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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 Golden Ball, and will replace Ronaldinho as European Footballer of the Year. Seeing this raised the eyebrows of many. Cannavaro was selected during the World Cup, far from it, but due to the fact that the winner of the coveted award is not announced until November 27. Of course this means one of two things. The first of these is that France Football, the magazine that actually organizes the prize, is a mole in the camp and needs to seriously increase their security, alternatively Senor Calderon is living in the tradition of the Madridistas and filling the newspaper columns with complacency. propaganda
If Calderon has the media frenzy he wants, he’ll be a happy man. Italian newspapers were not slow to proclaim: “Cannavaro, it’s all true.” (Gazzetta dello Sport) and: “Golden Ball to Cannavaro.” (Corriere della Sera). Despite the inflammatory nature of the Italian media, it would appear that the issue is done and dusted. Which would change the purpose of this article from a preview of the front runners to an almost all-male selection. However, Italian captain Feng Shui is not yet in trouble at Chez Cannavaro because of the famous trophy, and so I will continue with my initial intention.
The Ballon d’Or was created in 1956 by France Football magazine. At a time when Europe was just beginning to recover from the hangover of World War II a decade earlier and football was enjoying its rise as a worldwide sport. The inaugural European Cup (now known as the UEFA Champions League) was played in the same year and Blackpool winger Stanley Matthews was named Europe’s first player of the year. In subsequent years, the all-conquering Madrid side dominated the awards, with their forward Alfredo Di Stefano claiming the title twice. The idea behind the award shows that football is now a game that can bring people from different countries together, an important factor when we consider that a decade ago much of the continent was a battlefield. Despite being held by France’s leading football publication, the award is based on a considered vote from journalists across Europe.
The award has been evenly distributed around European club football’s leading lights over the years, with Juventus leading the way with eight winners in total (which could have been more had the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal not intervened), A.C. Milan (seven), Barcelona (six), Real Madrid (five) and Bayern Munich (five) all follow. Of course we have to bear in mind that the awards ceremony is traditionally held in November every year, so many of the winning players will be at new clubs at the time of the awards, having won the accolades that have won the prize on the other side. (Luis Figo and Ronaldo are both examples of this, having moved to Madrid a few months before the presentation). The only major change since the award’s inception came in 1995 when it was decreed that the winner himself did not have to be European in nationality, only that his contract was with a club under UEFA’s jurisdiction (much to the delight of Liberian forward George Weah who took full advantage of the rule change in 1995).
An obvious starting point for such an award is where we left off last year. Brazilian Ronaldinho, who won last year’s award (sitting proudly next to his World Player of the Year award) to confirm he is regarded as the best player on the planet. The Barcelona man, by his lofty standards, had a disappointing year. Despite adding the Champions League to his medal collection, he was relatively short at the World Cup (a tournament that can often be considered the deciding factor for the award) as his Brazilian side (and pre-tournament favourites) exited the tournament. There is a strong talk of winning the sixth title in the quarter-finals. Among his compatriots, only Kaka really shone in Germany and unfortunately the AC Milan forward finished the season medal-less despite cementing his growing reputation as a force to be reckoned with in world football and a potential future award winner.
As we’ve examined before, major competitions often have a big impact on who gets the award. Take Ronaldo’s Ballon d’Or in 2002, for example. After another injury-plagued season with Internazionale in Italy, El Phenomenon (as he is known to his adoring fans) turned it on in the Far East to help Brazil claim a fifth World Cup. Cup, scoring an incredible eight goals along the way and exorcising some of the demons of his breakdown in the 1998 tournament. Although many commented that seven games certainly do not make a season, Ronaldo, who has since joined the Galacticos of Madrid, took home the prestigious award.
