At the end of every year, thrills run through the international soccer world as the ceremony for the most prestigious individual award approaches. Last week, FIFA came out with the 23-man list of finalists for the Ballon D’or (European Player of the Year), and the winner will be announced Jan. 10 in Zurich, Switzerland.
Making matters even more exciting, this is the first year in which the Ballon D’or and the FIFA Player of the Year awards have been merged into one. The idea of systematically singling out a person from a team sport seems silly at first blush, but some of these players have indisputably been inspirational in leading their teams to glory. Besides, having a FIFA Player of the Year on a team brings pride to the club and can be a powerful motivator for other players on the team.
On a much larger scale, the deliberation for the Ballon D’or provides soccer analysts, pundits and enthusiasts alike the chance to reflect on the past year in soccer – including both international and club competitions – and judge the players based on their performance.
Without a doubt, the World Cup will have a huge effect on this year’s award. As the biggest soccer competition in the world, its best performers have an edge over the others. Therefore, it is no surprise that world champions Spain top the nominations at both the club and national levels with seven nominees on the list, and with Spanish nationals David Villa, Xavi and Andres Iniesta all having legitimate chances to win the award.
The last two winners, Argentina’s Lionel Messi (2009) and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo (2008), both ply their trade in the Spanish domestic league for Barcelona and Real Madrid, respectively, and will deservedly be in the conversation every year they play. Now it is Gemini’s turn to give our take on the candidates and discuss who should win the most prestigious individual award in soccer.
As the Gemini duo is 50 percent African, we will give the three African players special treatment. Samuel Eto’o, Didier Drogba and Asamoah Gyan collectively pose the strongest African threat to win the award since George Weah of Liberia won the award 15 years ago. Eto’o demonstrated his versatility after moving from Barcelona to Inter Milan, effectively adjusting to a different style and system of play that required him to play on the wing instead of at his traditional central forward position. His ability to become the first player ever to win back-to-back trebles is testament to his impact and scoring prowess.
Despite his accomplishments, Eto’o is eclipsed by Africa’s strongest candidate, Chelsea’s Didier Drogba. Drogba is arguably the best striker in the world at the moment; his inclusion on a team line-up alone strikes fear into the opponents. Last season, Drogba became the first African to lead the English Premier League in goals, and he also led the Ivory Coast’s World Cup qualifying campaign. Should Drogba maintain his fine vein of form from now until January, he will deservedly remain in the conversation for the award.
If the FIFA player of the year award was truly global, we would have liked to see Mohammed Aboutrika of Al Ahly on the shortlist for the award. An inspirational and creative midfielder for both Al Ahly and Egypt, Aboutrika won the domestic championship, the African Champions League and led Egypt to two consecutive African Cup of Nations titles, as well as helped the Pharoahs stake a claim as the best team on the continent. There is a cogent argument that the best teams are in Europe and as such the highest level of play is in Europe. But the success of non-European teams in the Club World Cup Championship is an indication that there are talented players outside of Europe who are consistently marginalized because they don’t play for big European teams. Consequently, they are not watched and noticed every week.
Moving to Spain, former Valencia and current Barcelona striker David Villa is among the forerunners for the award. A prolific scorer for la Furia Roja with 44 goals in just 69 appearances on the international stage, he is finally settling into place at Barcelona. If the striker can duplicate the form he displayed for Valencia for Barcelona, Villa could muscle his way back into the Ballon D’or conversation. Just 28, Villa has already surpassed Raul as top national team scorer in Spanish history, was the top scorer at Euro 2008 and had five goals at the World Cup.
Mesut Ozil was nominated due to his breakout World Cup performance for Germany, and there is little doubt that he will win the Ballon D’or at some time in the future, but he didn’t do quite enough this year to be considered a true contender for the award. His summer move from Werder Bremen to Real Madrid will do wonders to increase his profile and give him ample opportunities to showcase his talent at the highest level. Germany’s consistent performance on the international level should also give Ozil many extra chances to prove his quality with the eyes of the world watching.
Although all the aforementioned players deserve special praise for their stellar performances throughout the year, there are three players who stand head and shoulders above the rest. And between those three – Wesley Sneijder, Xavi and Diego Forlan – it is really hard to come to a conclusion. They were all phenomenal in the World Cup, as Forlan and Sneijder each scored five goals and Xavi orchestrated Spain’s first World Cup win. Sneijder, a Dutchman, was sold by Real Madrid at the beginning of the year and responded by leading Inter to the Champions League title and carrying the Netherlands to the World Cup final.
His passing and dribbling abilities combined with his high soccer IQ and scoring instincts make him one of the most dangerous midfielders in the game. Diego Forlan led Atletico Madrid’s charge to the Europa League title and carried Uruguay to a fourth-place finish in the World Cup, earning the award as the top player at the tournament in the process.
However, there was one player who rose above all others in 2010: Xavier Hernandez Creus, more commonly known as Xavi. With his sidekick Andres Iniesta, Xavi has been a part of one of the best midfield duos the soccer world has ever seen. As the brain and engine of both Barcelona and Spain, the 30-year-old has been on top of his form since Euro 2008 where he was the player of the tournament as a result of his role in Spain’s first major international tournament win. His pinpoint passes, amazing vision, consistencey and stellar work rate make him the most integral part of the best club and national team in the world. Considering that he is on top of his form and likely does not have many more elite years ahead of him, FIFA will most likely honor him with the award, which he richly deserves.
Michael Appau is a sophomore in the College. Cem Youlban is a sophomore in the SFS. Gemini Sports appears every third issue of Hoya Sports.