As far as I know, about the only angle not taken on Luis Suarez’s handball for Liverpool at Mansfield in the FA Cup last Sunday is that “Lionel Messi would never do that.” Messi as latter-day saint is a theory familiar to viewers of Sky Sports’ La Liga coverage. Their commentators, Gerry Armstrong especially, eulogise over his goals and his attitude: the way he thanks team-mates profusely and immediately and doesn’t make “a meal” of being fouled, or dive or tackle two-footed. And, of course, he would never, EVER deliberately handle the ball to score a winning goal against plucky non-league opposition in a cup competition. Not like that Luis Suarez.
But Messi’s beatification was put back a bit by this week’s FIFA Ballon d’Or vote – which resulted in Messi becoming men’s world player of the year for the fourth consecutive year. Not that the little maestro didn’t deserve his ball of gold. Had the award been for ‘player of the season 2011/12,’ Cristiano Ronaldo would have been the worthy winner after his brilliant performances during Real Madrid’s La Liga triumph, including some hitherto hidden inspirational teamwork which steadied some real Real wobbles prior to their Nou Camp victory in March. But it wasn’t. So, he wasn’t. However, it would have been in-keeping with Messi’s public persona for him to have acknowledged Ronaldo’s contribution to the year by placing the Portuguese star somewhere in his top three – allowing for a natural propensity to thank team-mates Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez profusely for their part in his success by voting for them. But he didn’t.
The Ballon D’Or electorate is the captains and managers of all the FIFA-affiliated international teams, plus one journalist from each of those nations. Thus Messi received a vote as Argentine captain. Ronaldo did not receive a captain’s vote, apparently, because of an ill-timed facial (and therefore ultra-serious for him) injury which momentarily kept him from international duty. Thus, Portugal’s captain’s vote went to Zenit St. Petersburg’s Bruno Alves, who voted for… Cristiano Ronaldo. (BTW: I’m not sure why missing an international game should require a vote to be physically transferred rather than just proxied. But only a cynic would deem it relevant that Ronaldo couldn’t vote for himself). And all votes cast were published. Thus we know that Messi made Iniesta his player of the year, with Xavi second, compatriot Sergio Aguero third and Cristiano bloody Ronaldo (CBR) absolutely bloody nowhere.
Doubtless someone will, if they haven’t already, credit this vote for Aguero to the English Premier League’s magnificence (or Messi having a Sky Sports subscription and enjoying Martin Tyler’s ‘evocative’ commentary on Aguero’s EPL title-winning goal). But it is more likely that Messi was simply as ungenerous towards CBR as the preening Portuguese poser would be towards any rival. And if anyone was going to benefit from this unsaintly ungenerosity, it was going to be a Catalan or an Argentine. National and team-mate bias is, in itself, not surprising. Nevertheless, this bias manifested itself in some curious ways, most obviously in the vote of German team manager Joachim Low. Real Madrid’s Mesut Ozil was his number one, followed by…Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. Neuer’s only other recognition was from Samoan captain Andrew Setefano (who placed him behind Real Madrid’s Xabi Alonso and Juventus’s Andrea Pirlo with CBR and Messi nowhere) and Madagascar journo Clement Rabary.
More national bias came from Italy’s voting triumvirate (who gave Pirlo two firsts and a third), Netherlands captain Wesley Sneijder (Robin Van Persie, first), Sweden’s coach (Zlatan Ibrahimovic, first) and, particularly predictably, Colombia’s trio (Radamel Falcao, two firsts and a second). Team-mates and ex-team-mates bias jumped from Steven Gerrard’s vote (Xabi Alonso third), Iker Casillas (Sergio Ramos first, with which Jose Mourinho would not have been impressed – hence Casillas’s subsequent warming of Real Madrid’s bench?), and Gianluigi Buffon (Pirlo first). Unfortunately, Hungary’s Zoltan Gera didn’t feel so inclined, thus depriving Shane Long of some overdue international recognition. And neither did Guyana’s Chris Nurse, thus leaving my own team, Ryman League Kingstonian (for whom an 18-year-old Nurse played in 2003), to wait another year for FIFA glory.
Among those qualified to play for Weird City would be Algerian captain Majid Bougherra (Karim Benzema, first), Austrian captain Christian Fuchs (Mario Balotelli, third) and Palestine captain Attal Fahed, whose appreciation of the effectiveness of international diplomacy gave Balotelli another third place. Weird City’s captain would be the above-mentioned Setefano, Montenegro’s Mirko Vucinic or Lithuania’s Tomas Danilevicius, none of whom acknowledged Messi or Ronaldo. Vucinic preferred Buffon, Pirlo and Ibrahimovic, suggesting the only football he watched all year was Euro 2012… and not that carefully either. And Danilevicius’s TV pictures must have been even more grainy, as he gave Ibra the nod over Wayne Rooney and Barca’s Gerard Pique. The team would be coached by Thailand’s Winfried Schaefer, who deemed Barca’s Sergio Busquets to be 2012’s best. Schaefer may be available, too, according to his Wikipedia profile writer, who believes his choice of Busquets could threaten his Thai job. And Weird City games would be covered by Wales Online’s Paul Abbandonato, as Abbandonallsense rated Pique third (Pique was the second choice of Zimbabwe’s captain Nelson Matongorere…or at least he would have been if Matongorere was Zimbabwe’s captain, rather than their FA’s technical director – a political whirlpool there, I suspect… or a FIFA typo).
Other political nuggets from the voting list included new nation South Sudan’s captain, coach and media all getting a vote while only Sudan’s media participated. “Myanmar’s” captain and coach were listed, while “Burma’s” media were listed as having “no vote,” – a political whirlpool there, I suspect, too…or another FIFA typo. “No votes” were also attributed to media from the Kyrgyz Republic, which might have attracted comment on (lack of) press freedom, were it not for the United States’ very own Virgin Islands being on the same list, alongside the dictatorship of…er…the Bahamas???? Meanwhile, Ronaldo was listed as ‘Cristiano Ronaldo’ where all others had their surnames first, e.g. Messi Lionel and Rooney Wayne (the only Englishman to feature, thanks to Georgia’s captain putting him first and to the favourable impressions he created with, among others, Cambodia’s coach and Equatorial Guinea’s scribes). A cynic might be persuaded that Ronaldo had demanded to be listed this way otherwise he wasn’t turning up to the awards ceremony (at which Ronaldo’s suit was twice as expensive as Messi’s and Iniesta’s combined – thanks to the Sporting Intelligence website for that in-depth investigative journalism). I can find no evidence of this. But I really wouldn’t put it past him.
Oh… and Luis Suarez? No votes… not even from Uruguay. Next year, though?
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