Ballon d’Or

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Guest Blog Jonathan Northcroft

Just a few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to spend time with Jonathan Northcroft, a super talented sports correspondent for the Sunday Times. He subsequently crafted an honest and insightful piece to which I could only admire. Luckily for me, and I guess you guys as well, Jonathan was aware of the previous guest post by John Bradley and offered to write a post of his very own, to which I was only too pleased to accept. So here’s the second guest blog, Jonathan’s take on the Ballon d’Or. But is the once coveted award now a commercial monster, rather than fundamentally rewarding those nominated? Let me know your thoughts, as me and Jonathan will be scanning for feedback and comments.

This weeks’ guest blog is from Johnathan Northcroft, football correspondent for the Sunday Times. Follow and  message him here @JNorthcroft

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GABRIEL Hanot was a fine football player – but a great football journalist.

As editor of L’Equipe it was Hanot who conceived the European Cup. He did what the best journalists do: posed big questions and then went looking for the answers. The European Cup was born because he wanted to know who, among Europe’s domestic title holders, was the greatest team.

Hanot, who won 12 caps for France as a full back in the early 1900s, died 44 years ago. Were he alive, would he even recognize the Champions League, with its ‘coefficients’, its glitz and cash, its exclusion of champions from smaller nations and its inclusion of even fourth placed teams from the major countries?

He might be even more bewildered by what has befallen another of his ideas. Hanot was also curious to identify the best footballer in Europe and arranged a vote of leading journalists from around the continent. So began the Ballon D’Or: Stanley Matthews was the first winner in 1956; another giant, Alfredo Di Stefano, was next.

Today? Well, UEFA might have mangled the old European Cup…but UEFA are mere amateurs at ruining things compared to FIFA. In 2010, those moneyed kings of self-delusion staged a takeover of the poor old Ballon d’Or and merged it with their own newer, and never as esteemed award, the ‘FIFA World Player of the Year’. Inevitably, the famous ‘Golden Ball’ became more than a little plastic.

No longer simply for the best player in Europe, it is now a ‘world’ award. Nothing wrong with that, except the nominees remain almost exclusively Europe-based. On the current list of 23 only Neymar and Didier Drogba play somewhere other than Spain, England, Germany, Italy or France. What: there are no other great footballers on the planet? How about Leandro Damiao or the brilliant Egyptian veteran, Mohamed Aboutrika?

Worse, the ‘FIFA Ballon D’or’ is now presented at televised gala in Zurich as just one element in a whole, cheesy, pseudo ‘Oscars’ night alongside baubles like the ‘Presidential Award’ – a sort of ‘lifetime achievement’ gong, for ‘services to football,’ selected at Sepp Blatter’s discretion. The list of winners is bizarre. Sir Alex Ferguson was last year’s recipient but the two winners before him? You won’t guess. Desmond Tutu and Queen Raina of Jordan. Yep, whoever Sepp fancies getting his photo taken with. Or, given Haiti and “Women’s Football” are also past recipients, ‘causes’ on which Sepp wants to land a great, patronizing, political pat on the back..

Sadly, FIFA also now have a say in the nominees, through one of their committees. The 2012 list looks like not the best 23 footballers in the world but, more or less, the 23 most famous and marketable ones. They’re still trying to keep things vaguely plausible but give FIFA a few years – Ronaldinho and Beckham will be on it.

The winner will be one of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Iker Casillas, Anders Iniesta, Xavi or Andrea Pirlo and who could argue with their inclusion among the 23? But why is Mario Balotelli on it? For Italy at the Euros, Antonio Cassano and Claudio Marchisio were more consistent. For Manchester City, David Silva and Vincent Kompany were better. But none of these made the list.

Did Wayne Rooney really have a good enough 2012 to merit inclusion? The reasoning given on his FIFA pen-pic is weak: “with 14 goals between February and May 2012, Wayne Rooney was indispensible for Manchester United.” Why is Gerard Pique there? Good player, but a mediocre year. Ah, wait, he might bring Shakira to that gala night in Zurich.

Sergio Busquets? Baffling. Manuel Neuer? Tremendous keeper but can he really be the only player from the Bundesliga worth including – when there are none from the dazzling German champions, Borussia Dortmund. Queen Raina of Jordan? Decent centre-back but…okay, I’m joking now.

My biggest hope is Blatter will get Sam Fox and Mick Fleetwood to compere the ceremony and give the occasion the ‘dignity’ it deserves. The sad demise of the Ballon d’Or got me thinking about the wider subject of judging football players. In a results-driven industry, performances are there for everyone to see on the pitch, so do players need graded by journos like me or, worse, a committee?

