Monday, 29 October 2012

We can learn much more from the Ballon d'Or

Class act: Messi is aiming to make it four Ballon d'Ors in a row
There may be a 23-man shortlist for this year's FIFA Ballon d'Or but in reality it's a two horse race. Either Barcelona's Lionel Messi or Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo will take the crown on 7th January 2013 as they continue to break records at an unfathomable rate.

The other 21 nominees will know this themselves, whether they choose to admit it or not, but the extensive list certainly gives us a interesting insight into football's hotspots at this moment in time, both at club and international level.

Nominees by the country where they play
Spain: 12 (Xabi Alonso, Karim Benzema, Sergio Busquets, Iker Casillas, Cristiano Ronaldo, Radamel Falcao, Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Mesut Ozil, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos and Xavi) 
England: 5 (6*) (Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli, Didier Drogba*, Wayne Rooney, Yaya Toure and Robin Van Persie)
Italy: 2 (3*) (Gianluigi Buffon, Zlatan Ibrahimovic* and Andrea Pirlo)
Germany: 1 (Manuel Neuer)
France: 1 (Zlatan Ibrahimovic)
China: 1 (Didier Drogba)
Brazil: 1 (Neymar)

*Didier Drogba was a Chelsea player until 20th June 2012. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was an AC Milan player until 18th July 2012.

Nominees by nationality 
Spanish: 7 (Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, Iker Casillas, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos and Xavi)
Italian: 3 (Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Pirlo and Mario Balotelli)
Argentinian: 2 (Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi)
German: 2 (Manuel Neuer and Mesut Ozil)
Ivorian: 2 (Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure)
Brazilian: 1 (Neymar)
Colombian: 1 (Radamel Falcao) 
Dutch: 1 (Robin Van Persie)
English: 1 (Wayne Rooney)
French: 1 (Karim Benzema)
Portuguese: 1 (Cristiano Ronaldo)
Swedish: 1 (Zlatan Ibrahimovic)

With twelve representatives from Spain's La Liga, seven of which are homegrown, there's no doubt that it's the league producing and attracting the majority of the world's finest players.

Nevertheless, with the exception of Atletico Madrid's Radamel Falcao, these are only split between the two powerhouses of Spanish football, Real Madrid (6) and Barcelona (5). Their dominance of the league, particularly over the last three seasons where they have finished 25 points (2009/10), 21 points (2010/11) and 30 points (2011/12) clear of their nearest rivals, coincides with the creation of two incredible squads.

Atletico's superb start to this season, which has put them level on points with Barcelona at the top of the table after nine games and eight points clear of Real, has been spearheaded by Falcao's ten league goals.

The English Premier League can offer thanks to four of its clubs for their six representatives. Manchester City trio Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli and Yaya Toure are all in the running alongside Manchester United's Wayne Rooney.

Didier Drogba now plys his trade for Chinese outfit Shanghai Shenhua but his nomination is obviously attributed to the pivotal role he played in Chelsea's gobsmacking Champions League triumph last season.

And despite his transfer to Manchester United in the summer, Arsenal can take a large proportion of the credit for Robin Van Persie's selection after he finished as the Premier League's top marksmen in the 2011/12 campaign with 30 goals.

There is a healthier distribution of quality in the Premier League but players of the very highest calibre are harder to come by than they're in La Liga.

Serie A's dwindling reputation is demonstrated by the fact that just two of their players - Juventus duo Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo - feature in the shortlist. They can lay claim to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who left AC Milan to join Paris Saint-Germain in the summer, but his decision to play in the less demanding Ligue 1 tells a story in itself.  

The only real consolation for Italy is that they're the second best represented nation behind Spain with three nominees. The Azzurri are closely followed by Argentina, Germany and Ivory Coast who all have two.

The Bundesliga has been receiving plenty of plaudits this season with all three of their Champions League sides performing well in their respective groups. Therefore, it may come as a disappointment that Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is the only player from their league to make the final twenty-three.

Although there are two overwhelming favourites to win the accolade, the shortlist still has a purpose in assessing the quality of each nation's top-flight league. The debate over whether the English Premier League is the best in the world will continue to rumble on but it has to be said that Barcelona and Real Madrid are currently producing some of the best football the game has ever seen.

Questions have been asked on the back of our team's below-par performances in this season's Champions League but we must not forget that we have won three of the last eight competitions and had five losing finalists in the same period. Spain may have the upperhand in terms of quality but as an all-round package, it's the Premier League for me every time.

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