Bal­lon sore!

TIME FOR DE­FEND­ERS TO re­place PRIMA DON­NAS

Late Tackle Football Magazine - - FRONT PAGE -

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...

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