Surely, the only ‘shortlist’ that it really counts a player makes is the 11 players his manager nominates to start a game. And, presumably (Joey can answer this), the only esteem a player really wants to gain is from his own teammates  – and his club’s own fans.

Still, it seems part of the modern condition, to want to rank things – just for the hell of it. With that in mind, we should look on awards as a bit of fun – but not serious or definitive statements about a player’s ability. Sir Alex Ferguson has held that opinion ever since 1999, when even though Manchester United won the Treble, not one of his players won either PFA Player of the Year or FWA (the football writers) Player of the Year. Instead the recipient of both awards was David Ginola – who scored three goals for a Tottenham side who finished 11th in the Premier League.

That, to me, is confirmation players can be just as bad at judging each other as we journos are at judging them. I’d be interested to see what marks out of ten they’d give one another for performances. The marks out of ten that appear beside newspaper match reports are an old tradition but are they worthwhile?

Well, here’s how it works. You’re reporting on a match. You have 900 words to write about the game, which has to be completed and sent to your editor – during the match itself. The physical act of just typing 900 words takes (assuming an average speed of 40 words per minute) more than 20 minutes. You also have to make notes, watch replays on your monitor in the press box, take calls from your editor and send your copy by email. Probably half of the 105 minutes available (the game plus half-time) is spend on simply the mechanics of reporting.

So you have about 50 minutes to actually watch the game. In an average match only about two-thirds are spent with the ball ‘in play’. Basically, the reporter is only fully focused on watching play for about 30 minutes per match. As Americans say, do the math: even if you focused your eyes solely on each player in turn (surely the only way to grade a performance – you need to see everything, off the ball movement etc as well as what happens when the ball is at a player’s feet) you’d have a little more than one minute per player through which to arrive at a grading. But of course you can’t even do that – you’re having to watch the general flow of play for the purposes of your main responsibility, your match report.

Players – and fans – take the marks out of ten perhaps even more seriously than your match report itself. My advice would be: don’t. Treat it as a bit of fun. I would say the same when it comes to player of the year awards…except FIFA haven’t half sucked the fun, along with everything else, out of the famous old Ballon d’Or.

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56 comments
LiamSutton
LiamSutton

 

Very interesting insight on the History of the Ballon D'or and what it has become. Can't understand why players like Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski don't merit a place on the list. FIFA is still as corrupt as ever!!!

 

michealjroberts
michealjroberts

Excellent critical analysis of the current situation of the governing bodies of football. One question, to either Joe or Jonathan, could you ever see the clubs, players and fans all uniting together to disband from FIFA to setup their own governing body away from the bureaucrats?  

supersonicmike
supersonicmike

Really good guest blog!! Bit of a lesson in there with the history of the Ballon D'or, had no idea that's how it began. And certainly highlights the direction which FIFA have taken in the modern era, and why many would agree they are heading in the wrong direction. The Ballon D'or has clearly lost what it originally was set out to do.

Great to hear how journalists have to go about giving their match report. Always wondered how much time pressure there is on that. I'll definitely be taking those marks out of ten with a pinch of salt from now on.

 

AdamYoungx
AdamYoungx

I'm not suggesting these players be in any list by any means but in terms of what certain individuals 'bring' to a team, the results and evidence speaks for itself! I attended the Newcastle West Ham game yesterday and without the presence of Colo at the back and Tiote enforcing the centre mid, they were able to find loop holes in 2/3rds of our team and they were picking us apart in those two thirds! What I'm getting at is individual players often deserve the credit for the sheer amount they bring to their respective teams... To be diplomatic; should we have the equivalent of the 'Pride of Britain' awards in the footballing world that recognises those who, let's say, cannot compete for awards against the likes of Messi, Ronaldo etcetcetc....

Kushi Purac
Kushi Purac

Man, Ive got to bookmark this for when the drugs wears off.

This sativa is so strong, Ive actually convinced myself that Ive read some great football analysis on Joey Barton's site.

Im gonna sleep it off and see how it looks in the morning (something that happens often when alcohol and loose beautiful women end up together in your bed and you wake up in the morning and realize that the hot chick you banged last night looks like Big Sam once your beer goggles wear off!!!

tchaikovsky19
tchaikovsky19

hi joey. some good points regarding balotelli, borussia dortmund especially hummels, and neuer. rooney just about merits an inclusion i think.

