Cracking the Ballon d’Or 2013

This year FIFA’s best player award went to Cristiano Ronaldo amidst a lot of speculation. We at Goalden Times look at the voting pattern to understand the dynamics behind the final choice.

So, as expected widely – and deservedly so – Cristiano Ronaldo reclaims the most prestigious individual award in world football after four years. While the debate continues on whether it is justified to award one individual in a team game, no one is questioning why Ronaldo won it. Ballon d’Or winner is decided by coaches, captains and media personnel across the globe. Each can nominate three players who, according to them, have outperformed their counterparts. The first ranked player gets five points, second three and the last player gets one point from each vote.

If we analyse the numbers from last two years’ voting – actually, there is no need for analysis –Lionel Messi won it hands down against Ronaldo.

As is evident from the above tables, captains, coaches and media representatives across the world had unanimously chosen Messi as the best player in 2011 and 2012. Even though there was a slight shift towards the Portuguese star in 2012, that was not enough to cover the mammoth gap between the two.

But the focus shifted to a certain Franck Ribery in 2013 on the back of his treble winning season with Bayern Munich. So, let us see how he fared against these two, along with Andres Iniesta and Xavi – voted the third best player for the last few seasons – and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who will always be the winner in his own opinion.


This is undoubtedly one of the most fiercely contested years — at least among the top three. And that does not include Zlatan. It is apparent that Ribery was the media favourite. But that is not all, let us dig a bit deeper.

Messi and Ribery had to contend with their own teammates who were all in good form throughout the season! This is a paradox, especially considering football is a team game where individual brilliance should auger well only for the team. But not here. Barcelona and Bayern teammates have robbed Messi and Ribery off precious points which might not have changed the outcome but certainly would have resulted in a photo finish between Ronaldo and Messi.





So we find the following:

  • Ribery has been Media favourite in Asia and Europe – he got the First choice vote almost three times more than his closest rival, Ronaldo there.
  • In other regions, he runs close to both Messi and Ronaldo and thus emerges the overall Media favourite.
  • Ronaldo and Messi carry on their usual battle in every other category – barring the African Coaches’ voting, where Messi misses out the 2nd spot to Ribery by a single vote, Ribery does not feature in the top two in any other segment.
  • Asia – the region which generates maximum revenue for the European football through television rights – is equally divided between the top two as far as the national team captains and coaches are concerned.
  • Same is the case for European coaches. However, European captains have been faithful to their continental colours – only six out of 45 thought Messi was the most outstanding player of the year.
  • But they cannot be blamed. In Africa, both the captains’ and coaches’ groups thought that Messi was only second best to Ronaldo.
  • The competition was neck to neck in Other regions.

Messi had an injury , and by his own unbelievably high standards, a pretty moderate season. So Ronaldo was a firm favourite to win this year. But even with Messi’s average year, most of the people thought he was too good not to be their second choice. This is where Ribery lost ground – it was a three-horse race where Ribery ran Ronaldo close for the first choice vote but was nowhere close as the second choice.BDR_8

More numbers

  • There were representatives from 19 countries – and a total of 92 votes – where the top vote did not go to any of the podium finishers. But there was no country where the national team coach, captain and media representative – all three picked up someone besides Ronaldo, Messi and Ribery as their favourite.
  • Only 27 people did not have anyone of the top three feature in their top two picks. Only one team’s – New Zealand – captain and coach did not vote for any of the top-two. They preferred Gareth Bale followed by Neymar. But their last vote went to Messi.
  • There were 11 instances where the entire vote set differed with the final outcome. Understandably this exclusive list comprises Messi and Ronaldo themselves – being captain of their national teams, they could not vote for themselves and hence decided not to vote for their direct competitors also. The list also features coaches from Belgium and Italy. And only one media personnel, Seium Michael from Eritrea, Eastern Africa.

The Journey Continues for France

Laurent Blanc becomes one more casualty at the altar of moulding a temperamental bunch of Les Bleus. Ogo Sylla reports on what failed him

It has been six years now since the World Cup 2006 final and France still seem to be struggling to make any real headway in international tournaments. Of course, this may be a harsh view, and a more clement judge might offer some kudos to Laurent Blanc’s side for being the first to have progressed beyond the group stages of an international competition since that fated final in Germany. Beyond such a raw analysis, however, Les Bleus have made very little headway as a team, given their image at home.