From this theory, we can assume that this year’s winner will most likely be from Italy. As previously mentioned, all this talk is fairly irrelevant as Fabio Cannavaro has been declared the winner by his club president, although it is still unconfirmed. In fact, it should be, some might argue. The Italian captain was a lion at the heart of a formidable Italian defense that fueled headlines of ‘Campione del Mondo’ (‘Champion of the World’) across the Mediterranean peninsula. However, the 33-year-old ex-Juventus man himself doesn’t get as enthusiastic as his president (at least not before the famous ‘Fat Lady’ has her moment). Cannavaro said: “Of course I would love to win it. On a personal level it would be amazing and very satisfying.”
Italy can also make a strong case for the award through both Madrid man, midfielder Andrea Pirlo and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Pirlo, in the previous season with Milan and at the World Cup with his nation, raised a reputation that was at stake in his early career, never achieved. Some excellent displays in the heart of the Azzurri’s midfield have cemented Pirlo’s profile as one of the continent’s best in his position, although a lack of success on the domestic front has cost him. More interesting, though, is the call for the award to be given to Gigi Buffon. The Juventus and Italy stopper has long been regarded as the best in the world in his position. In Germany, Buffon further embellished this claim. Some heroic performances, notably his penalty save in the semi-final against the hosts and the final to claim the trophy, made him the second goalkeeper to win the award. Claiming the Ballon d’Or would place him among the true greats as the only ‘number one’ to win the award was Russian Lev Yashin in 1963. He is also backed by Italy legend and former European footballer. of the year, Gianni Rivera. Upon hearing of Cannavaro’s premature victory, Rivera declared: “I would have chosen Gianluigi Buffon, Italy’s goalkeeper, but if it’s true that Fabio won, I’m happy.”
If the Golden Ball were to go to Italy, he would be the country’s fourth winner after Rivera (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 disparaging fashion: “Congratulations to Cannavaro if that’s the case,” Wenger said on Friday. “But there’s only one candidate for me this year, that’s Thierry Henry. He just deserves it.
In retrospect, this is a reasonable argument. Henry appeared in both of world football’s showpiece events during 2006 and despite being on the losing side in both the World Cup and Champions League finals, getting in both is a testament to the man. Henry has been regarded as one of the best strikers in world football over the past few seasons. Consistently the English Premiership’s leading goalscorer and regarded as one of the best ever to grace these shores, perhaps once Mr Wenger saw something, he said: “What’s he got to do? Just keep going. Sometimes you get the reward when you least expect it.” Get it. That’s the sign of a superchamp.”
Other potential contenders are pretty thin on the ground. Barcelona’s Samuel Eto’o had explosive performances in leading his side to titles in both La Liga and the Champions League, although Cameroon’s failure to qualify did not help his cause by missing out on the summer festival of football. A long-term knee injury that will keep the striker out of action until the New Year. Portuguese midfielder Deco has been mentioned in connection with the award. No less a string puller than Ronaldinho was considered more important to Barcelona’s success last term. Another option, and for the romantic, is if the award goes to Zinedine Zidane. The capped Frenchman finally hung up his golden boots in the summer after leading his country to the final. Some impressive performances from Van Di Stefano, known as ‘The Maestro’, won Zizou the World Cup Golden Ball as the tournament’s most outstanding player. However, we all know how that ended and, head-butts aside, the play-maker had a relatively poor season with Real Madrid.
All things considered, I think I’m discussing rivals in a race I’ve already won. From a personal perspective I find this a bit disappointing as it looks to be the closest competition for the award in quite some time. It’s not that I don’t think Cannavaro is a worthy winner, we have to go back to Franz Beckenbauer in 1976 who made our last defender and won the prize in the dominance of players more used to scoring goals. goals instead of stopping them. In a similar vein it would appear that Cannavaro, Buffon and Henry are our three known favourites, but only one striker. Perhaps a reflection of the changing face of football? Perhaps just a reflection of the Italian World Cup victory? Either way, it is sad to me that such a prestigious award cannot be announced with all the pomp and ceremony that the eventual winner undoubtedly deserves.
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