Cmon you ought be kidding w.r.t busquets. People seem to have been fixated the thiago motta incident which was 3 years ago. when was the last time he dived. For your benefit, he has won total of 0 penalties and maybe 1 yellow (second yellow) resulting in red card expulsion for opponent. Step forward ashley young, suarez, rooney, gerrard, valencia - all of them have won more penalties / red cards with their dives. Busquets one touch passing is outstanding and often has he shackled opposition's creator with his intelligent man marking in big matches (ozil in clasicos, sneijder in wc final). His ball winning is clean and he never has to resort to tackling. A defensive midfielder is a crucial piece of the team and good to see atleast one nominated.

 

Damiao deserves it but i am not sure about Aboutrika. Egypt didnt even qualify for next cup of nations and his club team didn't win african champions league. Maybe in previous years he did deserve a nomination. Good to see his name being bandied about which shows some refinement.

 

Still great to see you post unlike other footballers who cant even string a sentence. Good luck at Marseilles. great club and great culture.

arris482
arris482

As much as i admire and never doubting the quality of Messi i often wonder how many goals he would score with out the help of Xavi,Iniesta and co. I actually feel sorry for Ronaldo as hes proven himself in the 2 biggest leagues but is still in the shadow of the little man. Why does it always seem attacking players get all the credit.For me Kompany was a different class last season!, Barcelona were poor last season by their standards but yet it seems the whole team are nominated! Would it not be better if fans vote on players they think deserve it from each league in europe, then a shortlist can be made up. For example each league put forward a best keeper,defender,midfielder and striker....just a thought. Would be nice to see different players up

the_matt_roche
the_matt_roche

Can't blame FIFA for picking most of their players from Europe, it's where most of the best players in the world play. 

 

The lack of defenders on the list is really poor though... The list just looks lazy, like they knocked it up in 15 mins at the end of a meeting. It would be interesting to see if there was a public vote for a similar award, I wonder if there would be any surprises? 

CJFerguson23
CJFerguson23

If this was a few years back I think Alonso would've been on the list, his passing range and vision for said pass is unmatched, he was and still is like a modern day Hoddle, and him leaving Liverpool is my sure answer to why we've been finishing below where we should have. That and the fact we failed to replace him with a world class mid who can consistently perform, like de Rossi, Xavi. Hargreaves was another player I would've expected back in 06. He single handedly dominated the midfield against Portugal. Class player, still my role model.

Friel95
Friel95

Im only 17 but have been an avid football fan for many years and in my opinion, Iker Casillas is one of the most overrated keepers in the world. Had he not broke into the Real Madrid team at such a young age he wouldn't be defined as world class. Yes he may have lead Spain to three consecutive international titles but he lets to many easy shots in. If he played in the Premier League the goals would be a lot more scrutinized compared to La Liga. If Joe Hart made a mistake, the English media would be all over it and fair play to Joe Hart, I cant remember him making a single mistake, bar the Poland goal the other week. He should be on that list ahead of Iker Casillas.

Rian3
Rian3

Money talks. End of.

CitoyenAleatoire
CitoyenAleatoire

what a surprise...it's all about money, that's not new. everything's corrupt, rotten...

but since the mass don't care...nothing gonna change!

Will_01
Will_01

Joe Hart should have made the shortlist in my opinion,he is easily among the elite goalkeepers in world football and has now won a league title.

BenGast2
BenGast2

Maybe if the award focused on what a player has 'brought to his side' it would even out the difference and make the award more fair.For example. Messi may get a lot of publicity and maybe one of the greatest footballers ever, but would Barca still win things with out him ? My answer would be yes.compare this to Steven Gerrard in 2005, would Liverpool have won the champions League With out him, and quite clearly No they would not have.

 

Also if a player in Asia who the western world doesn't know is dragging his team by the collar and winning big trophies with them, why shouldn't he win it? If he is that instrumental.

 

Maybe FIFA has become to 'European' Maybe we should move the FIFA Offices to the far corners of Madagascar, and see if the lack of ' Glits And Glam' puts of are footballing friends such as good old Sepp 

Will_01
Will_01

Leandro Damiao world class? don't think so..

Rian3
Rian3

Vincent Kompany last season was outstanding. I'm not a fan of Man City but credit when its due. Kompany aleast should have a mention.

