No let up just yet as Messi and Ron­aldo stock up their trea­sure trove

There will be no sur­prises when world’s best player award is an­nounced in Zurich to­mor­row

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - SPORT - CHIEF SPORTS WRITER

Un­less An­toine Griez­mann can ex­tend a run of global shocks, the Lionel Messi-Cris­tiano Ron­aldo awards du­op­oly will stretch to nine years at a Fifa cer­e­mony in Zurich to­mor­row. Con­cealed, by this an­nual face-off be­tween two of the great­est play­ers the game has seen, is an­other wipeout for Bri­tish foot­ball.

Cyn­i­cism about elite awards is un­der­stand­able. Messi and Ron­aldo each have a pirate ship’s store of trea­sure. Why keep adding to that? But the votes of in­ter­na­tional cap­tains and coaches (and now fans) re­veal in­ter­est­ing truths. One is that of 55 foot­ballers nom­i­nated for last year’s World XI, only two are Bri­tish: Gareth Bale, from Wales, and Jamie Vardy, one of nine debu­tants on the Fifa/ FIFPro list.

Vardy, gen­er­ally a bench player for Eng­land, is the only home-based na­tive son of the world’s rich­est league to make a 55-name scroll, and is unlikely to re­tain his place next year, given the way Le­ices­ter City are go­ing. With heavy sym­bol­ism, Wayne Rooney drops off the list, along with John Terry, as if to em­pha­sise that the old guard of the ‘[non] golden gen­er­a­tion’ await re­place­ment by Dele Alli, Harry Kane or who­ever else might at­tain aris­to­cratic sta­tus.

The World XI longlist is not ar­bi­trary. It re­flects votes from 25,000 pro-foot­ballers in 70 coun­tries. Each selects one goal­keeper, four de­fend­ers, three mid­field­ers and three for­wards. Only one of the two ‘home’ play­ers in the 55 ac­tu­ally plays in Eng­land. Bale is a po­ten­tial win­ner of the new Best Fifa Men’s Player award but the Messi-Ron­aldo stran­gle­hold will not be bro­ken yet. The change in for­mat fol­lows Fifa’s de­ci­sion to end its as­so­ci­a­tion with the Bal­lon d’Or, founded by France Foot­ball mag­a­zine in 1956, af­ter a six-year tie-up. The 2016 Bal­lon d’Or has al­ready been won by Ron­aldo, but strangely the Fifa prize is more demo­cratic. Cap­tains and head coaches of the world’s na­tional teams ac­count for 50 per cent of the poll, with the other half split be­tween me­dia and a pub­lic bal­lot. Eight gongs will be handed out as Fifa’s re­brand­ing con­tin­ues. The Hol­ly­wood vibe sur­vives, though, with Eva Lon­go­ria and the German pop idol host Marco Schreyl sup­ply­ing the schmaltz.

The last time any­one not called Ron­aldo or Messi was anointed world’s best player was in 2007 (Kaka). Griez­mann com­pletes this year’s short­list. Never had two stars dom­i­nated an award that tended to pass along the line as new tal­ent emerged. The sus­tained bril­liance of the two global idols has con­signed a gen­er­a­tion of can­di­dates to back­ingsinger roles. An­drés Ini­esta and Xavi are two ob­vi­ous ex­am­ples from the early years and now Luis Suárez, Ney­mar, Bale and Griez­mann are among those wait­ing for time’s winged char­iot to catch up with Messi and Ron­aldo. There are those who think this tro­phy-shar­ing rit­ual has be­come ridicu­lous, and that some­body else should have a turn. On the other hand each year is judged on its mer­its. To rip the prize from the most de­serv­ing re­cip­i­ent would be per­verse.

Paul Pogba, him­self an £89 mil­lion player, was asked by Fifa when he thought Messi and Ron­aldo might drop away (Ron­aldo will surely be the first to go). “When they stop scor­ing goals, and they stop play­ing at the level that they are – or when you have other play­ers who will play as well as them, or even bet­ter.” Pogba said.

“Even if they are as good as Cris­tiano Ron­aldo or Lionel Messi, the style, the way they play, the way they act off the pitch, it’s more than foot­ball now, I would say. When you have some­one who can go above them, into that level on the pitch and out­side the pitch that’s when it will hap­pen. I don’t know when, though, be­cause they’re still at the high­est level. I love see­ing them play, I love see­ing them score goals, they make me love foot­ball even more.” Pressed to nom­i­nate suc­ces­sors, Pogba said: “We have Zla­tan [Ibrahi­movic] at Manch­ester United. Even he could do it. He’s 35, but the way he’s play­ing, the way he’s scor­ing goals, you can see he’s been in the top level for more than 10 years. [Eden] Haz­ard, Ney­mar, Suárez are do­ing so well and scor­ing goals, these are great play­ers who – if they keep scor­ing – can do that.” Vardy is not Le­ices­ter’s only rep­re­sen­ta­tive. The coach of the year short­list is Clau­dio Ranieri, Fer­nando San­tos (Por­tu­gal) and Zine­dine Zi­dane (Real Madrid). As Jose Mour­inho says: “Ranieri per­formed a mir­a­cle, Fer­nando made a dream come true and Zi­dane won the Cham­pi­ons League.” As for the Best player award, Mour­inho was true to his world view: “Hon­estly, I am not too big a fan of in­di­vid­ual awards. Foot­ball is a team sport.”

Main man: Cris­tiano Ron­aldo, who scored as Real Madrid beat Granada 5-0 last night to equal Barcelona’s 39match un­beaten record, has al­ready won the Bal­lon d’Or, four times while Eva Lon­go­ria (right) will add Hol­ly­wood glam­our to to­mor­row’s cer­e­mony

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