Les Bleus under Laurent Blanc played as a completely different outfit from when Raymond Domenech was in charge. Blanc did away with the double-pivot midfield and switched to a 4-3-3 which looked to impose itself technically and open up the pitch. Blanc had often openly expressed his admiration for the Spanish style of play, which was the platform of his discourse upon his appointment and the cornerstone of his projet de jeu (project/style of play).

France opened their Euro 2012 campaign against England, where after completely dominating the match, they could only manage a 1-1 draw. They went on to perform much better though in their second match against tournament hosts, Ukraine, handily brushing them aside in the second half-scoring two quality goals. With four points in the group, it would have taken a miracle for France to get out of the groups and a win against Sweden would secure them top spot. It was perhaps that complacency which saw them fall 2-0 to an inspired and spirited Swedish team. This defeat did not prevent France from securing a quarter-final berth although it did allow England to top the group putting an end to its 23-match unbeaten run under Blanc’s reign. A defeat, ill-timed indeed, as Les Bleus would find themselves pitted against the defending champions, Spain in the next round.

Lax defending cost France the top spot with a defeat against Sweden

Though France had not been the most convincing of teams so far, it certainly showed that Blanc’s projet de jeu had taken hold. Yohan Cabaye was the surprise package and standout player of this French side, as well as symbol of Blanc’s vision: technically gifted, good range of passing, and generous in his contributions on the pitch in terms of team ethics. Franck Ribéry went through a bit of a metamorphosis throughout this Euro. The Bayern München winger had become a prominent hate figure amongst many French fans following his involvement in the Knysna ‘bus of shame’ incident at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. However, he entered this competition with an irreproachable attitude. Ribéry worked hard for the team and was one of the few consistent and dangerous players on the team. The one individual, who really disappointed both Blanc and the fans, was unquestionably France’s star player: Karim Benzema. The French striker was coming off his best season with Real Madrid and had really matured as a player under Jose Mourinho. However, he showed none of that during the Euro, with only two assists (against Ukraine) to his name.

Ribery and Benzema hardly fired together
Giroud was not utilised

Besides the players though, we also have to assess Blanc and how he managed the team during the Euro. This was Blanc’s first international competition in a young coaching career and this was always going to be a great challenge for the Frenchman. We already mentioned the impressive 23-match unbeaten run Blanc oversaw and how his vision seemed to be finally taking root. Irrespective of the many positives about Blanc’s tenure, there were some negatives as well that many a fan found it difficult to come to terms with. One of them was his deployment of Benzema as a no.9 and his refusal to partner him with Ligue 1 top-scorer, Olivier Giroud. One of Benzema’s main issues as a striker is that he often evacuates the penalty area to link up deeper in midfield. In fact, the striker is more of a neuf-et-demi (nine-and-a-half) and benefits from the presence of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo (in Real Madrid) who fills that space up front when Benzema drops deeper. So Blanc’s system with Benzema operating as a no.9 left the penalty area unguarded. The issue is all the more aberrant when we consider how simply the solution could have been implemented with Giroud or even Jeremy Menez who could have emulated Cristiano Ronaldo’s movement in the final third (when we consider that Carlo Ancelotti played him as a no.9 in the final stages of his season with PSG).

Much of Euro was spent like this

Blanc’s greatest failing, however, came during the fated quarter-final against Spain. The problem is not so much the loss to the most dominant international side of our generation, but Blanc’s decisions during this penultimate game. Against Spain, Blanc attempted to counteract the Andres Iniesta threat down La Roja’s left flank by playing with two right-backs: Mathieu Debuchy and Anthony Réveillère. Now there’s nothing too scandalous about this except when we consider the fact that Blanc also stationed a defensive midfielder, Yann M’Vila, slightly to the right of midfield for further reinforcement. It became all the more ironic when both full-backs were beaten and found themselves unable to stop Jordi Alba’s cross from the left which Xabi Alonso turned in for the opening goal.

