Ronaldo or Messi, Xavi Or Schweinsteiger? Ranking the Ballon D'Or Candidates
This years Ballon D'Or candidates are out and there are not really any huge surprises within the nominees. Premier League fans will be worried to see no English players this year, and only three Premier League players, but the P.L.'s candidates general poor form internationally was a hammer blow to their chances.
Instead the list is dominated by Spaniards and Germans, unsurprising when during the World Cup it was these two teams to lit up the stage with sparkling displays of attacking football. The Spaniards in the list are almost routinely included in the best players in the world , but the Germans are mostly young and relatively unheard of (before the World Cup at least) but could be gracing these lists for many years to come.
Here I'll take a look at each of the twenty three candidates, and offer an opinion on the best placed to win the elusive Ballon D'Or award.
Xabi Alonso (Spain)
Liverpool fans will be well aware of the Spaniards ability on the ball, and off of it. Alonso added some needed steel to a silky midfield while also having the accurate snappy passing which set the Spanish team apart.He must be remembered for playing on following a De Jong flying karate kick to the torso in the World Cup final which would have permanently floored a weaker man.
A relatively quiet domestic season will make the Ballon D'Or a difficult target for Alonso but his quality as a player must not be underestimated.
Dani Alves (Brazil)
One of the best and most effective wing-backs in the world, Alves has seemingly endless stamina and pace and he dominates his wing to great effect. For Barcelona he offers the width when Messi cuts inside, dropping accurate crosses into the box, or powering forwards on skilful runs with the ability to beat several men which Brazilians seem to be born with.
Alves's Ballon D'Or candidacy will struggle due to Brazil's relatively poor World Cup, and the fact that Barcelona were not as all conquering as in recent years will make Alves an outside shot.
Iker Casilias (Spain)
Spain's victorious goalkeeper Casilias has been a stalwart in goal for years despite his rather young age. His World Cup had some controversy, a reporter he was dating being blamed for a couple of below par performances, but make no mistake that with a lesser goalkeeper Spain would have struggled. Keys saves, including a late volley from Germany's Toni Kroos in the semi-final and Arjen Robben in the final saw Spain through.
Christiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
On current form, probably the worlds best player, but only in a Real Madrid shirt. Ronaldo and Messi seemingly suffer from the same fate at international level, their talent is immediately attacked by heavy marking and heavier tackling and this affects their ability to perform on the grandest stage of them all, the World Cup, performances in which are so key to the Ballon D'Or.
Ronaldo is a unique player and he has won much of what football has to offer, but he is unlikely to take this Ballon D'Or following a World Cup where he at times looked sulky and disinterested, the dark side of his game.
Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast)
Drogba enjoyed an brilliant season with Chelsea, winning the league and FA Cup, scoring vital goals all the way. At times he was unplayable his strength, pace and skill too much for the most experienced defenders.
An unfortunate pre-World Cup injury saw Drogba appear slightly later in the competition, and play to below his own high standard, something which ultimately cost Ivory Coast dear.
Drogba's international form will weigh heavily on any chance he had of winning the Ballon D'Or but his domestic form was so impressive that he retains a shot of succeeding.
Samuel Eto'o (Cameroon)
Eto'o was a key member of the treble winning Inter Milan team, playing a wider role than might have been ideal for him, he buckled down and played to the best of his abilities. In the key game against Barcelona he basically played at full-back, showing a totally different skill set to the ones he would normally utilise.
His World Cup was extremely poor, Cameroon doing so badly, but again, a stunning domestic and European campaign will make Eto'o a decent shout for Ballon D'Or.
Cesc Fabregas (Spain)
Arsenal's talismanic captain, Fabregas had a mixed season, stunning when on the pitch but affected by niggling injuries. His goal against Tottenham was a particular highlight, taking the ball from Tottenham's kick-off, dribbling past three or four players and slotting cooly past the keeper.
Somehow Fabregas cannot break into the Spanish starting team and this will make his Ballon D'Or candidacy difficult as he only plays a minor role compared to Xavi and Iniesta and even Busquets. Its possible, even likely that Fabregas will win this award one day, but I am doubtful it will be this year.
Diego Forlan (Uruguay)
The winner of the World Cup Golden Ball award, and Europa League winner Diego Forlan had a remarkable season. Known as a Manchester United flop (but cult hero) Forlan found success in Spain with Atletico Madrid.
