TIME FOR DEFENDERS TO replace PRIMA DONNAS
ENGLAND manager Roy Hodgson inadvertently displayed his true colours – and an unusual approach to democracy – when he cast his vote in this year’s Ballon d’Or.
In what can only be described as ‘holding out for a 0-0’, the infamously conservative Londoner chose Argentina’s Javier Mascherano as the world’s best player, followed by German duo Philipp Lahm and Manuel Neuer.
Hodgson reasoned – bizarrely – that everybody else would vote for Messi and eventual winner Ronaldo anyway, making his vote irrelevant.
Presumably, then, he will be voting Green, UKIP, or possibly even Monster Raving Loony Party in May.
Odd rationale aside, the choice of a talented grafter over a 51goal scoring machine has met with predictable ridicule.
As the internet exploded, we were treated to a mocked up team sheet of Roy’s ‘Dream XI’, featuring one goalkeeper and ten defenders, followed by his top three Beatles: 3) McCartney, 2) Harrison, 1) Starr. And so it went on.
Yet Roy’s choice was – by a million miles – far less insane than that of the 50,000 or so players who collectively elected to put Brazilian comedian David Luiz in their World XI.
No, really. That David Luiz. The one who conceded seven goals in a World Cup semi-final and defends like a four-year-old out of his mind on Smarties.
Presumably voted in by every German player for services to their nation, Luiz had PSG’s Qatari owners weeping into their caftans when they realised they’d paid £50m for a man who looks and plays like Sideshow Bob.
He is to a World XI what Eddie the Eagle was to the Olympics – amusing, but horribly out of his depth and watched primarily for the inevitable calamity.
It goes without saying that Luiz didn’t deserve his place. But at the same time, is Hodgson’s effort really so lamentable?
Yes, it was dull. And yes, Ronaldo and Messi are two of the greatest players the game has ever seen. But it is also true that defensive players get scant recognition for doing a job every bit as important as the step-over merchants up top.
his century, the only defender to have won the award is Italy’s Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 - and he had to skipper his side to a World Cup win just to stand a chance.
Goalkeepers and defenders just don’t seem to figure. Surely that’s a bit skewed?
Arsene Wenger certainly thinks so. “I would not vote for any Ballon d’Or,” said the Arsenal boss. “I’m totally against it. I’m a team lover and a specialist of somebody who loves teamwork. I’m completely against it. I would not vote for anybody.”
I’m with Wenger here. Goals grab glory. Ask anyone to name the single best player and, chances are, they’ll pick the man with the most goals.
A far fairer system would be to scrap the Ballon d’Or in its current format and give out four prizes of equal weight – goalkeeper, defender, midfielder and attacker of the year. In his own typically obtuse way, I think that’s all Roy was trying to do.
Anyway, with a tip of the hat to Hodgson and in the spirit of recognising honest dog work, here are a few players who, in a fairer world, would have walked away with the Ballon d’Or:
Carles Puyol – Barcelona/Spain
SAY what you like about the dancing feet of Lionel Messi or the mesmeric passing of Xavi and Iniesta – Barcelona simply would not have dominated European football without the bedraggled tramp at the back.
A midfielder in his youth, Puyol was the perfect blend of brute force, sound technique and never-say-die attitude. In a side of artists, he was unashamedly artisan, and all the more impressive for it.
If someone needed smashing, he’d smash them. If you wanted to play out from the back, he’d knock it around all day. If you needed a big goal (like his winner in the 2010 World Cup semi-final against Germany), he stuck his head in the mixer.
“Puyol is the key,” said Xavi. “Not just because he is one of the best defenders in the world but because of his character. He never, ever lets up.”
And he didn’t, retiring in 2014 after winning an incredible 21 trophies.
Gianluigi Buffon Juventus/Italy
When Juventus blew £32.6m on a keeper back in 2001, everyone thought they’d lost the plot.
Little did they realise that Buffon would still be there 14 years later after a decade of unyielding excellence. He isn’t flash. He isn’t mental like Oliver Kahn or Peter Schmeichel. But he commands his box with calm authority and never, ever, makes mistakes.
Cannavaro took the plaudits for Italy’s victorious 2006 World Cup campaign, but it was Buffon’s crucial saves, five clean sheets and phenomenal run of 453 minutes without conceding a goal that provided the real bedrock.
Though he came second to Cannavaro in the 2006 European Player of the Year awards, his failure to even rank in the top three of the world awards is scandalous.
Claude Makelele Real Madrid/Chelsea/France
How good was Makelele? Well, how many other players have had a position named after them?
Ok, so the Frenchman was distinctly limited. He couldn’t shoot. He couldn’t head. His passes invariably went three yards square. But for five or six years, nobody controlled a mid-
field better than him. Nobody gave the show ponies greater licence to cavort.
Makelele’s understated brilliance is there in black and white. In his three years at Real Madrid, the Galacticos won five trophies and were the undisputed kings of Europe. In the three years following his move to Chelsea in 2003, the Blues cleaned up another five trophies while Madrid’s rudderless stars won nothing.
“Ask anyone at Real Madrid and they will tell you Claude was the best player at Real,” said skipper Fernando Hierro. “The players all knew he was the most important. The loss of Makelele was the beginning of the end for Los Galacticos.”
Paolo Maldini AC Milan/Italy
Do I really need to write anything here? This is a guy who won five European Cups, seven Serie A titles and played in four World Cups, all whilst making the world’s greatest wingers look like prematurely-promoted under-16s.
Maldini never looked hurried, never got exposed. He barely had to run. No defender in history has shown greater positional sense, or more elegance and poise on the ball.
“There are great players and there are worldclass players,” said long-time opponent Alessandro Del Piero. “Then there are those who manage to go beyond that term. Paolo is the perfect example. He is the greatest.”
One second place in 1995 was scant reward for two decades of brilliance.
Philipp Lahm Bayern Munich/Germany
Weirdly in a year when Germany won the World Cup, their skipper was largely ignored, placing in the top three of just 18 captains and 19 coaches.
And this despite also winning the Champions League, the Bundesliga, the German Cup and playing brilliantly for the best part of a decade.
A perfect example of understated excellence, Lahm is a fabulously intelligent player who can control the tempo of a game from leftback as adeptly as he can from central midfield.
“Forget the Ballon d’Or,” said his national coach Joachim Low. “Philipp has performed outstandingly in three World Cups and for Bayern Munich. FIFA should create an award for player of the decade – and they should give it to Philipp Lahm.”
Roy Hodgson likes to applaud defensive stars
Hodgson’s pick Javier Mascherano
– and had an outstanding World Cup outshone team-mate Lionel Messi
Suits you sir, Ronaldo wins again
Paolo Maldini was a class act for AC Milan and Italy for what seemed like centuries
Makelele looks for a three-yard pass...