Ballon B’ore leaves me cold

JAN 14 — So, Cristiano Ronaldo has won the Ballon d’Or.

Woohoo, yippee, yee-haa and Hallelujah! Now can we forgot all about it for a while please? At least until December would be nice.

Nothing against Real Madrid’s brilliant Portuguese star, but the build-up to this year’s self-important shenanigans in Zurich has been simply unbearable ever since the indiscreet buffoon who somehow manages to be the most important football administrator in the world, FIFA president Sepp Blatter, brainlessly insulted Ronaldo with an ill-judged attempt at comedy at Oxford University.

Since then, day after day, week after week, we’ve been forced to read, talk and hear about this silly, inconsequential fake award. 

Will Ronaldo win it? Will it be Franck Ribery? What about Zlatan? And don’t forget little Leo, even though he spent much of 2013 injured. Have FIFA fixed it to make sure Ronaldo wins? Will Cristiano travel to Zurich for the ceremony?

And on, and on, and on, and on, until my only possible response to the whole interminable business was an exasperated primal roar: “Aaaaaarrrrggghhh!!!”

All I can say now the winner has finally been announced is… yawn. Ballon d’Or? Ballon B’ore more like. Thank goodness it’s over for another year. And judging by many of the comments I’ve seen on social media platforms over the last few days, I’m not alone.

I’m happy to side with Tito Vilanova, the former Barcelona manager who would still be in charge of the Catalan club now if he hadn’t been forced to take time away from the game in order to fight cancer (now there’s a story really worth telling).

I remember attending Vilanova’s first pre-season press conference as Barcelona boss after he was appointed to succeed Pep Guardiola in the summer of 2012. Inevitably, one of the questioners asked him to give his opinion on Messi’s chances of winning that year’s Ballon d’Or contest.

With incredulity in his voice and his eyes, Vilanova responded: “You’re asking me about that now? It’s July!” Rightly, it was a non-topic he really didn’t want to have to address.

Over the coming weeks, however, the same old questions kept on being fired his way: should Messi win? What about Ronaldo? Shouldn’t Xavi or Andres Iniesta be considered? What about a goalkeeper like Victor Valdes for a change?

His irritation was palpable, but he managed to keep his cool as he calmly and consistently asserted his support for Messi (what else could a Barcelona manager say, after all?).

Vilanova is an astute, intelligent man and a talented coach whose achievements in the game could have been limitless but for the cruel intervention of serious illness. And one of the many things he got right was his obvious disdain for the Ballon d’Or.

My problem with the award is two-fold, starting with the fact that the glorification of individuals it entails goes completely against the very nature of football as a team sport.

In order for any one player to shine, they need the support of their teammates. Eleven players make a team, not one — and these days it’s more like 25-30 considering the squad sizes major clubs require in order to fulfil their hectic schedules.

It doesn’t stop there, of course: managers, coaches, medical staff, kit men…all of them and more are required to provide success on a football pitch. The Ballon d’Or effectively deletes their contribution and suggests the only people who really matter are the superstars. That’s not football.

My second issue with the award is that it is so horribly subjective. Next to no guidance is given to voters when they are asked to make their nominations, and a wide range of criteria can therefore be applied.

What, after all, constitutes the “best” footballer? The one who scores the most goals? In that case, it was clearly Ronaldo. But what about defensive aspects of the game? If you were judging wingers on their ability and willingness to track back and cover the runs of overlapping opposition full-backs, Ronaldo would be one of the worst players in the world, not the best.

Or should it be the player who wins the most trophies? In that case, nobody can ever win major silverware on their own — Bayern Munich candidate Franck Ribery was outstanding last year of course, but so too were Philipp Lahm, Thomas Muller, Bastian Schweinsteiger and others. How is it right or fair to elevate any one of those above the rest?

This subjectivity pretty much guarantees confused nominations as voters oscillate between recognising individual achievements and team rewards — something I know I have been guilty of myself in the past.

It’s also unavoidable that the votes are cast from positions of ignorance. To have a genuinely informed opinion upon the question of whether Ronaldo or Ribery were better in 2013, it would be necessary to have watched nearly all their games. How many people does that apply to? Only a handful on the planet, I would suggest, and very few (if any) of the voters.

Inevitably, the whole thing gets ultimately overtaken by attacking stars. If Bayern had a prolific scorer to go with their collection of medals — which they don’t because their whole approach is based around the ability to provide goals from all over the pitch — he would have stood a lot more chance of winning than Ribery, who could always easily be dismissed with the objection: “Yes he’s a great player…but he doesn’t score many goals.”

If you ask me, Sergio Busquets should have at least been on the shortlist. I watched nearly every Barcelona game last year and he was outstanding in pretty much all of them. But Busquets doesn’t score goals, provide assists, embark upon mazy dribbles or produce flashy skills, so he was never going to get a look-in.

In any case, I’m acutely aware that I am guilty of contributing to the whole nonsense by writing about it right now. More fool me…let’s just stop, shall we, and make a private agreement never to mention it again?

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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