FIFA Ballon D'Or: Where is Internazionale's Wesley Sneijder?
So now we know. In the world according to FIFA, the three best players on the planet in 2010 are the Barcelona trio of Xavi Hernández, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi. Over this past weekend Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport first broke the news, which was then confirmed on Monday by France Football, that Inter and Holland talisman Wesley Sneijder would not be on the three-man shortlist.
The Dutch international was among the favourites for the prestigious award following his major role in winning the treble and inspiring his national team to the World Cup final as joint top scorer for the competition. While both were undoubtedly team efforts, it is hard to imagine any of those outcomes had the midfielder not played at the consistently high level he managed throughout the campaign.
Clearly, such things are down to the personal preferences of those allowed to vote, and any number of factors must be taken in account when settling on a winner, but to snub one of the most in-form and influential players of last season appears, at first glance, far more ludicrous than Qatar hosting a major tournament on merit.
Since it's inception the award has undergone a number of changes before becoming the joint France Football/FIFA hybrid it has now become, and knowledge of those changes perhaps helps when trying to understand Sneijder's omission. It was conceived by the magazine's chief writer, Gabriel Hanot, who asked his colleagues to vote for the player of the year in Europe in 1956.
Originally, journalists could only vote for European players at European clubs, meaning that players like Diego Maradona and Pelé were ineligible. In 1995, the first change in the rules allowed non-European players at European clubs to be considered and that same year Milan's George Weah was the winner.
The rules next changed in 2007 and players of any club in the world became eligible, also meaning the number of journalists allowed to vote rose to 96, an increase from the 52 European journalists the year before.
Has FIFA got it wrong? Should Sneijder be in the top three?
Obviously, this is a World Cup year and that rightly bears huge influence on the award as it has since the rule changes to allow any player to be considered.
A quick recap of winners in those seasons highlights just how much significance the tournaments best players have had on the voting: 1998 saw Zinedine Zidane crowned, despite a moderate club season, 2002 saw Brazil's Ronaldo triumph and Fabio Cannavaro won the award four years ago.
In every case, the three-man shortlist was made up of either finalists or the tournaments top scorer.
Compare that to this years nominees and the odd man out is Messi, yet scratching the surface and his phenomenal form makes him surely among the top three players in the world today. Xavi too has been irrepressible all year long, out-passing, out-thinking and—despite never gaining credit for it—outrunning most players he shares time on a pitch with.
Easily recognisable as the beating heart of the tiqui-taca passing carousel of both club and country, he is another name who clearly deserves recognition for his exploits during the past 12 months.
Which brings us to Iniesta, which is where you can argue a strong case for including Sneijder instead. Clearly another hugely important player for Barca and scorer of the only goal in the World Cup Final, he only started 20 club games last season in total and suffered with injury throughout the campaign.
He did have a very good tournament with Spain, yet it would be quite easy to make the same case for his teammate Gerard Piqué, who's impact and influence was arguably greater on both teams. Weighing Iniesta's year against Sneijder's is difficult, as the Dutchman's looks hugely impressive on paper.
The reality is quite strange, however. Yes, he netted five goals in open play at World Cup, yet he has not managed a single goal from open play in Serie A in the whole calendar year. While his importance to Jose Mourinho cannot be understated, his form under new Inter coach Rafael Benitez is nowhere near his previous level.
Remembering the award is judged across the whole year means that for the latter half of that period he has been nowhere near the class of player of those on the list. Perhaps much of the choice comes down to style, while the world drools over Spain and Barcelona much has been said and written about the way Holland and Inter played last season.
Perhaps the teams are not as fun to watch, but this is an individual award and to not recognise the Inter midfielder is surely as big an error as Diego Milito not making the original thirty man list?
When the winner is formally unveiled in Zurich on January 10 it will seem wrong to be without the player who did so much to put Inter at the top of European Football and fired Holland to the World Cup Final, but perhaps Wesley Sneijder can take heart in being the fourth best player in the world.
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