Why does the Premier League produce so few Ballon d’Or winners?
This year’s edition of the Champions League has followed the script so far, and unless a major upset occurs in the quarter-finals, then at least one English team will be in the finals for the fifth straight year.
One oft-cited reason for this dominance is that the likes of Man U, Liverpool, and Chelsea have such great spending power that they snap up the best players from around the globe and field untouchable squads of mostly foreign all-stars. Why then, have only two England-based players – Michael Owen in 2001 and Cristiano Ronaldo in 2008 – won the Ballon d’Or? If the EPL does have the best players, shouldn’t they be getting more recognition?
This year doesn’t promise very much different, however. Barcelona’s Leo Messi has been waiting in the wings to claim his prize, and with Ronaldo sulking, and Kaka and Torres injured, it seems that this will finally be his year.
For the European journalists who vote for the winner of football’s most prestigious individual accolade, the players of the EPL can do no right, it seems. Domestic achievement is important for candidates of the award, but the most important factors are showcasing offensive talent in the Champions League and success on the international stage.
Just look at 2007, when Kaka couldn’t help Milan past 4th place in the Serie A (despite the absence of Juventus), but his sizzling form in the UCL and for Brazil deservedly saw him earn the award.
Unfortunately, neither of these helps England-based players.
The EPL’s current dominance of the Champions League comes more from stingy defending than from awe-inspiring offenses. When facing non-British opposition in the knockout stages, when it really matters, the Big Four did not concede a goal at home all of last season, and have not yet this season. Although Vidic, Skrtel, Terry and Toure won’t be hailed the best player in the world this year, their massive contributions keep the UCL a mostly British affair.
Maybe more importantly, on the international level, the stars of the most successful teams do not tend to have England-based players. While there may be more Argentines and Brazilians playing in the EPL these days, players like Kaka, Messi or Ronaldinho in his prime have stayed in Italy or Spain. Further, successful European nations like Italy, Germany, and Spain always have squads based strongly in their home countries.
The same is true of the Three Lions, but it has been often theorized that the high numbers of foreign stars in the EPL actually cause England to under-perform on the international stage.
The quality is undoubtedly there: Torres, Fabregas, Rooney, Gerrard, Ronaldo, etc. can all win the Ballon d’Or. This year probably belongs to Messi. But if the EPL continues to rule the UCL roost, and England-based players continue to have success in the Copa America, European Championship, and World Cup, then the journalists should acknowledge this strength by giving the trophy to Premiership footballers more often.