The more pertinent point though, besides Blanc’s over-cautiousness in his fixation to seal Iniesta, was what his choices on the day let transpire. It had nothing to do with sending the wrong message to his team. It had more to do with going completely counter to his whole projet de jeu. After berating the English for having refused to play and defending throughout the game against France, Blanc turned around and did just the same. After stating that he wanted a team that imposed its style and that did not react or change its style regardless of the opponent, Blanc did just the opposite. Two years at the helm of Les Bleus, yet it was this incoherence which made Blanc’s entire work come to naught. In fact, in this single game against Spain, Blanc willingly and effectively threw away his entire projet de jeu and was unceremoniously thrown out of the Euro for it.

It’s difficult to come away with many positives regarding Les Bleus’ exit from Euro 2012. Besides the 23-match unbeaten run and France managing to come out of the group stages of an international competition, we are really left grasping at straws. One could point out that France did also manage to win its first match in an international competition (France 2-0 Ukraine) since the 2006 World Cup, but at this point it somewhat sounds like a backhanded compliment.

One of the alarming things from it all is that Blanc has failed in his operation to bring the team any closer to the hearts of the supporters. Whether it was the team’s performance against Spain or off-field incidences like Samir Nasri along with a few others publicly taking on the media and causing a rift in the dressing room, there has been a clear disconnect. Nasri, Jérémy Menez, Yann M’Vila, and Hatem Ben Arfa have all been summoned before a disciplinary commission of the French Football Federation (FFF).  Blanc even stepped down from his post following a strained relationship with FFF president, Noël LeGraët. Didier Deschamps is in LeGraët’s line of sight but the former Marseille coach has reportedly temporarily rebuffed the FFF president’s feelers. Of course, Deschamps’ agent, Jean-Pierre Bernès – who is also Blanc’s agent – could become a sticking point in any negotiation knowing LeGraët’s apprehension of the super agent’s closeness to the FFF organization.

Today France finds itself without a coach, is out of another major competition and has sullied their public image before their own fans and the international public. Despite all the talk about Domenech having been a national pariah and Blanc the supposed saviour of French football, the Les Bleus haven’t really climbed out of the trough in the past two years.

Les Bleus Look to Turn It Around

The French were humiliated both on and off the ground in the 2010 World Cup. Ogo Sylla reports on if Euro 2012 is the right tournament to expect a new journey.

Much to my surprise, Les Bleus are coming into EURO 2012 without much fanfare. The French fans and media have become quite disillusioned about their team of late. There was the fiasco of the “bus of Naisna” during the World Cup in South Africa, when the team

Blanc has an unenviable task of leading France after the disaster of 2010 World Cup

revolted against their coach Raymond Domenech. Laurent Blanc thus stepped in, after a successful three years with Bordeaux, where he brought Les Girondins to a second place finish in his first season, then to a first title since a decade as well as a Coupe de la Ligue, and capped it all off with a quarter-final berth in the UEFA Champions League. More so than his successful CV in the early days of his managerial career – when he won the Ligue 1 manager of the year award – Laurent Blanc was a symbol of the much-adored ’98 golden generation that had won the World Cup on home soil. As such, “Le President” (as Laurent Blanc came to be affectionately nicknamed during his stint with Olympique de Marseille) came into the France job with much credit in the bank.

What are France’s real expectations however for the upcoming EURO 2012? According to the French media, a quarter-final berth and according to the French supporters, not even that much. Indeed such pessimism is baffling when you consider the quality of the squad on paper. In every department France has enough to rival the nations being touted as favourites for the EURO 2012.

The solidity & depth of France’s squad is probably best illustrated in its options both in the goalkeeping and fullback options. With Hugo Lloris as the no.1 choice and Steve Mandanda as the backup, Les Bleus possess two world-class custodians who both boast confidence, presence, and quality to single-handedly influence games. The pot is all the more sweetened when you consider that the third option could be Bordeaux’s Cédric Carasso, Saint-Etienne’s Stéphane Ruffier, or even Rennes’ young Benoît Costil.

At the fullback area, it is sad to note that Bacary Sagna will miss out due to the recent leg-break the right-back has suffered. However, Mathieu Debuchy has had a great season for Lille and proven to be one of Europe’s best fullbacks. Of course the loss of Sagna is a blow, but it does leave the door open to Anthony Réveilleère (Lyon) and Christophe Jallet (PSG). The Lyon fullback is more experienced than his PSG counterpart , and so Réveilleère is expected to get the nod as he is a safer bet.  On the left, Patrice Evra and Gaël Clichy remain strong choices despite the loss of Eric Abidal, with even Valencia’s Jérémy Mathieu as a wildcard candidate to make the list.

