The winner of the 2013 Ballon D’Or will be unveiled only on January 13 but, following the release of the shortlist of the 23 candidates for the award, the loser has already emerged in distinctive and incontrovertible fashion.
For English football, or rather English players, the Ballon D’Or shortlist makes for grim reading, a damning verdict on how far behind its European counterparts English football has fallen.
Granted, the much admired Bundesliga has only two more players on the shortlist than the Premier League – seven against five – while La Liga boasts six candidates even though one of them, Radamel Falcao, has now left the Spanish league.
What’s more indicative though, is that none of the five Premier League’s representatives – Robin Van Persie, Eden Hazard, Mesut Ozil, Yaya Toure and Luis Suarez – are English, while three out of the seven candidates from the Bundesliga are Germans and Andres Iniesta and Xavi flag the Spanish flag among La Liga’s representatives.
The last time English football wasn’t awarded a single nominee in the shortlist for football governing body’s most prestigious individual award was 2010, when England were taught a lesson by Germany in the round of 16 of the World Cup and the national game was left licking its wounds yet again.
Michael Owen won the European Footballer of the Year Award in 2001 – only in 2010 did FIFA decide to merge their award with the original Ballon D’Or, which was originally awarded only to European players – but over the 12 years following Owen’s triumph English players could only muster a couple of third and second places.
At first glance, the task of having an English player crowned as the best footballer in the world looks ominous.
Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard have entered the winter of their careers and while they both remain highly influential figures for their respective clubs, neither will improve on the podium finish they achieved in 2005.
Ashley Cole, John Terry and Rio Ferdinand paid the fact of playing in positions which fail to grab the public’s attention in the way a striker or a midfielder would do and age is longer on their side.
Having put a difficult season and a turbulent summer behind him, Wayne Rooney looks to have rediscovered the form that had made him one the best and most feared players of the continent but, even at his best, the United striker remains a couple of notches below the world’s elite.
Jack Wilshere’s potential has been consistently hampered by injuries and, as it stands, the Arsenal midfielder is yet to establish himself for England, let alone staking his claim to demand world recognition.
Furthermore, unlike Rooney’s, Wilshere’s trophy cabinet remains empty at the moment and while not entirely his fault, the issue needs to be addressed if the Arsenal midfielder is to be considered among the world’s best.
Emulating Lev Yashin – the only goalkeeper to have won the award in its original format in 1963 – was always going to be an arduous task for Joe Hart but the Manchester City’s custodian hasn’t helped himself over the last 12 months.
After emerging as one the world’s best keeper in the 2011-12 season, Hart showed he’s still a long way from being mentioned in the same breath as Iker Casillas, Manuel Neuer and Gianluigi Buffon and his latest blunder could prove to be a serious blow to the England keeper’s self-confidence.
English players’ struggles however, shouldn’t come as a surprise, rather a timely reminder of how far behind its German and Spanish counterparts, English football finds itself at the moment.
The all-conquering Bayern team that swept opponents last year had a strong German backbone and three of those players – Manuel Neuer, Philip Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger – made it into the shortlist.
The same can be said about Barcelona as, even though they’re not included in the 23 nominees, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets and Cesc Fabregas all feature regularly for Spain.
Until England will address that problem, Michael Owen’s successor will not materialise anytime soon.