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What does the Ballon d'Or say about English football?

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Phil Minshull | 14:35 UK time, Tuesday, 26 October 2010

With perfect timing, an email with the shortlist for the new-look FIFA Ballon d'Or arrived on Tuesday morning just as I was sitting down to write this blog.

For those that don't know, this award replaces the former Fifa World Player of the Year after a merger earlier this year between it and the historic Ballon d'Or award, presented by the magazine France Football, which has been around since 1956.

Having looked through this year's list of initial nominees, two things immediately struck me.

The complete absence of English - or for that matter Scottish, Welsh and Irish - players and the dearth of players from the Premier League.

Well, this is a blog about European football so I'll accentuate some of the positive aspects of football on the continental mainland in a moment but how can it be that the Premier League, which is supposedly - whether it's according to the English football authorities, global TV ratings and merchandising revenues or just punters wearing rose-tinted spectacles - the strongest domestic league in the world, only has three players in the top 23 exponents of the sport in last 12 months.

Count them: Chelsea's Didier Drogba, Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas and Sunderland's Asamoah Gyan, the latter being a slightly unusual choice in my humble opinion. That's it.

No Carlos Tevez, no Wayne Rooney (although it's not inconceivable that there might have been a quick re-think about his inclusion during or after last week's contract soap opera) and, even though he might also have been a long shot as there was not anybody on the list who didn't play at the World Cup, no Gareth Bale.

I'm a cheerleader for La Liga and Serie A but I still can't work out why the Premier League ended up being so badly represented.

If playing in the World Cup was an unspoken criteria for being on shortlist, it seems completely unfair to exclude the likes of Dimitar Berbatov or Andrey Arshavin just because of where they happened to be born.

By contrast, World Cup winners Spain were naturally well represented with seven men in the shortlist, the biggest number of any country, but even then I was surprised that Gerard Pique was left out.

Personally, I would have omitted Carles Puyol and perhaps even Cesc, who was in great form at Arsenal (so I'm guessing that Fifa must have occasionally been looking at Premier League matches last season) but a much more marginal figure in South Africa, only appearing as a substitute in four games.

By virtue of their significant contribution to the Spain squad, and also having Lionel Messi on their books, Barcelona is the best represented club side with six players vying for the honour.

In fact, all 23 men on the list play at European clubs.

The breakdown is 11 players currently in La Liga; five in the Bundesliga, all at Bayern Munich; four in Serie A, again a very one-dimensional selection with the quartet all coming from Inter Milan; and, as mentioned, three from the Premier League.

Tongue-in-cheek comments are already doing the rounds wondering whether Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho - with his Real Madrid side having four - will let their players attend the gala in Zurich on 10 January 2011if they are still in the Spanish Cup, with matches to be played later that week.

The two coaches controversially stopped most of their players attending last week's Príncipe de Asturias awards, where Spain's national team won the country's most prestigious sports award, because of last weekend's La Liga matches.

From my perspective, for their year-long performances for both club and country, my top three for the FIFA Ballon d'Or would be Inter and the Netherlands' Wesley Sneijder as well as the Spain and Barcelona pair of Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez.

However, feel free to comment on who you should win and who has been unjustly omitted from this short list.

This week, it's also impossible not to mention Cristiano Ronaldo after his goalscoring feat in Real Madrid 6-1 thrashing of Racing Santander on Saturday, especially as he's also on the FIFA short-list.

Ronaldo's nomination raises the question about how much reputations count over current form. Photo: Getty

Ronaldo got what the Spanish like to call a "poker", that's four goals in a match (so called because four of a kind is one of the best hands) for the first time in his professional career and he now leads the La Liga scorers with nine goals.

If he carries on like this then he could well be in contention for another trip to what's now the FIFA Ballon d'Or gala having been there for the last three years and won in 2008.
He may have had a dismal World Cup and Real didn't do much in last season's Champions League, which also raises the question about how much reputations count over current form when the shortlist is being constructed, but there's no denying the fact that he's on fire at the moment and the voters - the head coaches and captains of national teams - often have very short-term memories.

His exploits also provided further evidence, if any was required, about why Real Madrid don't need, and didn't want, Rooney. It also indirectly showed how much nonsense was being written last week about supposed links between Rooney and Real.

Real themselves remain unbeaten at the top of La Liga and have scored 16 goals in their last three league games, netting six in back-to-back home games for the first time in 46 years, although I think it's still worth pointing out that so far they have only faced one other team that is in the top eight of La Liga.

They still have to play Villarreal, Barcelona and Valencia, the three teams immediately below them, during the first half of the season and also have local derbies against Atletico Madrid and Getafe.

Changing the subject, my completely unofficial hero of the week award goes not to any individual player but the Real Betis doctor Tomas Calero whose swift thinking and competence saved the life of Salamanca's Miguel Garcia in the two clubs Spanish second division match on Sunday.

Garcia collapsed of an apparent heart attack, exactly on the hour as Betis were making a substitution, and his heart stopped for between 20 and 25 seconds.

Upon seeing the replays of what happened on Monday, my blood froze.

It was all to reminiscent of the television images of when Benfica's Miklos Feher and Sevilla's Antonio Puerta collapsed on the pitch, and tragically later died, during domestic league games in 2004 and 2007.

Fortunately, on this occasion, there was a happier outcome after Calero rushed to the Garcia's aid and administered CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation), including applying a defibrillator.

"'It was fortunate that, when he collapsed, it was right in front of our bench and I saw him fall. As I got to him, I realised it was a cardiac arrest and so we immediately began a process of resuscitation. Thank God the player was saved," reflected Calero modestly on Monday.

Personally, I'd like to see Calero get some kind of special award at the Ballon d'Or gala.

Comments on this blog in the space below. Other questions on European football to:, and I'll get back to answering some next week. I don't need your full address but please put the town/city and country where you come from.


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