When the nominations were announced for the 2014 FIFA Ballon d'Or earlier this week, most of the attention justifiably focused on which players could potentially break the Cristiano Ronaldo-Lionel Messi stranglehold on the award. Such candidates were few and far between.
Others, meanwhile, focused on which stars had failed to earn inclusion, whether it be Arturo Vidal, Luka Modric or, most controversially, Luis Suarez. While there will always be mutterings over a couple of names, there were few objections to the inclusion of just one Brazilian in Neymar. For a country famed for the quality of its footballing stars, it is a worrying trend.
Ten years ago, in 2004, Brazil boasted an impressive seven names on the admittedly long shortlist, while the following year nine candidates came from the South American country. Indeed 2008, when the number dropped to just one, was a major anomaly given that the next two years brought a combined eight nominations.
|Brazil's Ballon d'Or Nominees|
|2010||3||Julio Cesar, Dani Alves, Maicon|
|2011||2||Neymar, Dani Alves|
|2013||2||Neymar, Thiago Silva|
It is a major concern, then, that since 2011 Brazil have mustered only two nominations who don't go by the name Neymar—Dani Alves in 2011, following Barcelona's Champions League win, and Thiago Silva in 2013. Over the course of four years, that is all Brazil have had to offer.
Looking at the same time period, it is not that the country has not had players winning major titles. Ramires, David Luiz, Dante, Rafinha and Marcelo have all won Champions League titles in that period, while the national team also won FIFA's Confederations Cup in 2013. The names, though, were rarely superstars within their sides and the national team success was pinned largely onto the young shoulders of Neymar.
The truth is that Brazil lacks the same level of influential player as they possessed a decade ago. While at that point the likes of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Juninho, Adriano and Kaka were all deciding games at the very top level of the club game on a regular basis. The same cannot be said of the current generation.
The generation of Brazilian players born in the early 1990s is fairly exceptional, with the squad winning the 2011 under-20 World Cup without either Neymar or Lucas Moura—both of whom were eligible to play.
That side contained Philippe Coutinho, Alex Sandro, Danilo, Fernando and Casemiro, all of whom are playing at relatively high levels in Europe. None, though, is consistently starring for their club side, with Oscar leading the way in a more workmanlike role as part of Jose Mourinho's Chelsea team.
Lucas Moura is a strong candidate for future Ballon d'Or nominations, but he has also failed to reach the level required at this point in his career. Still just 21, he has enough time to continue improving and become a real star, but he is not there yet.
What Brazil's lack of nominations clearly show is the failure of the generation above Lucas, Neymar and Oscar to really kick-on and shine in the manner of their predecessors.
Kaka and Robinho's careers entered decline well in advance of their 30th birthdays, Adriano has disappeared off the map, while even once promising talents such as Anderson, Giuliano, Jo and Lucas Leiva have rarely threatened to consistently put in world-class performances.
It is Brazil's youngest players that are leading the way for the time being, with only Neymar able to claim he has put himself among the very best in the world. Defenders Thiago Silva and Marcelo are admittedly unfortunate not to have been considered, but both have had ups and downs over the course of the past 12 months.
Brazil cannot simply blame misfortune in selection, though, for what is now a sustained trend. The game's biggest stars are largely European, bar Lionel Messi, and it is the likes of Spain and Germany who are leading the way in football. Brazil must make changes in its domestic game to return to that level.
The country continues to produce footballers of great quality in equally great quantities, but they have not consistently developed to the very top level over the past decade.
The Ballon d'Or shortlist has its faults, but it does lay bare for all to see that Brazil no longer possesses the star power it could once boast. It is something that should be of great concern to the CBF and those who run the game in football's most successful nation.