Thiney and Petit on Ballon d’Or nominees

The votes have been counted, and the final candidates for the various FIFA Ballon d’Or 2011 awards have now been revealed. Five shortlists were unveiled on 5 December 2011 at the headquarters of French sports daily L’Equipe, and while some of the names will come as little surprise, there was room for one or two unexpected nominees.

The women’s shortlists were the first to be announced, and the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011 was clearly reflected in the votes cast by captains, coaches and members of the media. Homare Sawa and Abby Wambach reached the final with Japan and USA respectively, so their nominations came as little surprise. Reigning Women’s Player of the Year Marta suffered a disappointing early exit from the FIFA Women’s World Cup with Brazil, but her impressive form at club level ensures she makes the shortlist.

Homare Sawa has shown a lot of strength in her play, and she has been a leader on the pitch,” said French international Gaetane Thiney, who was present as the nominees were announced. “Marta, who continues to shine, needs no introduction. And I’ve personally played against Abby Wambach, who is very impressive.”

Next up were the nominees for the FIFA World Coach of the Year for Women’s Football, and once again the FIFA Women’s World Cup played a deciding role. France’s Bruno Bini, Japan’s Norio Sasaki and USA’s Swedish coach Pia Sundaghe are all on the shortlist. Bini’s nomination was hailed as good news by French star Thiney, whose side reached the last four in Germany. “He’s an exceptional man, who pushes you to excel by using simple words,” she said, before going on to underline the strength of Bini’s fellow nominees.

The three candidates for the FIFA Puskas Award 2011 were next on the agenda. More than 700,000 votes were cast by internet users, who deemed Lionel Messi’s goal against Arsenal, Neymar’s strike against Flamengo and Wayne Rooney’s scissor-kick against Manchester City to be the best of the bunch. Internet users now have until 9 January to vote for the overall winner.

“They are three outstanding goals,” said former France international Emmanuel Petit. “The context is also important: Rooney scored in a derby and Messi scored in the Champions League, which is quite something. But I particularly like the goal from Neymar, who started from deep, showed good strength and was technically magnificent.”

The nominees for FIFA Coach of the Year were next to be announced, with Sir Alex Ferguson, Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho the three names on the shortlist. As Petit explained, the winner will be very difficult to call. “Ferguson deserves it on the strength of his career as a whole,” he said. “Despite his young age, Guardiola has already won a lot of titles. And Mourinho has invented a whole new form of management. It’s very hard to separate them.”  

All that remained was to reveal the three nominees for the FIFA Ballon d’Or 2011, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Xavi announced as the players in contention for the main prize. A trio of top quality players, but Thiney already appears to have a favourite. “Messi is exceptional,” she said. “He’s very young, he’s already won everything and we’re all wondering how far he can go.” For his part, Petit described the three candidates as “outstanding competitors,” before adding: “I expect more from Messi with his national side, so this year I’m leaning towards Ronaldo.” The winner will be announced at the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala on 9 January 2012.