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
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