Reigning European and world champions Spain have earned legions of admirers in the last few years, and the list of candidates for the FIFA Ballon d’Or reflects the high regard in which the country’s footballers are held.
Iker Casillas, Carles Puyol, Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and David Villa all feature on the shortlist, the magnificent Spanish seven accounting for nearly a third of the 23 nominees.
Given La Roja’s domination of this year’s field, it seems strange to relate that no Spanish player ever won the FIFA World Player award during its 19-year existence, while only Luis Suarez had the distinction of lifting France Football’s Ballon d’Or, way back in 1960. Fifty years on, all that might be about to change.
"Spanish players have been in vogue for the last two seasons now and I think it would only be right if one of us won the award,” Spain skipper Casillas told FIFA.com. “It’s been a World Cup year and that always has a big impact on who comes out on top."
While Casillas acknowledges that his outfield team-mates have more chance than he does of taking the accolade, recent precedent suggests this could well be Spain’s year. Brazil were the last country to have seven candidates on the list, in 2005, when Ronaldinho came out on top for the second year running.
Worth their weight in gold
Argentina’s Lionel Messi, who collected both the FIFA World Player award and the Ballon d’Or in 2009 and is up for the amalgamated award this year, has acknowledged the strength of the Spanish challenge.
“The World Cup will have a big impact on the final decision this year, which is going to give them an edge,” he said in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com earlier this week. “If I don’t win then I sincerely hope that it goes to one of my Barça colleagues. All the odds are in favour of Xavi and Iniesta, and to be honest they’re great people and great players who deserve it more than anybody.”
Returning the favour in another exclusive chat with FIFA.com, Barcelona linchpin Xavi, a FIFA World Player nominee in 2008 and 2009, had this to say about the Argentinian star: “The only reason the rest of us have any chance of winning this year is because the World Cup didn’t turn out too well for Argentina. If it had gone well for them, then it (the FIFA Ballon d’Or) would be no contest. In my view, Leo is now even better than Diego Maradona was.”
Xavi’s reasoning is backed up by the fact that Ronaldo and Fabio Cannavaro, to name but two examples, both picked up the award after respectively helping Brazil and Italy to glory at Korea/Japan 2002 and Germany 2006.
Another player with a compelling claim is Atletico Madrid and Uruguay striker Diego Forlan, whose exhilarating displays at South Africa 2010 earned him the adidas Golden Ball as player of the tournament. Back in the goals again for his club at the end of en exceptional year, the blond-maned Charrúa is entitled to hope that another individual trophy could be coming his way.
The moment of truth
However, ith the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o, Thomas Mueller, Mesut Ozil, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder also in contention, the vote is sure to be a close-run thing.
All that remains be seen now is which member of the 23-man field has done enough to earn the nod from the journalists and the coaches and captains of the international teams from FIFA’s member associations, who will decide the identity of the inaugural recipient of the FIFA Ballon d’Or.
The men’s shortlist appears below, with the winner being announced at the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala in Zurich on 10 January 2011. Whoever comes out on top, it promises to be quite an occasion.
2010 FIFA Ballon d'Or Shortlist
Xabi Alonso (ESP), Daniel Alves (BRA), Iker Casillas (ESP), Cristiano Ronaldo (POR), Didier Drogba (CIV), Samuel Eto’o (CMR), Cesc Fabregas (ESP), Diego Forlán (URU), Asamoah Gyan (GHA), Andres Iniesta (ESP), Julio Cesar (BRA), Miroslav Klose (GER), Philipp Lahm (GER), Maicon (BRA), Lionel Messi (ARG), Thomas Mueller (GER), Mesut Oezil (GER), Carles Puyol (ESP), Arjen Robben (NED), Bastian Schweinsteiger (GER), Wesley Sneijder (NED), David Villa (ESP), Xavi (ESP)