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European Footballer of the Year Candidates
Real Madrid president Ramon Calderon announced that his newly signed Italian centre-back Fabio Cannavaro had won the prestigious Ballon d’Or, or Ballon d’Or, and would replace Ronaldinho as European Footballer of the Year. This surprised many and raised more than a few eyebrows. Not because Cannavaro had been the selection, far from it given his dominant performances during the World Cup, but because the winner of the much-hyped prize is not actually announced until November 27. This probably means one of two things. The first of these is that France Football, the magazine that actually hosts the prize, has a mole in the camp and must seriously strengthen their security, otherwise Senor Calderon is living up to the traditions of the Madridistas and filling the newspaper columns with pleasure. propaganda.
If Calderon wanted a media frenzy, then he will be a happy man. The Italian newspapers were quick to announce: “Cannavaro, everything is true”. (Gazzetta dello Sport) and: “Golden Ball for Cannavaro”. (Corriere della Sera). Despite the sensational nature of the Italian media, it seems the matter is done and dusted. Which would change the purpose of this article from a preview of the main candidates, to a selection of almost men. However, the famous trophy is not yet causing difficulties for the Italian feng shui captain at Chez Cannavaro and so I will continue with my original 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, and football was enjoying its breakthrough as a worldwide game. The inaugural 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 twice claiming the title. 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 just over a decade ago. Despite being held by the main French football publication, the award is based on the considered opinion of journalists across Europe.
The award has been spread pretty evenly around the leading lights of European club football over the years, Juventus leading the way with a total of eight winners (a total that could have been extended further 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 have to bear in mind that the award ceremony is traditionally held in November each year, so many winning players may have been at new clubs at the time of the award, earning accolades that lead to the award on the other side. (Both Luis Figo and Ronaldo are examples of this, having moved to Madrid just months before the launch). The only major change to the award since inception came in 1995 when it was decreed that the winner need not be European in nationality themselves, merely have their contract held by a club that is under UEFA’s jurisdiction (for the pleasure of Liberian striker George Weah who took full advantage of the rule change in 1995).
An obvious starting point for such an award would be to pick up where we left off last year. Brazilian Ronaldinho, who won last years award (to sit proudly on the railing next to the World Player of the Year award) to reaffirm that he is considered the best player on the planet. The Barcelona man, by his very high standards, had a disappointing year. Despite adding the Champions League to his medal collection, he was relatively below par at the World Cup (a competition that can usually be considered the deciding factor for the award) as his Brazil side (and pre-tournament favourites) limped along in the quarterfinals are widely believed to take their sixth title. Of his countrymen, only Kaka’ excelled in Germany and unfortunately the AC Milan striker ended the season without a medal, despite enhancing his growing reputation as a force to be reckoned with in world football and a potential winner of price in the future.
As we’ve covered before, major tournaments often have a big impact on who will be the recipient of the prize. 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 adoring fans) turned it on in the Far East to help Brazil win a Fifth World Cup, scoring an incredible eight goals along the way and exorcised some of the demons of his destruction in the 1998 competition. Although many commented that surely seven games do not make a season, Ronaldo, who has since joined the Galacticos of Madrid, received the coveted award.
From this theory, we can assume that this year’s winner will most likely come from Italy. As previously mentioned, all this talk is rather irrelevant as Fabio Cannavaro has been declared the winner by his club president, albeit as yet unconfirmed. In reality, if that were the case, few could argue. The Italian captain was a lion at the heart of a fearsome Italian defense that provoked ‘campione del mondo’ (‘champions of the world’) headlines across the Mediterranean peninsula. However, the 33-year-old ex-Juventus man isn’t getting as excited as his president (at least not before the famous ‘fat lady’ has had her moment). Cannavaro said: “Of course I would like to win it. It would be great and very nice on a personal level.”
Like the Madrid man, Italy can boast strong claims for the award through midfielder Andrea Pirlo and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Pirlo, during last season with Milan, and the World Cup with his nation, enhanced the reputation that he, at least at the beginning of his career, had threatened to never achieve. Some excellent performances at the heart of the Azzurri’s midfield raised Pirlo’s profile to be rated among the continent’s best in his position, although a lack of success on the domestic front may have cost him. However, more interesting are the calls for the award to be given to Gigi Buffon. The Juventus and Italy striker 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-kick performance to win the trophy in the final, gave him the credibility to become only the second goalkeeper to win the award. In receiving the Ballon d’Or, he would truly claim a place among the greats as the only ‘number one’ to have won the award was Russia’s Lev Yashin in 1963. He also has the backing of Italy legend and former – the European footballer. of the Year, Gianni Rivera. Upon hearing of Cannavaro’s premature victory, Rivera declared: “I would have chosen Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, but if it’s true that Fabio will win it, I’m still happy.”
If the Ballon d’Or goes to Italy, he 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. Upon 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 just deserves it.
In retrospect, this is a fair argument. Henry featured 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, reaching both is a testament to the man. Henry is widely considered to have been the best striker in world football in recent seasons. Consistently the English Premiership’s leading goalscorer and considered among the best to ever grace these shores, so perhaps, for once, Mr Wenger has seen something, he continued: “What’s he got to do? Just keep going. Sometimes you get rewarded when you least expect it. That’s also the sign of a super champion.”
Other potential contenders are pretty thin on the ground. Barcelona’s Samuel Eto’o was at his explosive best as he helped his side to both the La Liga and Champions League titles, despite missing out on the summer’s festival of football due to Cameroon’s failure to qualify qualified did not help his cause, just as none did. long-term knee injury that will keep the striker out until the new year. Portuguese midfielder Deco is another who has been mentioned in relation to the price. The diminutive string-puller was considered to have been, if not more, vital than Ronaldinho to Barcelona’s success last season. Another option, and one for romantics, would be if the award went to Zinedine Zidane. The Frenchman finally hung up his golden boots in the summer after leading his nation to the final. Some impressive performances from Stefano’s so-called ‘maestro’ earned Zizou the World Cup Ballon d’Or as the tournament’s most outstanding player. However, we all know how it ended and, head aside, the player had a relatively poor season with Real Madrid.
All things considered, I think I’m mainly discussing competitors in a race already won. From a personal perspective, I find this somewhat disappointing as it appears to be the tightest competition for the award in some time. Not that I don’t perceive Cannavaro to be 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 roll of honor dominated by players more accustomed to creating and scoring. targets instead of stopping them. Similarly it would appear that given our three perceived favorites of Cannavaro, Buffon and Henry, only one is a striker. Perhaps a reflection on the changing face of football? Maybe just a reflection of an Italian World Cup win? Either way, it’s sad to me that such a prestigious award may not be announced with all the pomp and ceremony that the eventual winner would undoubtedly deserve.
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