FIFA have released their 23-man shortlist for this year's edition of the Ballon d'Or. Yes, nowadays this is a FIFA institution rather than a France Football institution, so theoretically a player playing outside of Europe can win it, too. I'd mock the theoretical part, but FIFA did award a World Cup to Qatar, so you never know.
In the three years since FIFA took over the running of the award (and UEFA created the Best Player in Europe Award to continue feeling equally important), there's only been one winner: Lionel Messi. Cristiano Ronaldo has placed second each of the last two years with Xavi and Andrés Iniesta coming in third once each. In 2010, those two shared the podium behind Messi. Messi won it in 2009 as well (Cristiano second, Xavi third). So basically, all the podiums have been shared between those four guys and it's all become a bit boring. You have to go back to 2008 to find a new name (Fernando Torres, in third) and to 2007 to find a non Spain-based winner (Kaká with AC Milan). But maybe this year there will be a change, just like there was a changing of the guard in the Champions League and the European football landscape in general (at least it felt like one).
Here are this year's nominees:
Gareth Bale, Edinson Cavani, Radamel Falcao, Eden Hazard, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Andrés Iniesta, Philipp Lahm, Robert Lewandowski, Lionel Messi, Thomas Müller, Manuel Neuer, Neymar, Mesut Özil, Andrea Pirlo, Franck Ribéry, Arjen Robben, Cristiano Ronaldo, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Luis Suárez, Thiago Silva, Yaya Touré, Robin van Persie, Xavi
It'd be tough to argue with any of these choices. Even Neuer makes it as the token goalkeeper and Thiago Silva and Philipp Lahm make it as defenders. See, defensive players are players, too! Thanks for inspiring the next generation of classy, ball-playing defenders, FIFA!
Eden Hazard pops up as the lone Chelsea representative. A Chelsea player has never won this award (although Gullitt, Weah, and Shevchenko all won it before coming to Chelsea); the closest we've come is when Frank Lampard finished a distant second to Ronaldinho in 2005. No shame in that and no shame in Hazard's eventual loss to whomever either.
Things are a bit more interesting on the coaching side of the deal. Did you know there was a coaching award? I didn't. Apparently it started three years ago as well, with Mourinho winning the first one and placing third and second in the two years since (Guardiola and Del Bosque were the other two winners).
Here are this year's nominees:
Carlo Ancelotti (Italy/Paris Saint-Germain FC/Real Madrid CF), Rafael Benítez (Spain/Chelsea FC/SSC Napoli), Antonio Conte (Italy/Juventus), Vicente Del Bosque (Spain/Spain national team), Sir Alex Ferguson (Scotland/Manchester United FC former coach), Jupp Heynckes (Germany/FC Bayern München former coach), Jürgen Klopp (Germany/Borussia Dortmund), José Mourinho (Portugal/Real Madrid CF/Chelsea FC), Luiz Felipe Scolari (Brazil/Brazil national team), Arsène Wenger (France/Arsenal FC).
You'd think this one would have to go to Heynckes or perhaps to Sir Alex as some sort of lifetime achievement. But does FIFA even give out awards to non-Spanish or Spain-based players and managers? I guess we'll find out in December.