With Spanish players dominating the recently announced shortlist of Ballon d’Or nominees, Sam Geoghegan discusses whether their ubiquity is justified
The shortlist for the new FIFA Ballon d’Or was published last week, with FIFA choosing 23 players to feature on it.
The award represents the merging of the FIFA World Player of the Year award and France Football’s Ballon d’Or – otherwise known as European Player of the Year – and is the first of its kind.
The world’s superstars populate the list, although there are a few surprises, most notably Ghana international and Sunderland’s record signing Asamoah Gyan. While Gyan was impressive at the World Cup during the summer, at which he scored three goals, his form at club level has been inconsistent.
The shortlist is dominated by attacking players. Only four defenders have been selected and Barcelona captain Carlos Puyol is the only centre-back included. Puyol’s partner in central defence at club and international level, Gerard Piqué, strongly warrants selection.
FIFA and France Football seem to favour flair players, yet some nominees are probably undeserving of their place on the shortlist and made it on reputation alone. Cristiano Ronaldo springs to mind in this instance. The Real Madrid star had an atrocious World Cup for Portugal and failed to outshine Lionel Messi during their El Clásico encounters.
Arsenal’s creative force in midfield, Cesc Fabregas, made the list despite being injured for the last two months of the season and failing to start in any of Spain’s World Cup matches.
An argument could easily be made for England and Manchester United star Wayne Rooney to be there in the Spaniard’s place. With 43 goals and PFA and the Football Writers Player of the Year awards, the gifted young player had a wonderful season worthy of recognition.
Spain dominate the shortlist, with seven Spanish internationals selected, and Barcelona have the highest number of players featuring on the list. However, it appears that FIFA have based their selection on the performances of the World Cup. No English, French or Italians feature, reflecting the disappointing performances of these countries in South Africa.
Truly, this decade of football looks set to be Spain’s. Since La Roja broke their championship hoodoo by winning Euro 2008, they entered the World Cup in the summer as favourites.
Although they may not have played the free-flowing football we have come to expect from their incredibly talented team, the Spaniards ground out results in a clinical and professional manner en route to a deserved first-ever title. Each shortlisted player merits selection, with the exception of Fabregas.
While Barcelona were unable to defend their European crown, they did retain their La Liga title by overcoming the galácticos of their big-spending arch-rivals Real Madrid.
Los Cules look capable of dominating European football for years to come. An exceptionally gifted young manager in Pep Guardiola leads them, and the majestic Lionel Messi spearheads their attack on the pitch. They have also added Javier Mascherano and arguably the favourite for the Ballon d’Or, David Villa, to an already star-studded squad.
Real Madrid will also be right there domestically and on the European front at the end of the season. The second generation of the galácticos is in place, and in two-time European Cup winner Jose Mourinho, they have a coach capable of handling the pressure and expectation of the unforgiving Real fans.
The Premiership has fallen behind La Liga in recent seasons, and the gulf appears to be widening. Manchester United and Liverpool are debt-ridden, Arsenal haven’t won a trophy in five years and Chelsea’s big spending budget has been curtailed significantly in recent years by owner Roman Abramovich.
Spain’s clubs are at the top now, but it might not last. History has taught us that a national league’s domination of European football is cyclical. However, it may be some time before the rest of the continent catches up, while Spain’s international side are the real deal. It will take something special to knock them off their perch.