Ballon d’Or Shortlist Review
Well, it’s that time of year again. “Who will win the Ballon d’Or?” they ask, an empty procession of meaningless speculation over a question to which we all already know the answer. Messi. Messi. Messi. Adidas. Messi. Messi. Adidas. Adidas. $$$. Messi. Barcelona. Messi. Messi. Messi. Messi. Messi. Messi. Coca Cola. MasterCard. Messi. Messi. Messi. Messi. Messi. Messi. Messi.
The shortlist is FIFA’s way of throwing us a bone, a toy devoid of nutrition for us to chew on so we leave the chair and table legs (corruption) alone. Hey, it’s something to talk about, right? And it brings in the hits.
So here’s the Surreal Football Official Ballon d’Or Shortlist Review:
(Listed in alphabetical order)
Éric Abidal (France) – Many have gawked at the Frenchman’s inclusion based on the limited number of games in which he participated, and fair enough on pure playing form I’m sure that better candidates are out there. But this is a guy who beat cancer to start in and win the Champions League final. We say it all the time, football is about more than just stats and tactics and skills. If it was we’d all just play FIFA [Year __] and there’d be no need for actual human beings to partake.
Sergio Agüero (Argentina) – Kun was phenomenal for Atletico Madrid last season and his form for Argentina in Copa America was the only thing that saved the hosts from the crippling embarrassment of a group stage exit. His inclusion in the shortlist is hard to argue against.
Karim Benzema (France) – I’ll be honest, at first I was like “WTF is he doing here?” But that’s been the story of Benzema over the past year. He stepped up big time for Real Madrid in the absence of injured Gonzalo Higuain, leading the line and scoring important goals while no one else was. El Gato certainly earned his spot on the list and hopefully he’ll start getting more credit for what he brings to the team from now on.
Iker Casillas (Spain) – A lot of people, mostly assholes, will doubt that the Real Madrid and Spain team captain deserves to be the only goalkeeper on this list, and while certainly there are other keepers who should be here, Casillas’ spot cannot be realistically under threat. An absolute rock for both club and country, he makes impossible saves as a matter of routine, his form so good that it’s taken for granted and underrated by many, particularly fans of a certain Spanish 3rd choice goalkeeper from Catalonia…
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) – Duh. Come on. Next.
Dani Alves (Brazil) – Despite being totally useless for the Seleção in their limp Copa America performance, Alves is integral to Barcelona’s success, a crucial out ball for the cules to spread their game and get some width instead of always playing through the fucking middle. He’s also unquestionably the best right back in the world right now and the only one who could plausibly make this list.
Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon) – Look, I’m not saying he’s over the hill, but that’s exactly what I’m saying. Eto’o was excellent for Inter last season but compared to his peak years at Barcelona he’s clearly past his best and on the cusp of a long decline. Add to that Inter’s failure to get further than the quarterfinals in the Champions League and their thorough asskicking by city rivals AC Milan in Serie A and you have to wonder why he’s here but no one from the rossoneri is.
Proffered alternative: Robin van Persie (Netherlands) – Van Persie’s goals to games ratio alone should be enough to get him on this list. Arsenal would be in the relegation zone right now without him. They’d also probably not have kept their spot in the Top Four last season without his goals. The man is a beast, and if he stays fit who knows how far he could carry the team on his back? Van Persie’s exclusion from this list makes it seem like even more of a joke than it already does.
Cesc Fàbregas (Spain) – Another doubtful pick from FIFA. Never a convincing leader and always with one foot out the door, he was in sparkling form for Arsenal early last season but he never really recovered from his spring injury and went missing when the club needed him most. His form for Barcelona since his long sought-after, highly contentious move has been phenomenal, and next year this pick might make sense but for this year he’s a terrible candidate.
Proffered alternative: Mario Gomez (Germany) – Gomez has been as prolific for Bayern Munich as van Persie’s been for Arsenal. He’s also finally shown form for his national side, playing a part in Germany’s perfect European Championship qualifying campaign with ten wins out of ten. Another omission that’s frankly just embarrassing.
Diego Forlán (Uruguay) – Forlán had a horrendous year at Atletico Madrid. Everyone there hated him and he even lost his regular starting place. However, the Uruguayan was a key player in his country’s triumph at Copa America this summer. His performances in the knockout rounds of that tournament alone justify his place here. 32 years old, and the dude has still got it.
Andrés Iniesta (Spain) – 2nd place finish last year, when he scored the goal that won Spain’s first ever World Cup. Should have won it then. This year he’s been even better. Yes, it’s possible. Also, we have the same first name, so he obviously deserves to be here.
Lionel Messi (Argentina) – Duh. No duh. Duh doy derrrr. Seriously. Have some respect for your own intelligence.
Thomas Müller (Germany) – He’s fast, he’s skilled, he’s smart, he’s lethal, he’s sexxxy. What more can you ask for?
Nani (Portugal) – Finally starting to grow out of the Ronaldo comparisons that have haunted him since the start of his career, Nani was United’s leading assist man this season and pitched in with a fair bit of goals as well. He was the most consistent attacking player of the team that won the Premier League and made it to the Champions League final. He’s good.
