By Robin Bairner
Andriy Shevchenko knows a thing or two about winning the Ballon d’Or, football’s most prestigious and storied individual award. With AC Milan he scored 29 goals over the course of 2004 to claim the prize and attained a status as national hero due to his performances with Ukraine, whom he led to the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Cup.
Franck Ribery, then, could do worse than listen to the forward if he wishes to add his name to the roll of players to have been heralded as the game’s best. Shevchenko has highlighted just how important leading France to the World Cup will be for the Bayern Munich winger, who many have tipped to pinch the crown Lionel Messi has worn for the last four seasons.
“For Ribery it will be a special encounter: if he wants to win the Ballon d’Or he must make the difference in this double confrontation,” the Ukrainian told French radio station RTL ahead of the play-off against Ukraine, the first leg of which is on Friday - a tie which is set to define this period in the attacker’s international career, which has largely been disappointing since breaking onto the scene so spectacularly under Raymond Domenech in 2006.
Ironically, Shevchenko did not need Euro 2004 to claim his greatest individual prize, yet the competition was not nearly so fierce nine years ago - unfashionable Greece defended their way to continental glory and had few outstanding candidates in the way that Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi presently provide.
|FRANCK RIBERY | Bayern v France
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In addition, voting for the award actually closes on Friday night, so Ribery’s performance for France cannot be decisive, but it will be symbolic if the man elected the world’s best fails to lead his side to Brazil.
Only twice before has the reigning Ballon d’Or winner not appeared at the World Cup - Alfredo Di Stefano, one of the true legends of the game, in 1957, and Allan Simonsen in 1977.
The Boulogne-born star may have pocketed the Champions League and Bundesliga with Bayern, but amid a capable group of France players, it would diminish the award’s worth if Ribery failed to lead his nation onto the planet’s elite stage.
“My wife has already prepared space on the mantelpiece for the Ballon d’Or,” the 30-year-old confessed to L’Equipe on Thursday. “I try not to think about it. But she thinks about it a lot. Everyone at Bayern Munich thinks I will win it.”
If Madame Ribery is proven correct and the trophy is added to the household ornaments then her husband, who has admitted that he believes the French public would prefer Ronaldo or Messi to claim the glory instead, will have cemented his slot in footballing history.
He will not, however, secure a place in his nation’s heart as Shevchenko did unless he is a success in Brazil next summer, which means eliminating Ukraine over the course of the next five days.