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European Footballer of the Year Candidates
The president of Real Madrid, Ramon Calderon announced that his newly signed Italian centre-back, Fabio Cannavaro, won the Ballon D’Or, or Golden Ball, which was to replace Ronaldinho as European Footballer of the Year. This came as a surprise to many and raised more than a few eyebrows. Not because of the fact that Cannavaro was the choice, far from it considering his main displays during the World Cup, but because of the fact that the winner of the hyped big prize is not actually announced until 27 November. No doubt this means one of two things. The first of these is that France Football, the magazine that actually hosts the award, has a birth place in the camp and its security needs to be seriously boosted, otherwise Senor Calderon adheres to the traditions of the Madridistas and fill newspaper columns with self satisfaction. propaganda.
If Calderon wanted a media frenzy, then he’ll be a happy man. Italian newspapers were not slow to announce: “Cannavaro, it is all true.” (Gazzetta dello Sport) and: “Golden Ball for Cannavaro.” (Corriere della Sera). Despite the sensational nature of the Italian media, the issue appears to be done and dusted. That would change the purpose of this article from a preview of the front runners, to a selection of the near men. However, the famous trophy is not yet causing feng shui difficulties for the Italian skipper chez Cannavaro and so I will continue with my initial intentions.
The Ballon D’Or was created in 1956 by France Football magazine. At a time when Europe had begun to emerge from the hangover of the Second World War a decade earlier, football was enjoying its following as a global game. The first European Cup (now known as the UEFA Champions League) was played out in the same year, and Blackpool winger Stanley Matthews was announced as the first European Player of the Year. In the years that followed, the awards were dominated by the all-conquering Madrid side, their forward Alfredo di Stefano claiming the title twice. The very idea of the award showed that football was now a sport that could bring people from different countries together, such an important factor when we consider that much of the continent had been a battleground just over a decade earlier. Although held by France’s main football publication, the award is based on the considered opinion of journalists across Europe.
The award has been fairly evenly distributed around the leading lights of European club football over the years, Juventus leading the way with a total of eight winners (a total which could well have been extended further if not the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal intervened), AC Milan (seven), Barcelona (six), Real Madrid (five) and Bayern Munich (five) all follow. Of course we have to take into account that the award ceremony is traditionally held in November each year, it is quite possible that so many winning players have been at new clubs at the time of the award, having won the praise that led to the reward on the other side. (Luis Figo and Ronaldo are both examples of this, having moved to Madrid only a few months before the presentation). The only major change to the award since its inception in 1995 came when it was ruled that the winner did not need to be of European nationality himself, only that his contract be held by a club under UEFA’s jurisdiction (much to the Liberian forward’s delight). George Weah took full advantage of the change to the rule in 1995).
An obvious starting point for such an award would be to start where we left off last year. The Brazilian Ronaldinho, who won an award last year (to sit proudly on the mantelpiece next to his World Player of the Year award) to reaffirm that he is considered the best player on the planet. The man from Barcelona, by his very high standards, had a disappointing year. Although he added the Champions League to his medal collection, he was relatively below par at the World Cup (a competition that can usually be seen as a deciding factor for the prize) as his Brazilian team (and for pre-tournament favourites) to dwindle in the competition. quarter finals have had many tips to take a sixth title. Of his compatriots, only Kaka’ shone in Germany and the AC Milan forward unfortunately ended the season without medals despite enhancing his growing reputation as a force to be reckoned with in world football, and a possible future winner of the award.
As we’ve explored before, big tournaments often have a big impact on who will receive the prize. Take, for example, Ronaldo’s Ballon D’Or from 2002. Following yet another injury plagued season in Italy with Internazionale, el phenominon (as he is known to his adoring fans) turned it on in the Far East to help Brazil claim a fifth World Cup, scoring an incredible eight goals along the way and exorcise some of the demons of his collapse in the 1998 competition. Although many said that seven games certainly do not make a season, Ronaldo, who had joined Galacticos Madrid since then, took the coveted prize.
