By Carlo Garganese
The Fifa Ballon d'Or shortlist, revealed on Tuesday, has once again shown that players and coaches are rewarded based on reputation and not on their form and achievements over the course of the calendar year.
This has been proven time and again. The snubbing of Wesley Sneijder and Diego Milito in 2010 is just one example but this year is perhaps the most blatant case of big-name favouritism.
In the main category, Andrea Pirlo and Xavi are among the 23 contenders. The pair have undoubtedly been the top two centre midfielders of their generation but both have been well below their best since January 1.
At Juventus alone, there have been two midfielders superior to Pirlo – Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal. The omission of the Chilean from the shortlist is nothing short of criminal; the 26-year-old has been Serie A's standout player this year, inspiring Juventus to the Scudetto and Chile to the World Cup.
Xavi, meanwhile, has endured his worst year at Barcelona from a personal level since his injury-plagued 2005-06 campaign. Struggling to maintain a high level as he reaches the final stage of his career, the Spain international was outshone in a series of high-profile matches, including Barca's 7-0 Champions League semi-final thumping by Bayern and La Roja's Confederation Cup final loss to Brazil.
Yaya Toure is another player who has only made the list based on past performances. The Ivorian has had an average 2013, with Manchester City finishing 11 points behind neighbours United in the Premier League in May and already well off the pace this term.
Eliminated in Europe in the group stages, it is inexplicable that Toure can be nominated ahead of Dortmund midfield stars Ilkay Gundogan, Marco Reus and Mario Gotze. The presence of just one Borussia Dortmund player, Robert Lewandowski, is insulting. This is a team who lit up the Champions League in 2013 along with Bayern Munich.
And a team that defeated Mesut Ozil's Real Madrid in the semi-final after a 4-1 thrashing at Westfalenstadion. The playmaker was totally overrun by the above trio in that game and did not score a goal for Madrid in 2013 until April. His presence on the Ballon d'Or shortlist is purely a reaction to his high-profile big-money move to Arsenal in the summer, for whom he has played just eight times since.
The inclusions of Eden Hazard and Luis Suarez are less controversial but also very debatable. Hazard has reserved his best form for the start of the 2013-14 campaign but, if that is sufficient to make the cut, then Francesco Totti, Aaron Ramsey and Diego Costa should be inserted too. Suarez has been world class almost every time that he has taken to the pitch in 2013 but he has missed almost a third of his club's games this year due to suspension.
Spanish magician Isco - who dragged Malaga to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, was Player of the Tournament at the Under-21 Euros and has begun his Real Madrid career exceptionally - is more deserving than both Hazard and Suarez.
The coaching shortlist is also a slave to reputation. Vicente del Bosque, Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger have all achieved nothing in 2013. Mourinho even confessed upon leaving Real Madrid that 2012-13 had been the worst season of his career. The Special One lost the Copa del Rey final to Diego Simeone of Atletico Madrid - the Argentine is just one glaring omission in this category.
Fifa needs to consider new ways of deciding the nominees and winners of the Ballon d'Or. The current system - whereby voting is decided by the coaches and captains of international teams, as well as select journalists – does not work. The 2013 shortlist is confirmation that the majority of voters are selecting names based purely on reputation.
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