Barcelona and Germany to the fore

Barcelona and Germany dominate the list of nominees for the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala 2010, which was announced at a press conference at the headquarters of French sport daily France Football on Monday.

All three of the candidates for the men’s award play for Barça, while Azulgrana coach Pep Guardiola is also in the running for the newly created FIFA World Coach of the Year for Men’s Football award.

Flying the flag for Germany are two of the nominees for the women’s Ballon d’Or award, with two of the country’s national team coaches also in contention for the FIFA World Coach of the Year for Women’s Football award.

The candidates were confirmed following a poll of the captains and head coaches of the men’s and women’s national teams around the world and a panel of international journalists.

Joining Jerome Valcke, FIFA Secretary General, at the press conference were Francois Moriniere, CEO of L’Équipe - France Football, Jean-Pierre Papin, a former winner of the Ballon d’Or, and Christian Karembeu, a member of FIFA’s Football Committee.

“It seemed natural to us to have just the one trophy, a single award,” said Valcke, voicing his satisfaction at the decision to merge the FIFA World Player and Ballon d’Or awards, which was made official on 5 July this year. “FIFA is delighted to have brought this merger to fruition. We already had a beautiful trophy in the FIFA World Cup, but this one is just as magnificent and we are very pleased to have it.”

Germany’s strong challenge
“This 55th Ballon d’Or marks the start of a new era for this trophy,” commented Moriniere. “I would like to pay tribute today to its creators Jacques Ferran, Jacques Goddet, Jacques de Ryswick and Gabriel Hanot. I would like to express my gratitude to them, because it is thanks to them that we are here now.”

The three players up for the women’s FIFA Ballon d’Or 2010 are the German duo Fatmire Bajramaj and Birgit Prinz, and Brazil’s Marta, while Germany U-20 coach Maren Meinert, her counterpart at the senior national team Silvia Neid, and Sweden’s national team coach Pia Sundhage will do battle for the women’s coaching award.

Germany are in a league of their own in women’s football,” said Valcke in reference to their domination of the female nominations. “They staged and won the recent U-20 Women’s World Cup and now they’re getting ready to host the Women’s World Cup next year. It’s entirely understandable that they should have so many nominees for the women’s awards.”

Barça eye further recognition
Joining Guardiola as the nominees in the men’s coaching category are Spanish national team coach Vicente del Bosque and former Inter Milan and current Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho.

Karembeu had this to say about the illustrious trio: “These three men command a lot of respect, and they’ve followed different paths to the top. Mourinho was an assistant to some great names before becoming a talented head coach, while Del Bosque and Guardiola both cut their teeth with reserve teams before leading their youngsters to success. It’s going to be a difficult choice.”

Finally, Barcelona team-mates Andres Iniesta (Spain), Lionel Messi (Argentina) and Xavi (Spain) will have their own private duel for the men’s FIFA Ballon d’Or 2010, the first time that three players from the same club will occupy the podium since 1989. On that occasion AC Milan striker Marco van Basten edged out club colleagues Franco Baresi and Frank Rijkaard to take the award.

As Karembeu explained, the fact Barcelona account for four of the six candidates for the two men’s awards reflects the high standards they have reached in recent times: “Barcelona showed yet again in last week’s clásico that they are a team who are way ahead of everyone else.”

“It’s one of the most beautiful trophies I’ve ever won,” added Papin, who collected the award in 1991. “To be honest, I wasn’t really aware of what it signified at the time. About six months ago, though, I was looking through my collection of books when I came across one celebrating 50 years of the Ballon d’Or. I had a look through it, saw I was in there and realised that only a very small number of players ever actually won it. That’s when I understood how big it was, and I said to myself that it was a real privilege to be able to see the trophy sitting there every day on the table in my lounge.”

All that remains to be seen now is which of the contenders listed above will be making off with the accolades when the inaugural FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala takes place on 10 January 2011.