronaldinho made 14 league appearances, scoring three goals and assisting six. For the second season in a row, his most impressive game came during ‘El Classico.’ He set up Eto’o for the games opening goal before converting a penalty as Barcelona defeated their biggest rivals 3-0 at the Camp Nou, giving them a seven-point gap at the top of the league. 

After their second-place La Liga finish the season before, Barcelona found themselves back in the Champions League. They were placed into a reasonably tough group that featured the reigning champions AC Milan, Celtic, who had knocked them out of the UEFA Cup earlier in 2004 and Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk. Ronaldinho played in five of the six group stage games, scoring in game week two and four and assisting once in his side’s opening contest. Once again, the Brazilian international stepped up on the big occasion. In the 89th minute of Barça’s home game against AC Milan, with the score at 1-1, Ronaldinho skipped past Alessandro Nesta before firing a missile from the edge of the penalty area with his left foot into the top corner of the net, winning the game for the Spanish side.

Brazil:

Alongside Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Kaka and Cafu, Brazil’s manager Carlos Alberto Parreira elected not to call up Ronaldinho for the 2004 edition of the Copa America. Rather than being dropped, this decision was made to give the players a rest, as their seasons in Europe finished so close to the tournament’s start, with Parreira openly protesting the timing of the competition. This ultimately limited Ronaldinho’s international football in 2004 to just five World Cup qualifiers and five friendlies. He failed to make a significant impact for his team during the World Cup qualifiers, scoring just once and failing to record an assist as Brazil defeated Bolivia and Venezuela, drew to Paraguay and Colombia and lost to Ecuador.

Statistically, Ronaldinho played far better in his countries international friendlies, scoring five goals and gaining an assist. However, three of these goals came against Haiti, who was 95th in the FIFA World Rankings and were far from a competitive side. His other two goals came against 77th ranked Hungary, where he also got his assist, and 13th ranked Germany from a direct free-kick.


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Thierry Henry (Arsenal & France)

Statistics:

Games: 57
Goals: 46
Assists: 16

2004 Honours:

Premier League Winner
FA Community Shield Winner
PFA Players’ Player of the Year
PFA Team of the Year
FWA Footballer of the Year
Premier League Player of the Season
Premier League Golden Boot
UEFA Team of the Year
European Golden Boot
French Player of the Year
FIFA 100
FIFA World Player of the Year – Silver Award

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Arsenal:

2004 was arguably the greatest year in the history of Arsenal. With a squad full of legendary players such as Robert Pires, Patrick Viera, Dennis Bergkamp, Sol Campbell, Gilberto Silva, Ashley Cole and more, they played majestic football as they stormed the Premier League. As a unit, they were incredible. Add Thierry Henry into the mix, well… they were invincible. 

Henry is arguably the most outstanding player that has ever played in the Premier League. His mix of unprecedented pace, skill and composure allowed the Frenchman to get in behind defenders regularly to score, often coming in from the left wing to do so. He was prolific in front of goal, defeating goalkeepers whilst remaining calm, making it look easy for him. The 1998 World Cup winner could score from anywhere on the field, often scoring from outside of the area and taking chances with either foot. However, he was not just a goalscorer. Henry contributed significantly to the teams’ build-up play, drifting into space on the field to provide support and possessed great vision, which allowed him to pick up plenty of assists, notably breaking the single-season premier league assist record in 2003 with 20. He played the game with confidence, arrogance and flair, giving you no choice but to be mesmerised by his playstyle whenever he stepped onto the field. 

In the 2004 section of the 03/04 Premier League season, Henry made 19 appearances, not missing a single minute of action. In these games, he scored an exceptional 18 goals and provided four assists. The Frenchman has been criticised for not always showing up on the big occasion. However, during this campaign, that can not be said. The attacker scored or assisted at least one goal in every game against the rest of the ‘Big Four’ teams in the league, including netting a hat trick against Liverpool in their 4-2 win. Arsenal stormed to the league title with Henry at the helm, amassing 90 points and finishing 11 points ahead of second-place Chelsea. They became the first team ever to go undefeated in a 38-game league season in English football history, forever engraving their place in history as ‘The Invincibles’. They earned 26 wins, 12 draws with 0 defeats over the season and led the league in goals scored and least conceded. In a somewhat forgotten feat, they managed to do this whilst winning the Premier League Fair Play Award, an award given to the team who has been the most sporting and best behaved. Henry swept every top award in England at the end of the season, winning the Premier League Player of the Season, the PFA Players’ Player of the Year and the FWA Footballer of the Year. He also cemented his place as the most deadly finisher in Europe by winning the Premier League and European Golden Boot awards. 