Neymar (Brazil) – The Brazilian wunderkind (is there any other kind?) won Santos their first Copa Libertadores since Pele was in his pomp. He’s been the Next Big Thing for a while now, with the big European clubs all salivating at the thought of him. My bet is that he’ll be wearing white for Real Madrid come summertime, or January even. He’s also the only player on this list not based in Europe, which is kind of fucked up if you ask me, although I get it. Capitalism and all.
Mesut Özil (Germany) – He was a revelation for Germany at the World Cup and he’s been a central figure in Real Madrid’s lineup since he arrived last summer. Under Mourinho’s tutelage and with teammates like Ronaldo and Xabi Alonso the young German will only get better. He’s also really weird-looking, bug-eyed, and I like that about him.
Gerard Piqué (Spain) – The bleeding expert was as important to Barcelona’s successful La Liga and Champions League campaigns last season as Messi and Xavi were, I’m serious. While club captain Carles Puyol spent most of the season out injured and with midfielder Javier Mascherano often filling in as a makeshift centerback, Piqué was a fucking rock at the back in Pep Guardiola’s toughest season yet as coach of the cules. His romance with Shakira grabbed all the headlines and turned him into a bit of a joke but you wouldn’t know from his performances on the pitch. Defender of the year for me, easily.
Wayne Rooney (England) – Constantly taken for granted by fans and “experts” alike, Wazza has been absolutely essential to Manchester United’s success since Ronaldo’s departure in 2009. He made up for his lag in form early in the season by playing the best football of his career in the latter stages, the Englishman’s natural chemistry with new striking partner Chicharito Hernandez something truly fun to behold. He’s now matured into the leader of United’s attack and has been superb this season.
Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany) – No one seems say much about Schweinsteiger. He’s just quietly awesome. Philipp Lahm may be team captain of Bayern Munich and Germany, but Schweinsteiger’s their real heart and soul.
Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands) – Truth be told, Sneijder probably should have won it last year. He was the key man in Inter Milan’s Champions League triumph and arguably just as important for his country’s run to the World Cup final. But Messi’s name sells more sneakers or whatever so of course FIFA voted for the little Argentine despite his loss to Sneijder’s team at club level and his country’s dismemberment at the hands of Germany in the World Cup. This year all Inter were able to win was the Coppa Italia so he probably won’t even make the top three.
Luis Suárez (Uruguay) – Despite being an all-around prick and now possibly a racist as well, Suarez has shown excellent form for both club and country over the past year. Another integral part of Uruguay’s Copa America win, he won Player of the Tournament there, so impressive was his play. He was leading goalscorer for Ajax before he joined Liverpool in January, and as soon as he arrived at Merseyside the club’s fortunes instantly improved due in no small part to the little bastard’s outstanding abilities.
David Villa (Spain) – This one I just don’t get. I mean, sure, ok, he’s striker for Barca, he scored a beautiful goal in the Champions League final, he surpassed Raul’s goalscoring record for the national team this year, but um…he’s kind of sucked lately? By his admittedly very high standards, anyway. He suffered through a long drought of goals and during that time his not only did his confidence sink extremely low but he also seemed completely out of sync with his teammates in link-up play. Plus, that soul patch. Ugh, dude, ugh.
Proferred alternative: Franck Ribery (France) – His role in France’s World Cup collapse probably got him banned from this list forever, but the Frenchman’s excellence at Bayern deserves recognition. He and Arjen Robben together form the most dangerous pair of inverted wingers in the world. They make other teams pee themselves in terror. They’re rarely ever fit at the same time, but lately it’s been the Frenchman who’s healthy more often than not. And when he’s fit, he’s practically unplayable. Witness his performances in the Champions League so far this season and you’ll see what I mean. Defenders are scared to go near him, and he always seems to be moving and thinking quicker than his opponents. He dismantles defenses for fun.
Xabi Alonso (Spain) – Another great player that had a relatively “meh” year by his own lofty standards. He’s been important for Real Madrid and is apparently a tactical confidant of managerial mastermind Mourinho, but I just wonder, do his displays on the pitch back that up enough to warrant a nomination? Deep in my gut, I know the answer is “No, not really.” Sorry bro.
Proferred alternative: Manuel Neuer (Germany) – Schalke only got as far as they did in the Champions League last season because of him. The kid’s just 25 (a baby by goalkeeper standards) and he’s already first choice keeper for his country. Manchester United wanted him to replace the retiring legend Edwin van der Sar, but German giants Bayern Munich outbid them, shelling out €22 million for his services. Neuer’s pretty much the only other goalkeeper who deserves to be on this list. Sorry Victor Valdes fans.
Xavi (Spain) – Duh. You don’t need me to tell you about Xavi. Move along.
So that’s the list. Overall not a bad compilation, though with some startling omissions. I for one was pretty disappointed that neither Hulk, nor Falcao, nor anyone from the fucking champions of Serie A, AC Milan, made it onto the list, especially after taking my own suggestions for revision into account. I suppose sometimes I disappoint even myself, and not just my parents.
Nonetheless, “world football’s governing body” is only FIFA’s secondary role, its Learning Annex. Their primary purpose is to serve as the world’s most prestigious Clown College. Naturally you get some overlap here and there. It’s to be expected.