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European Footballer of the Year Candidates
Real Madrid president Ramon Calderon has announced that his newly signed Italian centre-back Fabio Cannavaro has won the prestigious Ballon d’Or or Ballon d’Or and will replace Ronaldinho as European Footballer of the Year. This surprised many and raised more than a few eyebrows. Not because of the fact that Cannavaro was selected, far from it due to his dominant display during the World Cup, but because of the fact that the winner of the much hyped award is not actually announced until November 27. This must mean one of two things. The first of these is that France Football, the magazine that actually hosts the award, has a mole in the camp and needs to seriously step up its security, or alternatively, Senor Calderon lives up to Madridista tradition and fills the newspaper columns with complacent propaganda.
If it was the media frenzy that Calderon wanted, then he will be a lucky man. Italian newspapers did not hesitate to announce: “Cannavaro, it’s all true.” (Gazzetta dello Sport) and: “Golden ball to Cannavaro”. (Corriere della Sera). Despite the sensational nature of the Italian media, the issue appears to be done and dusted. Which would change the purpose of this article from reviewing favorites to choosing almost men. However, the famous trophy does not yet cause difficulties for the Italian skipper feng shui at Chez Cannavaro and so I will continue with my initial intentions.
The Ballon D’Or was created in 1956 by France Football magazine. At a time when Europe was beginning to emerge from the hangover of the Second World War a decade earlier, football was enjoying its ascendancy as a world game. The first European Cup (now known as the UEFA Champions League) was played in the same year, and Blackpool winger Stanley Matthews was named the first European Player of the Year. In the years that followed, the awards were dominated by the all-conquering Madrid side, their striker Alfredo di Stefano winning the title twice. The very idea of the award showed that football is now a sport that can bring people from different countries together, such an important factor when you consider that much of the continent was a battleground just over a decade earlier. Although carried by France’s leading football publication, the award is based on the considered opinion of journalists across Europe.
The award has been fairly evenly distributed over the years across the leading lights of European club football, with Juventus leading the way with a total of eight winners (a total that could have been further extended if the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal had not intervened), AC Slede Milan (seven), Barcelona ( six), Real Madrid (five) and Bayern Munich (five). Of course, we have to take into account that the awards ceremony is traditionally held in November each year, so many of the winning players may have been at new clubs at the time of the awards, having earned the plaudits that led to the award on the other side (both Luis Figo and Ronaldo is an example of this, who moved to Madrid only a few months before the presentation). The only major change to the award since it began was in 1995 when it was decided that the winner did not have to be a European by nationality, but only that his contract was with a club under UEFA’s jurisdiction (much to the delight of Liberian striker George Weah who took full advantage of the rule change in 1995).
The obvious starting point for such an award would be to pick up where we left off last year. Brazilian Ronaldinho, who won last year’s award (to sit proudly on the mantel next to his award for the best player in the world) to reaffirm that he is considered the best player on the planet. The Barcelona man, by his very high standards, has had a disappointing year. Despite adding the Champions League to his medal collection, he was relatively sub-par at the World Cup (a competition that can usually be seen as the deciding factor for the award) as his Brazil side (and pre-tournament favourites) limped into the quarter-finals after being widely tipped to win the sixth title. Of his compatriots, only Kaka really shined in Germany and unfortunately the Milan striker finished the season without a medal despite reinforcing his growing reputation as a force to be reckoned with in world football and a possible future award winner.
As we have previously examined, major tournaments often have a large impact on who will be the recipient of the award. Take, for example, Ronaldo’s Ballon d’Or in 2002. After another injury-plagued season in Italy with Internazionale, el phenomeno (as he is known to his fans) turned it on in the Far East to help Brazil win a fifth World Cup. Cup, scoring an incredible eight goals along the way and exorcising some of the demons of his meltdown in the 1998 competition. Although many commented that surely seven games do not make a season, Ronaldo, who has since moved to Madrid’s Galacticos, took the coveted award.
