Real Madrid president, Ramon Calderon announced that his newly signed Italian centre-back Fabio Cannavaro had won the prestigious Ballon D’Or, or Golden Ball, and was to replace Ronaldinho as the European Footballer of the year. This came to the surprise of many and rose more than a few eyebrows. Not, through the fact that Cannavaro had been the selection, far from it given his dominant displays during the World Cup, but due to the fact that the winner of the much hyped award is not actually announced until 27th November. Surely this means one of two things. The first of these is that France Football, the magazine that actually host the prize, have a mole in the camp and need to seriously bolster their security, alternatively Senor Calderon is living up to the traditions of the Madridistas and filling newspaper columns with self gratifying propaganda.
If it was a media frenzy that Calderon wanted, then he will be a happy man. Italian newspapers were not slow in announcing: “Cannavaro, it’s all true.” (Gazzetta dello Sport) and: “Golden Ball to Cannavaro.” (Corriere della Sera). Despite the excitable ข่าวฟุตบอลทั้งหมด 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 a selection of the nearly men. However, the famous trophy is not yet causing the Italian skipper feng shui difficulties 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 had begun to come out from the hangover of World War II a decade earlier, and football was enjoying its progression as a worldwide game. The inaugural European Cup (now known as the UEFA Champions League) was played out in the same year, and Stanley Matthews, the Blackpool winger was pronounced as Europe’s first Player of the Year. In the years that followed, the awards were dominated by the all conquering Madrid side, their forward Alfredo di Stefano claiming the title twice. The very idea of the award showed that football was now a sport that could bring people of different countries together, such an important factor when we consider that much of the continent had been a battlefield little over a decade before. Despite being held by France’s leading football publication, the award is based upon the considered opinion of journalists Europe-wide.
The award has been pretty evenly distributed around the leading lights of European club football over the years, Juventus lead the way with a total of eight winners (a total that could well have been further extended had the Calciopoli match fixing scandal not intervened), AC Milan (seven), Barcelona (six), Real Madrid (five) and Bayern Munich (five) all follow. Of course we must take into consideration that the award ceremony is traditionally held in November of every year, so many victorious players may well have been at new clubs at the time of the award, having earned the plaudits that lead to the prize at another side (both Luis Figo and Ronaldo are examples of this, having only moved to Madrid a few months prior to the presentation). The only major change in the award since it began came in 1995 when it was decreed that the winner need not be European in nationality himself, merely have his contract held by a club that comes under UEFA’s jurisdiction (much to the delight of the Liberian forward George Weah who took full advantage of the rule change in 1995).
An obvious start point for such an award would be to begin where we left off last year. The Brazilian Ronaldinho, who won last years award (to sit proudly on the mantelpiece next to his World Player of the Year award) to reconfirm him as being regarded as the planet’s finest player. The Barcelona man, by his very high standards, had a disappointing year. Despite adding the Champions League to his collection of medals, he was relatively below par in the World Cup (a competition that usually can be considered the deciding factor for the award) as his Brazilian side (and pre-tournament favourites) limped out in the quarter finals having been widely tipped to take a sixth title. Of his compatriots, only really Kaka’ shone in Germany and unfortunately the AC Milan forward ended the season medal-less despite enhancing his growing reputation as a force to be reckoned with in world football, and possible future winner of the award.
As we have previously examined, major tournaments often have a large impact on who is to be the recipient of the award. Take, for example, Ronaldo’s Ballon D’Or of 2002. Following yet another injury plagued season in Italy with Internazionale, el phenominon (as he is known by his adoring fans) turned it on in the Far East to help Brazil claim a fifth World Cup, scoring an incredible eight goals along the way and exorcised the some of the demons of his breakdown in the 1998 competition. Although many commented that surely seven games does not make a season, Ronaldo, who had since joined the Galacticos of Madrid, took the coveted prize.