Will_01
Will_01

sergio busquets 100% deserves to be on the list,he is a fantastic player,i was fortunate enough to see him play at euro 2012 as Spain trounced my country ireland,but I agree with you in that David Silva should be on the list,fantastic player.

angus81
angus81

have to agree with this piece. I'm relatively young at 20, but I used to love looking through things like past Ballon d'Or winners and reading a who's who of footballing greats. Even about 13 years ago when I first really started getting into football the Ballon d'Or still counted for something, and there was still some intrigue about who was going to be nominated or who was going to win. Now, as is said, it is just about gathering all the most marketable football players in one place for a gala evening. Probably half the players on the shortlist shouldn't be on it, the likes of Rooney, Balotelli, Busquets and Neuer. Goetze, Lewandowski and Kompany are the big missing names there for me.

The Champions League is ridiculous. Now Scottish football may not be the highest standard, but how many times in recent years after winning the league have Rangers or Celtic been knocked out in qualifying rounds while the top 3 from countries like England and Spain go through?! It is so rare now for the winners to actually be Champions in their own country, that it's former name, the European Cup, is now a far more appropriate name for the competition, but it will never change because of the lucrative brand that is the Champions League.

All of this, particularly the destruction of the Ballon d'Or as a valid award, stems from the man at the helm-who is also the sole reason there is currently no goal line technology in football, the chief of pomp and circumstance, Sepp Blatter.

williepark
williepark

And by the way... No Gareth Bale? 

williepark
williepark

I'd also have Joe Hart before Buffon and Casillas! Madness!

williepark
williepark

Lewandowski and Silva should be there instead of Rooney and Balotelli IMO

Rian3
Rian3

As always it will be a flashy forward who gets it, no credits for the rolled up sleeves and graft of the defensive players as always. what about that last ditch tackle or block, no-one remembers these, its always the goals or the "skills" in my opinion the award should go to the man who wears his heart on his sleeve puts in the gutsy graft no other players willing to do. the real match winners.

samjones110
samjones110

good article but still who else is really gonna win it other than ronaldo or messi? 

JosephPerry9
JosephPerry9

Great article, good choice as a guest blogger.  It's sad but true that today's sport relies almost solely on marketing and TV rights.  But there's a large hole in football that has been dug and with broadcasting rights paying for lucrative salaries it looks like the hole can only get deeper.

db353
db353

Don't understand why they give an award to the best player. Football is a team game, give an award to the best team.

Joey B
Joey B

Have to agree with the lack of players from the Bundesliga as well, a league going from strength to strength, Where is Goetze? Where is Lewandowski? Hummels? Crazy stuff....

JamesBr
JamesBr

If you haven't got a big name or a big price tag, you haven't got a chance

williepark
williepark

Good article. The underlying issue here is that Mr Blatter is the man in the hot seat. The sooner he is relieved of his position the better for world football (assuming the right person is put in place). We need someone that will put the beautiful game before personal gain.

Flammenfisch
Flammenfisch

Does anyone pay any attention to these pointless beauty contests anyway? I'm pretty certain that the only people who care about these glitzy events are the invitees and their assorted hangers-on. Not my crowd, and I'm sure most footy fans feel the same.

 

The Champions League has become a bloated caricature of the old European Cup; granted some of the football is superb (and sometimes it's rotten), but its raison d'être seems to be to generate as much revenue for the "blue chip" clubs as possible, as well as fill the Uefa coffers. The irony is not lost on me that many of its main sponsors are from the drinks industry - as off-message as can be, given the athleticism of today's footballers, and hardly appropriate given that so many children aspire to be footballers. It all adds to the impression that modern-day football has become another opiate of the masses, something to pass the time and get excited/ upset/ frustrated about as we guzzle our cans of Heineken, all the while ignoring what's really happening in the world and our communities, allowing the corporations to drain our ever-dwindling reserves of disposable income.

 

For football, real football, to truly thrive, there must be a return to grass-roots, for families to get out in the fresh air, as Brian Clough used to say, and go and support their local team. Switch off the telly and get behind your local lads. Reconnect with the original spirit of the game as a healthy pastime that anyone can play and enjoy, and forget about these overpaid ninnies running around in the Champions League.

 

Who am I kidding. The Champions League is on next week, and I'll be back for my fix like everyone else...

 

 

Robert94
Robert94

Sergio Busquets deserves this , people see the bad side of him with his falling to ground if hes being shot! But who the man who wins the back, starts the attack , break up the play at Barca? Yes him. He may dive but so does Suarez does that make him a bad player? Ronaldo must have at least one dive per game but then goes on to score hat trick, no one judges his diving. Rooney being there has baffled himself. Ballon dor is for the best player of last 12-18months and that's has been Lionel Messi finished the season with 82goals a record set back in 1912/1913 season by a Scotsman, he's on course to finish calendar year with 85+ goals whch again would over take Pele and Muller as most ever. Ronado may have won LaLiga but again its about individual qualify well according to last 5 years it has to be?