The Golden Boot was denied only by Thomas Mueller's superior assist figures and a lasp gasp free-kick in the third-place match nearly took it to extra time. Ultimately Forlan has enjoyed a brilliant season, enjoying European success and relative World Cup success which must place him into a strong position for the Ballon D'Or, an accolade which many would say he deserved.
Asamoah Gyan (Ghana)
The Ghana team which achieved so much during the World Cup was spearheaded by this man. Quick and powerful he made a reputation for himself. Unfortunately he will also be remembered as the man who missed Ghana's key last gasp penalty against Uruguay, then moments later scored in the penalty shoot-out to little avail.
A decent domestic season in the French league, and a good World Cup which saw him achieve a transfer to the Premier League will make Gyan an outside bet for the Ballon D'Or.
Andres Iniesta (Spain)
Scorer of the World Cup winning goal Iniesta is of course a front runner for the Ballon D'Or. A key part of Barcelona's good domestic campaign and Spain's brilliant World Cup campaign, Iniesta and Xavi form what is probably the best midfield partnership in the world in terms of creativity, accuracy and potency.
Despite falling to Mourinho's Inter Milan in Europe, Iniesta's year was one of success meaning that he can only be considered a very good bet for the Ballon D'Or, and his greatest opposition may come from his midfield partner.
Julio Cesar (Brazil)
Inter Milan's no. 1 during a campaign which relied heavily on defensive capabilities. Cesar made crucial saves against the likes of Messi, Bojan and Mueller to help Milan win the Champions League, and he did the same in the Italian Cup and in the Italian league.
Internationally his form was not quite so high, fumbling Sneijder's cross/shot into the net in the crucial game against Holland and like the rest of the Brazilians on the list, his chances of winning the Ballon D'Or will be affected by a poor World Cup, but unlike the rest of the Brazilians a successful treble domestically will force him into some sort of contention.
Miroslav Klose (Germany)
Mister World Cup. Klose's poor domestic season means that he is a real outside possibility for the Ballon D'Or, but he once again proved his doubters wrong when it mattered internationally. A mere three goals all season for a free scoring Bayern Munich had people calling for his international career to be closed, but goals in the opening game against Australia, against England and then Argentina twice cemented Klose's reputation as a tournament speciality striker (much to the chagrin of the Munchen management).
If Klose makes the next World Cup, a single goal will draw him equal to the all time record, two obviously beating it, you had better believe he has every intention of doing so.
Phillip Lahm (Germany)
Stand in(?) Germany captain Phillip Lahm played himself into contention for the role permanently. Lahm also continued to play himself into contention as best wing-back in the world with solid defensive displays and buccaneering attacking runs down the right, linking formidably with Mueller.
A successful year including the CL final and the World Cup semi-final should put Lahm in a decent position, but he may well find he was outperformed by team-mate and vice-captain Schweinsteiger in the battle for the Ballon D'Or.
Probably Lahm's fiercest competition for the role of best right-back, Maicon is fearsome opposition indeed. Quick and powerful, the Brazillian's World Cup will be remembered for the 'did he mean it, didn't he mean it' goal against North Korea. Brazil's World Cup campaign was a poor one by their traditional standards but Maicon succeeded the small feat of winning the treble with Inter Milan, League, Cup and Europe.
Brazil's failure may be a major stumbling block to Maicon, whose unbelievable season will probably not be topped off by the Ballon D'Or.
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
One of, if not the worlds best player. His Barcelona form was blistering at times. Arsenal fans will still remember his single handed destruction of their back-line, scoring four goals himself in one game.
Messi's World Cup however was poor by his own standards. Teams focussed on stifling him and Germany's Friedrich and Mertesacker made him utterly anonymous in their match.
Messi is obviously an immensely talented individual well worth the accolades he has been given, but I would be surprised if he won this years Ballon D'Or because of his international form.
Thomas Mueller (Germany)
Mueller enjoyed an absolutely fantastic first professional season, winning the German League, the German Cup, reaching the Champions League final and the World Cup semi-final. He then scored in the victorious third place play off. Mueller also won the Golden boot, being directly responsible for eight goals as well as the gong for best young player. Not bad for a twenty year old with one season of first team football under his belt.
His season performances earned him a late call-up to the injury plagued German squad and he did not disappoint. His performance against England was brilliant, and he got revenge on Maradona, who mistook him for a water-boy in an earlier friendly, by scoring against his Argentina within four minutes. He was very unlucky to miss the semi for a dubious booking and there will still be people wondering 'what if' he had been playing against Spain.
