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Jack: From Trout to CR7, ignore awards like the Ballon D'Or

Kristian Jack
11/21/2013 12:10:52 AM
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This could have been a column on why Cristiano Ronaldo should win the Ballon D'Or.

But it isn't.

That has been done, many times, including by myself in January.

For similar reasons I had a year ago, I believe Ronaldo should win it this year, but a year is a long time in sport and, although my opinion on who should win it hasn't changed, my opinion on the award certainly has.

I no longer care one bit. 

I should point out that I have never been a big fan of individual awards in team sports. For me, important accolades, awards and trophies are won within the sporting arena and anything else is precisely what most sports are not - arbitrary; placed in the hands of a democracy who may or may not be informed enough to reach the correct decision.

On the face of it, the task of finding the best player of the year should be a relatively simple one. 

In fact, it is so simple some inside the sport of baseball are wondering if they should have such an award, instead of their 'Most Valuable Player' honour.

In that sport, the best player in the game, Mike Trout, an outfielder for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, has finished runner-up in the American League the last two years in the MVP race, simply because his team didn't make the playoffs and were not as good as the Detroit Tigers, the team, Miguel Cabrera, the winner, played for.

If a Ballon D'Or existed in baseball, Trout, who has an astounding 20.4 WAR the past two seasons, would already be a two-time winner. So is it time to change their sport's main individual award? 

ESPN's Buster Olney and Tim Kurkjian, two of the baseball's finest journalists, debated this very topic on a podcast recently:

Olney said: "A really smart executive in baseball said to me, 'you know it would be a real shame if the best player in baseball for the first five years of his career didn't win (the MVP) because he had bad teammates' and I hope, although I don't think it will happen, that the (voters) baseball writers would define MVP and just pick the best player."

Kurkjian disagreed: "I like it the way it is because it creates the debates. The word valuable is a very subjective term and its up to the voters to determine who the best player is based on the word valuable."

Make no mistake, Cabrera is a marvellous hitter, but Trout, a superior overall player, has been even better the past two years but lost out on the award simply because of the word "valuable," with many voters believing Cabrera played in more valuable games than Trout because the Detroit Tigers were in a playoff position in September.

As a lover of baseball, I have sat back the past two Septembers and watched/listened ad nauseam to networks debate who is more deserving, rather than talk about the actual baseball games taking place at an incredibly exciting time of their season.

The debates might be good for media shows and the sport which wants as many people talking about it as possible, but the truth is when the decision is finally made, it doesn't make knowledgeable baseball fans think any differently about Cabrera, with two MVP's, or Trout, with none.

And that is exactly the same with the Ballon D'Or.

From 1956 to 2009, it was an award with history that meant (a small) something, but it still had major flaws. It was only given to European players until 1995, meaning all-time greats like Pele and Diego Maradona didn't win a Ballon D'Or.

Zinedine Zidane did win one, as well as three FIFA World Player of the Year awards, but is that what you think of when you think of Zidane? Of course, not.

Ninety-nine per cent of the game's biggest fans couldn't tell you exactly how many awards he won, but they could tell you about his brilliant performance in the 1998 World Cup final and the breathtaking goal he scored in the 2002 Champions League final.

And that is how it should be.

As we view sporting events that take place in our time, we are trusted, as the guardians of that current footage, to ensure that history will tell the story it should.

After Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi retire and your kids or grandchildren ask you about them, you should not tell them how many Ballon D'Or's they won. However, with column inches to fill and shows to accommodate, the world's media have spent the best part of this international window talking about this award, rather than the games being played. Even when Ronaldo produced one of the finest individual performances, guiding Portugal to the World Cup, much of the talk was still on whether or not he should win the Ballon D'Or. 

His performances on the field, which ultimately define him as a player, is what people need to focus on and not because it should decide whether or not he wins an award at a glamorous FIFA ceremony in January.

Since 2010, when FIFA got their grubby hands on the award and merged it with the World Player of the Year honour, the award has lost its lustre while gaining more and more media attention.