Joey B
Joey B

By the way, I was as shocked as all of you to find that my name was omitted from the last again.... 

CJFerguson23
CJFerguson23

I am glad we brought in some good young British players like Hendo, Shelvey, Allen and Sterling, who is shaping up to be a very very good player.

JoshWaldock
JoshWaldock

 @Friel95 

Joe Hart is a media darling, he cant do anything wrong in their eyes. Goals conceded against Switzerland (Euro Qualifier), Leicester (FA Cup 2011), Real Madrid (Champions League, 2012) and probably more are all over looked so as to not hit his confidence. The media know how marketable Joe Hart is and hype him up so that people, like yourself, believe he is truly world class. Many better goalkeepers have become undone by the media (and subsequently fans) getting on the back of them.

Joey B
Joey B

 @BenGast2 Ha ha that last paragraph amused me, but I do agree with you about the Gerrard statement. You wonder, would Barca still win it all without Messi? Or Real without Ronaldo? I think they probably would looking at their squads. There are players knocking round that carry their side through a season who deserve the award in equal measure, just because their side is not as succesful should not mean they are disregarded.

williepark
williepark

 @angus81 Agreed mate. The Europa League could be made more appealing by only having Champions in the Champions League and everyone else in the Europa. That will never happen though because football is a business and it doesn't make business sense. I doubt we will see goal-line technology for the same reason, the sort of publicity this gets week-in week-out is absolute gold for a business.

Joey B
Joey B

 @Rian3 Well they are not as marketable are they? Simple as that! 

Joey B
Joey B

 @JosephPerry9 Yeah open to suggestions for the next guest blog? It seems this hole will only get deeper with the larger influx of TV money expected next year...

Joey B
Joey B

 @Robert94 Hi Rob, take your point on Busquets, that type of player is a necessary cog in any team but I would argue how difficult it is to do that job in a side that barely gives the ball away? As well as the ease to pick a pass in a side with so many attacking options? I thought Schweinsteiger had to be in there somewhere... Also Re Suarez, yes a top player, but I agree with what Jonathan says in the article, he does not fit the FIFA archetype, he is not marketable anymore which I agree seems more important to the authorities these days...

Joey B
Joey B

 @CJFerguson23 Alonso is top drawer, the problem with playing against him is that if you get tight and on top of him you kill your teams shape but if you give him time and space he just picks your team apart, his range of passing is scary, I remember him running a game at Anfield culminating in me getting myself sent off for a frustrated tackle on him....

Joey B
Joey B

 @williepark  @angus81 Agree with you both here lads, I remember as a kid thinking about the Ballon d'Or and the names associated with it, it no longer has the same power for sure.. 

Rian3
Rian3

 @Joey B I agree totally, just my opinion. Disappointing really, you will experience first hand the 'grafters' of a team and not getting credit, even with you role in a team, do you not feel sometimes good performances for 90 minutes go unnoticed for one bit of magic from a 'marketable' player?

Robert94
Robert94

 @Joey B

 Ah well yes good points there. Who would you say deserves this award? Thanks Joey

michealjroberts
michealjroberts

 @Joey B  @CJFerguson23 I'm particularly looking forward to Alonso's rumoured return! I'm also looking forward to Zaha's entry to the Premier League in January, I predict with Man City.

Joey B
Joey B

 @Robert94  @Joey B Tough one really, has to be between the obvious Ronaldo or Messi though on their goal records alone...

JoshWaldock
JoshWaldock

 @Joey B

Only Joshing with you (kinda my thing), Newcastle fan get told I shouldn't like you ;)

 

Was gonna actually point out the lack of nominees from the the French league. You cant really count Zlatan since he was in Italy for the majority of the year. But players like Giroud, Goufran and Belhanda spring to mind as stand out attacking players and Debuchy, Mavuba and N'Koulou all had good defensive showings (the former also having impressed during the European Championships). Arguably the achievements of the Montpellier players and staff was for more impressive than watching the two biggest names in club football (both club wise and player wise) compete for the league title and golden boot respectively. All that without mentioning the Ligue 1 player of the season (for the second time in a row) who is among the most marketable names in Europe right now.

 

Also missing players such as Coloccini and Cabaye who propelled a club with no ambition, ;), to finish 5th in the league the latter also cementing his place as starter for his national team. I'd say Cabaye had a better season Rooney, Pique or Ramos.

 

That said that Spanish midfield is magical and Xavi and Iniesta (along with Busquets, Alonso etc.) did defend the European Championship with eventual ease.