Individual awards in team sports are illogical, nonsensical beauty pageants at the best of times, but you have to applaud FIFA for their efforts to strip the Ballon d’Or of any legitimacy whatsoever.
What was once France Football’s celebration of brilliance is now Sepp Blatter’s bunch of petrol station flowers, hastily snatched up to end an argument.
Voting for the Ballon d’Or was supposed to close last Friday and would almost certainly have resulted in a victory for Franck Ribery. This would hardly have been an injustice, given that the Frenchman was one of the shinier lights of a team that won the Bundesliga, the German Cup and the Champions League.
Unfortunately for Ribery, he now stands the same chance of winning the award as you or I because FIFA, in their wisdom, have reopened the polls and invited the electorate to cast their vote again. The announcement was made, funnily enough, shortly after Cristiano Ronaldo had stood under the floodlights with his hands aloft, surrounded by the wreckage of the Swedish national team.
Now, let’s be clear. Ronaldo is not simply one of the greatest footballers of his generation, he is one of the greatest footballers of any generation. Drop this bronzed nugget of highly trained, highly disciplined preening man-flesh into any era you choose and I guarantee he would prevail. It is only because of Lionel Messi, who I remain unconvinced is of this earth, that he is rarely recognised as such.
If the Ballon d’Or should go to the man who made the greatest personal impact in the entirety of 2013 then there’s no doubt that Ronaldo should be a major contender, though poor Ribery, his arms laden with silverware, would like to stress that Ronaldo didn’t actually win anything this year.
But that’s not how the Ballon d’Or works. The polls have closed. The votes have been counted. You can’t just change the rules because it’s not turning out the way you wanted.
FIFA claim that the decision to re-open the polls, and to allow the electorate to change their votes, was purely due to low turnout. We asked them to release turnout figures, but they didn’t get back to us. Would an organisation as respected as FIFA really rig any kind of voting process to secure their preferred result? I guess we’ll never know.
Without proof, cynics might might suspect that this apparent gerrymandering is a frantic attempt by Sepp Blatter to repair the damage caused by the light-hearted Ronaldo skit he performed to the Oxford Students Union. This would be a great shame because that skit was actually quite funny and remains the best thing that Blatter has ever done for football.
Ronaldo, of course, didn’t agree. He wouldn’t. In a terse Facebook post, he said that Blatter’s jape, “shows clearly the respect and consideration that FIFA has for me, for my club and my country. Much is explained now.”
It’s quite a leap to take a bit of mickey-taking and use it as evidence of a shadowy conspiracy bent on denying Real Madrid and Portugal success. I mean, he only made fun of the way he walks. It was hardly a roasting.
But Blatter cannot afford to have one of the world’s most marketable superstars accusing him of favouritism. He needs to be seen to be loved by the great and the good. This is, after all, the man who hauled a grieving Nelson Mandela out of mourning for his granddaughter just for a photo opportunity at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Ronaldo might deserve to win the Ballon d’Or, he might not. In a year when European football was dominated by a truly great German team, the idea of an individual award is silly anyway. But changing the rules so late in the process just so that the boss looks good is ridiculous. Once again, FIFA are a laughing stock.
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