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We examine the 23-man shortlist for the prestigious Ballon d'Or and the nominations for the coach of the year award to question the double standards in the selection procedure

 Aditya Bajaj
 Analysis l Ballon d'Or
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The 2012 Ballon d’Or shortlist of 23 players for the highest individual honour in football was recently released by FIFA and as usual what ensued was shocking! More so, what it did was bring about the world governing body’s double standards over their selection procedure out in the open.

What exactly are the criteria to fall into the radars of the so called panel of experts that each year draws an ‘official’ list of the best players to have graced the game in that given calendar year? Is it the individual performances of the player, or the number of important trophies he may have won during that year or is it the kind of influence he had on the game and his team that made him stand out among others who were equally good?

Well if you have closely followed the list over the past few years, the answer probably is none of the above. Barring a few exceptions, it is becoming well and clear year after year that apart from the other criteria which are secondary, the primary basis of selection is probably the status of the player, the team and the league he plies his trade in.

In a nutshell – the player should belong to the ‘upper echelon’ of the footballing class. Period.

Let’s use the case study of two Champions league winners, who were dealt with differently when it came to being shortlisted for the prestigious award.

Didier Drogba rightfully finds himself on this year’s top 23 list, even though he may not find himself in it anymore when the list is filtered further as and when we inch closer towards the D-day in January of next year. Sidelined initially by Andre Villas-Boas at Chelsea, he became the prime force of Roberto Di Matteo’s plans when he took over as the caretaker manager following the sacking of the Portuguese in March.

Scoring important goals until the end of the season in May, the Ivory Coast international eventually was the main protagonist as his goals against Napoli in the round of 16, Barcelona in the semi finals and that crucial equaliser against Bayern Munich in the finals led to Chelsea lifting the biggest prize in club football for the first time in their history even though they finished sixth in the Premier League back in England. Not to forget the goal in the FA Cup final, eventually helping the Blues beat Liverpool to give them their second trophy in what was turning out to be an otherwise devastating season.

Now, he will surely not win the award but for having made such a huge impact over the course of three months to eventually help his side win the Champions League, he probably deserves to find himself amongst the top 23 performers of 2012.

But if that’s the case, and if Drogba deserves it for the reasons just discussed, how does FIFA explain the exclusion of Diego Milito from the very same shortlist of 23 back in 2010, when easily the Argentine was among the top 10 players in the world that year?

Diego Milito (Inter)  Serie A Coppa Italia UCL Total
Season Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
2009-10 35 22 5 2 11 6 51 30
Diego Milito and Dider Drogba | A statistical breakdown
Didier Drogba (Chelsea) Premier League FA Cup UCL Total
Season Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
2011-12 24 5 3 2 8 6 35 13

Not only a treble winner with Inter Milan in 2010, Milito was among the most consistent strikers all throughout the 2009-10 season, and the main reason why Jose Mourinho was able to lift a second Champions League trophy defeating the likes of Chelsea, Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the process.

What’s more baffling is the fact that Milito scored in the biggest of matches throughout the fag end of that season notching the solitary strike against Siena on the final day of the Serie A that clinched a last minute league title, the winner against Roma in the Coppa Italia and the incredible brace against Bayern Munich (ironically Drogba scored to win the UCL against the same opponents this year) to help Inter lift their first Champions League in nearly 45 years back then to complete an unprecedented treble for the Italian giants.

Now was he not worthy of a mere mention in the top 23 because he was Argentine but not as Argentine (read high profile) as Lionel Messi or was it because before that season he plied his trade in the humbling surroundings of Genoa in Italy and Zaragoza in Spain? Or was it that the authorities were compelled to include players from the World Cup winning squad of Spain regardless of whether they had played any major role in that triumph, Cesc Fabregas for example did not start even a single World Cup game but found himself on the list over El Príncipe.

FIFA surely owes many at least a reason, if any on their part.

Among other perplexing things in this year’s list are the exclusions of Juan Mata, David Silva, Arturo Vidal and Edinson Cavani and the inclusion of Mario Balotelli. Yes, the Italian was a major protagonist in Italy’s run to the Euro finals this summer but surely it was more about team effort than individual contribution and Andrea Pirlo pretty much represents the lot and rightfully so.

Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie are rightfully there on the list, but Edinson Cavani was not considered worthy of a cite, although the trio enjoyed similar seasons on pure footballing terms and while Rooney and Van Persie enjoyed the luxury of playing in big budget teams like Manchester United and Arsenal, the Uruguay international pretty much achieved as much in the humble surroundings of Napoli. What’s more important is that Napoli were the most watchable and promising side in the Champions League last season thanks to him and his peers.

Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie and Edinson Cavani in 2012

Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
32 25 43 31 43 29

Moving away from the players, Sir Alex Ferguson’s inclusion in the list of the top 10 coaches of 2012 rightfully proves the point of the panel being biased towards high profile individuals in football. Yes, he is among the most respected coaches in the world but United crashed out of the group stages in the Champions League in a relatively easier group before bowing out to Bilbao in the Europa League. Add to the fact that the Red Devils gave up on an eight point lead in April to hand over the Premier League title to their cousins on goal difference.

Where Sir Alex gets a free pass, there is not even an whisper of noise for the likes of Walter Mazzari who lead Napoli through to the round of 16 in the Champions League despite finding his team in the group of death and missing out on the Champions League this season by a mere three points and Diego Simone who clawed back Atletico Madrid from tenth to fifth before wrapping up the season by lifting the Europa League, all within the limits of a shoe string budget and a limited squad. Surely, the duo deserved more!

If not for their lack of experience in the continental stage, Mazzari’s Napoli would have even gotten past Chelsea to the quarter finals and this season despite losing their best player in Ezequiel Lavezzi, they are cruising neck to neck with Juventus at the top of Serie A, while Simone’s Atletico Madrid, who embarrassed Chelsea to lift the Uefa Super Cup are currently sitting joint top with Barcelona in Spain, eight points above their city rivals Real Madrid.

There are a countless number of managers who deserve more credit for the kind of work they have been doing silently like Lucien Favre of Borussia Mönchengladbach under whose leadership, the club finished fourth in the Bundesliga last season despite surviving a relegation play-off in the season prior to that. Alan Pardew’s renaissance at Newcastle United is another one among the many.

Perhaps the nominations explains the scenario best, as it justifies Sir Alex’s inclusion in the list by stating that despite enjoying a poor season, United is United and Ferguson is Ferguson and they bring about 25 years of history together! Whether that's justified is upto you to ponder upon.

Fifa.com's elobaration of Sir Alex's nomination for the coach of the year award

"Sir Alex Ferguson will probably not look back too fondly on 2012, having seen his Manchester United team eliminated in the group phase of the UEFA Champions League, beaten by Athletic Bilbao in the round of 16 of the UEFA Europa League and surrender their Premier League title to neighbours Manchester City on goal difference. But United are United and Ferguson is Ferguson – two veritable institutions with a shared history stretching back 25 years, as evidenced by Robin van Persie’s decision to join them before the start of the 2012/13 season."

At the end of the day, these short lists are a mere formality preceding the grand ceremony as football fans and experts alike already have recognise the three or four players who would eventually be fighting for the award in January. But these lists are also an indirect way of honouring those who were good throughout that year, but fell short of being the best. The least the powers-that-be can do is resort to some kind of a fair-play.

Or maybe, instead of just making it look like a privilege for the upper class of football and mocking the system they ought to simply narrow down the list to 10 and do away with this tradition of short listing a group of 23 just for the sake of it.

Well because if it’s official, it better be credible right?

Don't forget to let us know in the comments section below or discuss on twitter@adityabajaj

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