Previously open to the world's finest media members to vote, FIFA extended the Ballon D'Or voting process to captains and coaches of the national teams around the world. Each voter is asked to come up with a top three from a 23-man 'shortlist'.

With 2010 a World Cup year, many eyes were on the tournament in South Africa, leaving the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Andres Iniesta and Xavi as real threats to Ronaldo and Messi at the top of the game.

The last three years, however, there has been no reason for anybody to believe a player has been better than Ronaldo, let alone, Messi. And that includes Franck Ribery.

Ribery was thought to be among one of the favourites to win the award in January because he was the best player on the best team, Bayern Munich, this year. This, however, is just another example of people over thinking the award. Ballon D'Or does not go to the game's best player, it goes to the game's best player of that year, but even that should rule out Ribery.

Yet, just this very week, a very respected Spanish writer suggested Ribery would be a worthy winner because Messi hadn't won anything in 2013. This is a man who covers the game extremely well and is paid to watch two of the greatest players the game has ever seen, each week, yet he would have no problem with Ribery winning the award? A man who plays in the German Bundesliga for a team the writer has probably watched fewer than a dozen times in 2013?

That writer, like you and me, will not have seen enough of Ribery to know if he is on Messi and Ronaldo's leve,l but if he believes the Frenchman could be, what chance does that leave footballers who see far fewer matches than media members?

The result? Just a bunch of voters guessing or picking their own personal favourites or friends.

Now, you have likely never heard of Jaffar Khan. He is the captain of the Pakistan national team. 

In 2011, Khan voted for Thomas Muller to win the Ballon D'Or with Andres Iniesta second and Bastian Schweinsteiger third. No Messi or Ronaldo.

In 2012, Khan voted for Iker Casillas to win the Ballon D'Or with Andres Iniesta second and Xavi third. No Messi or Ronaldo.

Khan is a goalkeeper. He is also a man who should never be allowed to vote ever again.

This is not about personal opinion, folks. It is not like looking for a political party that matches your values. For the past three years, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been hands down better than any footballer on the planet.

Yet, Khan wasn't alone in leaving them off his ballot in 2012.

Many other examples were revealing, including Austria's Christian Fuchs naming Mario Balotelli (who would finish 23rd of 23 nominees) third and ahead of Ronaldo and Messi and Tomas Danilevicius of Lithuania selecting Wayne Rooney ahead of the duo.

If you are looking for names more recognizable in the game when searching for questionable votes, they are scattered all over the revealed ballots.

Dutch skipper Sneijder's choice? Dutchman Robin van Persie.

Spanish skipper Casillas? He chose Real Madrid and Spanish teammate Sergio Ramos, placing club teammate Ronaldo second and Messi outside of the top three.

Chinese coach Jose Camacho, who managed his native Spain in the 2002 World Cup, picked three of his countrymen on his ballot - Iniesta, Xavi and Casillas.

German boss Joachim Low? Germans Mesut Ozil first and Manuel Neuer second.  

Spanish boss Vicente Del Bosque? All three players from Spain.

It is not fair to hammer the likes of Del Bosque and Low, after all they know the mental state of their players and if they think it can give them an edge by picking them on their ballot, then they are just doing their job.

The point is the voting process is a farce and this week it become even more farcical. 

On Tuesday, FIFA decided to re-open this year's voting process for Ballon D'Or nominees following rightful criticism it received in originally enforcing a deadline of November 15th on its voters before key World Cup qualifiers had been played.

This means Ronaldo will likely win in January, as he should. However, the timing of the announcement - just hours after Portugal's win over Sweden - brought the attention once again back on FIFA and their award. 

In an era where people's attention spans are lesser than ever, the great thing about this game is just how much you need to watch it to make judgments. There isn't a baseball box score or a fantasy football ticker available to show you who had a good game.

It is down to your eyes and your insight and it is on those that you will rely when you look back at the great careers Messi and Ronaldo have.

Don't let FIFA and their annual Mickey Mouse parade every January alter that.



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