Insert “soccer moralists bite back” joke here: Luis Suárez has been left off the FIFA Ballon D’Or shortlist because he’s a bad man.
That’s the only possible conclusion, since in 2013-14 he scored 31 goals in 33 EPL games for Liverpool and won two prestigious player of the year awards. But then … well, y’know. This happened:
Not that Suárez would have won anyway, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi still doing what they do. But he’d surely have been top-five, possibly top-three. And the award’s meant to reward exceptional ability, not behaving like Mother Teresa in cleats. But the Ballon, voted by international captains, head coaches and journalists (looks like my ballot’s been lost in the post, again) has always been about personality and popularity, and there isn’t much love for Suarez outside Barcelona right now.
Back in 2010, FIFA merged it own award with France Football’s, and the magazine’s journalists and FIFA Football Committee members select the shortlist. So it’s not a shock that FIFA representatives didn’t select a guy the organization recently banned for four months.
Naturally, the 23-man list has a strong World Cup flavor. There are six members of the victorious Germany team; tournament standouts Paul Pogba, Arjen Robben and James Rodriguez are also in contention for the prize, which is announced in Zurich on January 12. After six straight years, this time there’s no nomination for Xavi. Club-wise, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid are tied with six players apiece. Neymar is the only Brazilian and Yaya Touré the sole African.
There’s one intriguing name on the list for Coach of the Year: a certain Jurgen Klinsmann. Yes, the US put up a great fight in Brazil, I believe that we will win, etc. – but Klinsmann ahead of Jorge Luis Pinto, who steered Costa Rica into the quarterfinals? That’s one round further than the US, and the Ticos only lost to the Netherlands in a penalty shootout. Costa Rica topped its group ahead of Uruguay, Italy and England.
Yet Pinto — and Colombia’s José Pékerman — miss out, while Klinsmann, José Mourinho (after a trophyless season) and Louis van Gaal are in the top 10. Pep Guardiola is there, just a couple of weeks after a biography revealed he shouldered the blame for Bayern’s 4-0 Champions League defeat by Real because he completely screwed up the team’s tactics on its biggest night of the season.
Surely the coach’s award doesn’t have to be a popularity contest as well.