From this theory, we can assume that this year’s winner will most likely be from Italy. As mentioned earlier, all this talk is pretty much irrelevant as Fabio Cannavaro, although still unconfirmed, has been declared the winner by his club president. In reality, if that were the case, few would argue. The Italian captain was the lion at the heart of a fearsome Italian defense that sparked “campione del mondo” (“champions of the world”) headlines across the Mediterranean peninsula. However, the 33-year-old former Juventus man himself is not as excited as his president (at least not before the famous ‘fat lady’ had her moment). Cannavaro said: “Of course I would love to win it. It would be wonderful and very rewarding on a personal level.”
As well as Madrid, Italy can boast strong claims for the prize through midfielder Andrea Pirlo and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. During the previous season with Milan and the World Cup with his nation, Pirlo improved the reputation that, at least in his early career, he threatened without succeeding. Some scintillating displays at the heart of the Azzurri midfield have raised Pirlo’s profile to be rated among the best on the continent in his position, although a lack of success on the domestic front may have cost him. More interesting, however, are the calls for the prize to be awarded to Gigi Buffon. The stopper of Juventus and Italy has long been considered the best in the world in his position. In Germany, Buffon further embellished this claim. Some heroic performances, notably in the semi-final against the hosts and his penalty-saving performance to win the trophy in the final, gave him the confidence to become only the second goalkeeper to win the award. Claiming the Ballon d’Or, he would indeed claim a place among the greats as the only other ‘number one’ to win the award was Russia’s Lev Yashin in 1963. He also has the backing of Italy legend and former European Footballer of the Year, Gianni Rivera. Upon hearing of Cannavaro’s premature victory, Rivera stated: “I would have chosen Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, but if it’s true that Fabio will win it, I’m happy anyway.”
If the Ballon d’Or arrives in Italy, it will be the country’s fourth winner after Rivera himself (1969), Paolo Rossi (1982) and Roberto Baggio (1993).
However, not everyone agrees that the award should go to an Italian. After hearing Ramon Calderon’s claims, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger reacted in typically defiant fashion: “Congratulations to Cannavaro if that’s the case,” Wenger said on Friday. “But for me there is only one candidate this year, that is Thierry Henry.” He simply deserves it.
In retrospect, this is a fair argument. Henry appeared in both of world football’s major events during 2006, and despite being on the losing side in both the World Cup and Champions League finals, reaching both is a testament to the man. Henry is considered to have been the best striker in world football over the last few seasons. Consistently the English Premiership’s leading scorer and regarded as one of the best to ever grace these shores, so perhaps, on one occasion, Mr Wenger saw something, he continued to say: “What is he supposed to do? Just to keep going. Sometimes you too. get your reward when you least expect it. That’s also the mark of a super champion.”
Other possible candidates are pretty thin on the ground. Barcelona’s Samuel Eto’o was at his best to help them win La Liga and the Champions League, although a no-show at the summer festival of football due to Cameroon’s failure to qualify did not help his cause, nor did a long-term knee injury which will keep the striker out field until the new year. Portuguese midfielder Deco is another who has been mentioned in connection with the award. The diminutive tightrope walker was considered to be as, if not more, vital than Ronaldinho to Barcelona’s success last term. Another option, and one for romantics, would be for the award to go to Zinedine Zidane. The vivacious Frenchman finally hung up his golden boots in the summer after leading his nation to the final. Some impressive performances from what di Stefano called ‘the maestro’ won Zizo the World Cup Golden Ball as the tournament’s most outstanding player. However, we all know how it ended and, headers aside, the playmaker had a relatively poor season with Real Madrid.
All things considered, I feel like I’m talking a lot about competitors in a race already won. From a personal perspective, I find this somewhat disappointing as it seems to be the closest competition for the award for some time. Not that I don’t see Cannavar as a worthy winner, we have to go all the way back to Franz Beckenbauer in 1976 to find our last defender to win the award in a table of honors dominated by players more used to creating and scoring goals. goals, not to stop them. In this similar sense it seems that considering our three favorites of Cannavaro, Buffon and Henry, there is only one striker. Perhaps a reflection on the changing face of football? Maybe just a reflection of Italy’s World Cup victory? Either way, I find it sad that such a prestigious award is not announced with all the pomp and ceremony that the eventual winner would undoubtedly deserve.
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