FIFA’s annual Ballon d’Or shortlist inevitably divides opinion. From the widespread disgust that Wesley Sneijder didn’t receive the award for his outstanding 2010 campaign, where he led his club side, Internazionale, to Champions League glory and then his national side, the Netherlands, to the World Cup final, right through to the annual battle for the award between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, there have been a lot of controversial choices down the years.
This year is no different with several key names not even making the 23-man shortlist, with some of them inexplicably missing out. I have produced an alternative 23-man list which I hope captures the 23 players in contention for the award in a rather more realistic manner.
FIFA’s 23-man shortlist
Gareth Bale (Real Madrid), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Diego Costa (Atlético Madrid/Chelsea), Thibaut Courtois (Atlético Madrid/Chelsea), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Ángel Di María (Real Madrid/Manchester United), Mario Götze (Bayern Munich), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG), Andrés Iniesta (Barcelona), Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich/Real Madrid), Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich), Javier Mascherano (Barcelona), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Thomas Müller (Bayern Munich), Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Neymar (Barcelona), Paul Pogba (Juventus), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich), James Rodríguez (Monaco/Real Madrid), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), Yaya Touré (Manchester City).
My amended 23-man shortlist
Gareth Bale (Real Madrid), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Diego Costa (Atlético Madrid/Chelsea), Thibaut Courtois (Atlético Madrid/Chelsea), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Ángel Di María (Real Madrid/Manchester United), Mario Götze (Bayern Munich), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Filipe Luis (Atlético Madrid), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich/Real Madrid), Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich), Arturo Vidal (Juventus), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Thomas Müller (Bayern Munich), Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Neymar (Barcelona), Paul Pogba (Juventus), Diego Godin (Atlético Madrid), Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich), James Rodríguez (Monaco/Real Madrid), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), Yaya Touré (Manchester City).
As you can see there are only four changes from the official list to my own. In fairness to FIFA, this year’s list has been a widely impressive and realistic selection of the real elite players in world football, however there have been just a couple of selections I cannot agree with, or at the very least cannot justify placing in the shortlist ahead of other names.
First of all I have replaced Andres Iniesta with Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero. There can be absolutely no doubt that Iniesta is a superstar, a world-class footballer, however his 2014 has not been especially impressive.
His club team FC Barcelona struggled both domestically and on the continent, failing to reach the semi-final of the Champions League for the first time since the 2006-07 season. Conversely, Aguero played a huge part in City’s Premier League title triumph, scoring 17 league goals as well as 10 others in separate competitions. Aguero also impressed at the World Cup, despite struggling with injuries throughout the tournament. I just feel as if on an individual basis taking achievement and stats into account, Aguero deserved to be on the list for 2014 more than Iniesta.
Atletico Madrid had undoubtedly their finest season of the Millennium, perhaps even in the club’s history with Diego Simeone’s fantastically unique style of management guiding Atleti to a La Liga title and the Champions League final. Key to those successes was Atletico’s outstanding defence, however only goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois makes the shortlist.
This I feel is quite perplexing. Atletico’s two most important players in defence were central-defender Diego Godin and left-back Filipe Luis, now at Chelsea. Godin was a rock at the heart of Simeone’s defensive line. The experienced Uruguayan formed a strong partnership with Miranda and even scored the goal which secured Atletico the domestic title.
I have replaced Godin with Ramos due to the fact that their achievements with their respective teams probably balance out, with either side winning a major crown. However, Godin’s individual contributions were far more important and impressive over the course of 2014.
In the case of Filipe Luis, there are few arguments that suggest the Brazilian was not the best left-back in Europe last season. Of course David Alaba was right up alongside him but Filipe’s defensive play mixed with his ability to get forward was quite the asset to his team. His performances were so consistently at a high level that he earned himself a £15.8million transfer to Chelsea.
I have chosen to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic with Filipe as I feel that whilst Ibrahimovic’s play exhibits outstanding individual skill and technique, the like of which we have seldom seen before, Filipe simply added more to his team’s success as well as looking to rectify the bias between offence and defence within the official shortlist.
Finally, I felt it a crime not to include Arturo Vidal on the list. The general consensus amongst Juventus supporters is that their Chilean midfielder has been the real catalyst for the club’s resurgence in recent years and 2014 has been no different. The troubling question for me was just who to replace?
Javier Mascherano had an excellent World Cup with Argentina, he was the holding midfield presence which gave the attacking talents of Di Maria, Messi and Aguero so much freedom to play their natural games. Mascherano was a leader of the team and put in an excellent display in the final, even if he did end up, rather undeservingly, on the losing side.
However I simply felt as though he hadn’t done nearly enough in the colours of the Blaugrana to remain on the list. Vidal on the other hand contributed in the World Cup, despite injury, but was a hugely important figure in Juventus winning their third consecutive Scudetto, providing assists and goals from a deeper midfield position. Vidal has certainly cemented himself as one of the globe’s premier box-to-box midfielders and deserves to be on the list.
Finally, the continued omission of Luis Suarez. Not included by FIFA in the official shortlist and I too have left the Uruguayan forward out. In terms of Suarez’s performances on the pitch in 2014, it is difficult to not select him, he almost dragged Liverpool to the Premier League title with his outstanding 31 goal tally and contributed to Uruguay qualifying out of a difficult World Cup group, however it is his troubling behaviour on the pitch which has put paid to his chances.
Suarez’s bite on Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup has cost him his place on the shortlist, the general criteria for selection is noted in FIFA’s guidebook and it states, ‘The selection criteria for the players of the year (men’s and women’s) are: sporting performance as well as general behaviour on and off the pitch from 30 November 2013 until 21 November 2014.’
Suarez’s bite certainly doesn’t represent good general behaviour and as such I would feel it unfair to place him on the shortlist when he cannot be considered according to the regulations.
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