Considering his unknown status before last season, and his success at such a young age Thomas Mueller must be considered a real contender for the Ballon D'Or award, which would grace an already rather full trophy cabinet for such a youthful player.
Mesut Oezil (Germany)
Football 'wunderkind' Mesut Oezil exploded onto the scene last season with stunning performances for Werder Bremen and Germany, belying his young age. His trickery, pace and creativity were absolutely vital to Werder's decent season and Germany's great World Cup run, make no mistake, he is the future of German football and the team, while not over-reliant, can miss his ability to unlock his defence.
Mueller's goals overshadowed Oezil's contributions to some extent but to underestimate his importance, including assists and an important goal against Ghana would be a mistake. There is a reason that Kaka cannot get back into the Madrid team, and Oezil is it.
Oezil's successes were moderate last season, but his growth as a footballer was huge, making him a realistic candidate for the honour of the Ballon D'Or.
Carlos Puyol (Spain)
A key member of two of the best passing teams on the planet, Puyol is not included for his own slide rule passing, but for his enforcer role. The slightly delicates midfield's ahead of him need some steel and Puyol applies it in bucket loads. Add to this that fact it was his headed goal against Germany, when the rest of the team were looking bereft of ideas which took Spain to the final and Puyol looks a good bet.
Unfortunately for him, history shows defenders only very rarely win this award, so don't be surprised if he doesn't, but he is rightly included in the short-list as one of the worlds best.
Arjen Robben (Holland)
The flying Dutchman enjoyed a great season with Bayern, winning league and cup as well as reaching the CL final due to Robben's stunning goals against Manchester United and Fiorentina. He was also key in Holland's surge to the World Cup final chipping in with important goals and assists.
Surprisingly, Robben also remained injury free for much of the last year which will add to the pro list in his case. The quality of his goals and the sheer amount of influence he had for Bayern and Holland will make Robben a realistic candidate for the Ballon D'Or.
Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany)
Sebastian Schweinsteiger, formally known as a lightweight tricky winger, has matured into one of the best central midfielders in the world in one year. As Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery took control of the Bayern Munich flanks there were those who worried for Schweinsteiger's continued Bayern existence. These fears were unfounded. Following several positional switches Schweinsteiger settled next to Van Bommel in the centre and has not looked back.
He has solidified in stature, gaining physical strength but he has retained the quick feet of an attacker. He is hard in the tackle and had a wonderfully accurate pass to match his creativity with the ball. While Lahm was captain, Schweinsteiger led, acting as fulcrum to most of Germany's attacks and never stopping in attack or defence.
Schweinsteiger's performances for Bayern and Germany last year must put him in a strong position for the Ballon D'Or, but Germany's ultimate failure to win the World Cup may cost him.
Wesley Sneijder (Holland)
The key man in Inters treble winning campaign, the Real Madrid outcast proved his worth in a big way by acting as the creative outlet for a defensive team. He then went and played magnificently in the World Cup, as he and Robben dragged Holland to the final (two big mistakes by Madrid?). His dead-ball delivery, guile and eye for goal made him deadly last year, and Sneijder can rightly consider himself a real contender for the Ballon D'Or award.
David Villa (Spain)
Torres was almost completely anonymous during the World Cup, but this didn;t slow Spain at all. Into his place stepped David Villa, who thrived on the Spanish midfield's passes and put himself into contention for the Golden Boot, scoring five but falling to Mueller's assist rate.
Playing wide left and cutting in Villa was one of the best performers of the tournament, eclipsing Torres completely.
Domestically, struggling Villareal was not the place for Villa to win much silverware but he kept up his impressive form during the season, his form in the World Cup will make him a real contender for the Ballon D'Or.
Xavi, the midfield maestro. The man who makes Spain and Barcelona tick. There is nothing new to say about Xavi which isn't quickly becoming clichéd. The man is a brilliant player, rivalled by very few for his ability to pick a pass, beat a man and overcome players of seeming greater strength.
A vital cog in the World Cup winning team Xavi must be a front runner for the Ballon D'Or, as while Barcelona's exploits were not quite as successful as seasons past (but still rather successful), Spain simply would not function as they did without him.
There you have it, all twenty three candidates and an idea of their chances of winning, if you disagree or have any points don't hesitate to comment and I'll do my best to answer each personally.