From this theory, we can assume that this year’s winner will most likely come from Italy. As previously mentioned, all this talk is fairly irrelevant as Fabio Cannavaro, although not yet confirmed, has been declared by his club president as the winner. In fact, if so, few could argue. The Italy captain was a lion at the heart of Italy’s formidable defense which prompted ‘campione del mondo’ (‘champions of the world’) headlines across the Mediterranean peninsula. However, the 33-year-old ex-Juventus man himself is not getting as excited as his President (at least not before the famous ‘fat lady’ has her moment). Cannavaro has said: “Of course I would like to win it. It would be wonderful and very satisfying on a personal level.”
As well as the Madrid man, Italy can boast strong claims for the award through midfielder Andrea Pirlo and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Pirlo, during the previous season with Milan, and the World Cup with his nation, improved the reputation which, in his early career at least, he had threatened without ever achieving. Some superb displays in midfield for the Azzuri raised Pirlo’s profile to be ranked among the continent’s best in his position, although a lack of success on the domestic front may have cost him. More interesting though, are the calls for the award to be given to Gigi Buffon. The Juventus and Italy stopper has long been regarded as the best in the World in his position. In Germany, Buffon further embellished this claim. Some heroic performances, most notably in the semi-final against the hosts and his spot-kick save to clinch the trophy in the final, saw him become only the second goalkeeper to win the prize. In claiming the Ballon D’Or he would truly claim a place among the greats as the only other ‘number one’ to win the award was Lev Yashin from Russia in 1963. He also has the support of the Italian legend, and former Ball -European footballer of the Year, Gianni Rivera. After hearing of Cannavaro’s premature victory, Rivera announced: “I would have chosen the Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon but if it is true that Fabio wants to win it, I am happy anyway.”
If the Golden Dance is to go to Italy, it will be the country’s winner after Rivera himself (1969), Paolo Rossi (1982) and Roberto Baggio (1993).
However, not everyone agrees that the award should be given to an Italian. After hearing Ramon Calderon’s claims, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger responded in typical defiant fashion: “Congratulations to Cannavaro then,” Wenger said on Friday. “But for me there is only one candidate this year, it’s Thierry Henry. He deserves it.
In retrospect, this is a fair argument. Henry appeared in the two notable events in world football during 2006, and although he was on the losing side in the World Cup and Champions League finals, reaching both is testament to the man. Henry is widely regarded as the best striker in world football in recent seasons. Consistently the Premier League’s leading goalscorer and regarded as one of the best ever to grace these shores, so perhaps, for once, Mr Wenger has seen something, he went on to say: “What has he got to do ? Just to keep going. Sometimes you get rewarded right now where you least expect it. That’s also a sign of a great championship.”
Other potential competitors are pretty thin on the ground. Barcelona’s Samuel Eto’o was at his best helping to propel his side to titles in La Liga and the Champions League, although missing out on the summer football festival due to Cameroon’s failure to qualify did not help his cause, as neither did. the long-term knee injury will keep the striker out of action until the new year. Portuguese midfielder Deco is another who has been mentioned in relation to the award. The diminutive string-puller was considered as vital, if not more, than Ronaldinho to Barcelona’s success last season. Another option, and one for the romantics, would be if the award went to Zinedine Zidane. The silver-haired Frenchman finally hung up his golden boots in the summer after leading his nation to the final. Some grand performances from the one di Stefano dubbed ‘the maestro’ won Zizou the World Cup Golden Ball for being the most outstanding player of the tournament. However, we all know how it ended and, aside from that, the player had a relatively poor season with Real Madrid.
All things considered, I feel that I am largely debating the contenders in a race that has already been won. From a personal point of view I find this rather disappointing as it seems to be the closest competition for the award for some time. It’s not that I don’t see Cannavaro as a worthy winner, we have to go all the way back to Franz Beckenbauer in 1976 to find that our last defender won the award in a roll of honor dominated by players who are more familiar with creating and scoring. goals rather than preventing them. Likewise, it seems that, given our three perceived favourites, namely Cannavaro, Buffon and Henry, only one is a striker. Perhaps a reflection on the change in the face of football? Maybe just a reflection of Italy’s World Cup win? Either way, to me it is sad that such a prestigious award may not be announced with all the pomp and ceremony that the eventual winner would deserve.
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