In European and domestic cup competition, Arsenal was not as dominant. Henry played four games in the Champions league’s knockout stages, scoring and assisting twice. Arsenal defeated Celta Vigo in the last 16 tie 5-2 on aggregate before disappointingly crashed out in the quarter-finals to fellow-divisional rivals Chelsea 3-2 on over two legs. Domestically, Arsenal came into the FA Cup looking to retain their title for the third time in a row. Henry featured in three of the Gunners’ five games in the competition, scoring three and assisting none. They defeated Leeds, Middlesbrough, Chelsea and Portsmouth to reach the semi-finals. Their quest for a ‘three-peat’ came to an end at this stage as Manchester United claimed a 1-0 victory, with Henry starting the game on the bench.

Henry was linked with transfers away from North London in the summer, with Real Madrid rumoured to be interested in his services. However, no move was close to materialising as the Frenchman was adamant that he was remaining a Gunner for the 04/05 season. The European Golden boot winner started the new campaign in the same magical form from the previous season. He failed to score in his teams 3-1 Community Shield triumph over Manchester United. However, the attacker scored 16 goals and assisted nine in 20 games in the league. Henry’s influence allowed Arsenal to finish the year in second place, four points behind Chelsea. The Gunners’ undefeated streak came to an end after 49 games, falling to their bitter rivals Manchester United 2-0 in their tenth game of the season. Henry was hit-and-miss when it came to big matches. He failed to score against either Manchester United or Liverpool but netted both goals in their 2-2 draw to league-leading Chelsea and scored in Arsenal’s thrilling 5-4 North London Derby victory against Tottenham Hotspur. 

Arsenal topped their 04/05 Champions League group. They finished unbeaten but only won two of their six games. Despite what was assumed to be an easy group, the North London team struggled to finish off their opponents. They started their European journey with a 1-0 win over PSV Eindhoven before going on a four-game drawing run against Rosenborg, Panathinaikos twice and PSV Eindhoven again. Their final game of the group was a must-win game against Rosenborg, which, luckily for Arsenal, they easily dominated after finding their form, emerging 5-1 winners. Henry played in all six of the Gunners’ European games. After failing to score or assist in the opening two matches, the Frenchman netted in each of the remaining four contests, including a crucial equaliser away against PSV Eindhoven. 

France:

Throughout the years, Henry has faced criticism for not translating his club form into the international game. Despite being France’s all-time leading goalscorer and winning the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000, finishing as his countries top scorer in both tournaments, critics suggest that the Arsenal man seemed to disappear during major competitions, with his disastrous 2002 World Cup being a prime example of this. Henry had a chance to silence any doubters during Euro 2004. The attacker started all four games for Les Bleus, scoring twice and recording one assist. He crucially drew a penalty against England in the 93rd minute, which allowed captain Zinadine Zidane to score the game’s winning goal in their opening game. He followed this up by having a reasonably quiet performance in France’s 2-2 draw with Croatia. Henry had his best match of the tournament in the group stage’s final game, scoring twice against Switzerland in a 3-1 victory to allow his country to top their group. 

In the quarter-finals, France suffered a shock defeat to heavy underdogs and eventual Euro 2004 winners Greece. Henry had many chances throughout the game to find the back of the net, but he failed to convert any of them. These missed opportunities allowed Greece to keep a clean sheet and hold on for a 1-0 victory. Henry faced backlash for his role in France’s untimely exit amongst the French media, with the majority of blame being, perhaps unfairly, placed on his shoulders.


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Who I think should have won the 2004 Ballon d’Or:

I shall be using a slightly modified version of the criteria introduced in 2018 to decide who I believe should have won the award. I have chosen to do this because the method used in 2004 is far more open-ended than the current one. Whilst the modern day criteria certainly is not perfect, it does allow me to compare the four players more fairly. I will not consider the “overall judgment of the player’s career” as it is an annual award. Assessing a player’s entire career while deciding who was the best player in a singular year makes the Ballon d’Or redundant, and I believe it should be removed from the criteria. I shall also be splitting the “individual and collective performances during the year” into two separate sections to make the comparisons between the players more straightforward. In my opinion, this award comes down to two players, Deco and Thierry Henry. Whilst Andriy Shevchenko and Ronaldinho undoubtedly had fantastic years, what they managed to achieve individually and as a part of a team is not on the same level as what the Portuguese and Frenchman accomplished. 


Individual Performances During The Year:

Thierry Henry wins this section easily for me. In a pre-Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo era, scoring 46 goals in 57 games was near-impossible to imagine. Yet, the Frenchman not only achieved this, but he also assisted a handful of goals in the process, displaying his versatility as a well-rounded player, not just a goalscorer. This puts him above fellow striker Andriy Shevchenko. The Ukrainian may have been a deadly finisher but relied on the multiple playmakers on the Milan side, such as Kaka, Pirlo, Seedorf and Rui Costa, to bring him into a game. The Arsenal striker was undoubtedly the best player in the Premier League that year, as shown by him winning the Player’s, Writers and League-voted player of the year awards for his 03/04 season and played at the same level during the 04/05 season. 

His most significant criticism in this area is that his performances from France where not at the same standard as they were for Arsenal. Despite being in a team of superstars at club level, Henry always managed to stand head-and-shoulders above his teammates as the team’s main man. He often got lost in the shuffle on international duty, with Zinadine Zidane being the distinct talisman for Les Bleus. Despite this, what Henry managed to achieve over the year for the Gunners can not be understated. He was the heartbeat of the invincibles and could be genuinely unstoppable in plenty of performances throughout 2004. 

Deco was the closest player to Henry in this category but ultimately fell short. The Brazilian-born playmaker managed to serve as the glue that connected the midfield to the attack in three separate teams over the year. His role often goes understated because, asides from his time at Porto, he was never the main star of the team. However, his play allowed those stars to shine even brighter with his unselfish play and exceptional passing and vision. Not only did Deco excelled in the creative role and possessed a fantastic work-rate, but he was also able to alter his position. The midfielder went from a number 10 role for Porto and Portugal to playing in a midfield three for Barcelona, transitioning flawlessly between the positions. What gives Henry the edge over Deco for me is that the Frenchman managed to be his team’s top goalscorer and creative hub simultaneously, being able to change a game by himself completely. Deco may have been a crucial cog in the machine for three teams in 2004, but Henry was the machine at Arsenal. 

Rankings in this Section:

  1. Thierry Henry
  2. Deco
  3. Andriy Shevchenko 
  4. Ronaldinho

Collective Performances During The Year:

This section, without a doubt, belongs to Deco. At club level, Henry may have been a part of the legendary ‘Invincibles’, but the Portuguese playmaker either won or made the final in every competition he played in a truly remarkable year. Like Henry and Shevchenko, Deco won his domestic league title in the first half of 2004. While the Portuguese Primeira Liga is unquestionably weaker than the Serie A and Premier League, Porto managed to achieve incredible European success, something AC Milan and Arsenal could not claim. The Champions League is the most prestigious tournament in European and World club football and the hardest to win. To lift the famous trophy for a team inside the traditional ‘top four’ leagues is hard enough, let alone do so from outside. What this Porto team managed to achieve, with Deco acting as the team’s heartbeat, can not be understated and will likely not be duplicated for years to come.

By December 31st, 2004, only Ronaldinho and Deco were currently top of their domestic league, with both men playing for the same Barcelona team. None of the four players in this article won their domestic cup competition that year, but Deco came the closest by losing in the Taça de Portugal final.

Only Henry and Deco took part in a major international tournament in 200. Ronaldinho was rested for Brazil’s Copa America win and Shevchenko’s Ukraine failing to qualify for Euro 2004. Both France and Portugal were eliminated from Euro 2004 by the same team. However, Deco’s nation had a far better showing than Henry’s. Portugal reached the final before losing to Greece, whereas France fell to them in the quarter-finals despite being tournament favourites. 

Rankings in this Section:

  1. Deco
  2. Thierry Henry
  3. Andriy Shevchenko 
  4. Ronaldinho

Player’s Class (Fair Play):

The fair play aspect is relatively simple, as I can simply answer three questions: how many bookings did the players pick up? Did they serve any suspensions? And were they involved in any controversy? An argument could be made that a players position could make this section slightly unfair, as a striker, like Henry or Shevchenko, is less likely to be in a position to get booked than a centre midfielder where Deco played. However, I believe this is the fairest way I could judge this section. 

Statistically, Shevchenko was the cleanest of the four players, picking up only three yellow cards all year with no red cards or game suspended. Henry was second as he also did not serve any suspensions or received a red card but picked up eight yellows. Despite picking up more yellow cards than the other three with 13, Deco places ahead of Ronaldinho because the Brazilian was the only one to get sent off during a game and was suspended on two separate occasions on top of picking up 11 yellow cards. There was no notable controversy surrounding the conduct of any of the players over the year. 

Rankings in this Section:

  1. Andriy Shevchenko 
  2. Thierry Henry
  3. Deco
  4. Ronaldinho

Final thoughts:

It was a close contest between Thierry Henry and Deco. Still, after compiling research for this article and comparing the players to my criteria, I personally believe that, despite coming fourth in the actual vote, Henry should have been crowned the 2004 Ballon d’Or winner. 

Final Rankings:

  1. Thierry Henry
  2. Deco
  3. Andriy Shevchenko
  4. Ronaldinho 
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Author: Ross Paul

With three years of working as a freelance Sports Journalist and a degree from Sussex University under my belt, I decided that it was time to focus on a passion project of mine. I created Tales From Sport in the hopes of producing the most in-depth, high quality articles about the most interesting stories in the history of sport. My main focus is writing about the NFL, however, I also produced content on the MLB, NHL and Football. I am a die-hard Chicago Bears, Chicago Cubs, Winnipeg Jets, Stevenage FC and AC Milan Fan and avid sports memorabilia collector.

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