The France midfield is an interesting one to look at as well. In that department, France is blessed with a plethora of great and promising holding midfielders. However, I suspect that Blanc will go with the usual men he picks and trusts. The first name on the list is sure to be Alou Diarra, who was the captain of Bordeaux during Blanc’s stint as manager. Diarra has had a difficult start of his season since his move to Olympique de Marseille. His performances have greatly improved recently, but the 30-year-old is still some distance away from his Bordeaux form. Despite this, I believe Blanc will pick him, as he kept picking him even during his worst spell with Marseille when the whole of the French fans berated him for it. The other obvious pick will be Yann M’Vila, another favourite of Blanc. Despite a really poor season by his standards, it is unlikely for M’Vila to miss out on the EUROs. M’Vila’s dip in form has mostly been due to fatigue and being overplayed. And indeed it would almost be strange to pick M’Vila when you consider that Rio Mavuba is the best holding midfielder in France, with Toulouse’s Étienne Capoue another interesting option albeit with much less experience at international level.

The unsung pillars of French success - Abou Diaby, Florent Malouda, Alou Diarra, Yann M'Vila

Of course the midfield is not only going to be comprised with defensive midfielders and this is where France’s issues are highlighted. Laurent Blanc likes/aims to play a possession-style game with a lot of movement and ball circulation. Yohan Cabaye and Marvin Martin are two players Blanc is quite fond of and who would be apt to implement his strategy. However Cabaye – despite the great seasons he has enjoyed with Lille and Newcastle – has never been able to carry that form for France and thus always been disappointing. Martin is the more alarming case. After a break-out season when he notched up 17 assists, he only has 5 this year. The dip in form correlating with a mooted transfer that never materialized, a coach he didn’t rate, and so another case of player-power where Martin’s lack of professionalism could have very easily cost him a place at this summer’s EUROs.

You might have noticed that we have not yet discussed France’s attack and central defense. The reason for that is simple, therein lay

Benzema is the only real French attack threat

all the problems. In attack, only Karim Benzema really jumps out. Moreover, we must consider where to play Benzema who can play as a neuf-et-demi (nine-and-a-half) or as an out-and-out striker. If Blanc opts for the former, then who should be the striker ahead of Benzema? Montpellier’s Olivier Giroud is the obvious choice today: Ligue 1 top-scorer with 19 goals and the skill-set and ability to do the job. However it is Giroud’s lack of experience at this level that is worrisome. He only counts three caps for Les Bleus, albeit one in an impressive win against Germany when he really showed his class. Of course the problem remains that, if not Giroud then who? Kevin Gameiro has had a poor season for his new club PSG this year alongside Guillaume Hoarau, to the point that Carlo Ancelotti does not even line them up anymore (which is pertinent considering they are the only two strikers at the club). Loïc Rémy looked to have cemented his place, but inopportune hamstring injuries and poor morale (due to a disastrous season from Marseille this year) makes it difficult to justify his place in the starting eleven today.




The central defence is yet another issue France needs to sort out. However it seems strange to mention this when considering some of the candidates Blanc has to choose from- Adil Rami, Philippe Mexès, Laurent Koscielny, Mamadou Sakho among others. The problem with the aforementioned names is that they were all in line to be picked but have all suffered dips in form, especially Mexès and Rami. Mèxes is no longer trusted by AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri and has effectively been phased out, with Mario Yepes taking his place in the pecking order. Rami had a blistering start to his Valencia career but has really fallen some ways since the rumours of an interest from Barcelona came about and destabilized him. Sakho’s form is the most alarming of the three, having strung along a series of very poor performances that led to Ancelotti freezing him out of the line-up. Indeed Sakho’s dip in form coincidentally manifested with the arrival of Ancelotti, as the French defender maybe failed to cope with the pressure of the Italian’s expectations. Koscielny is by far the most secure of the three mentioned above. As such, we might see possible surprise inclusions of the young Montpellier captain, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, or even of Real Madrid’s Raphaël Varane.

All to play for?

In the end however, Blanc has lost much of the credit and indeed popularity he had when he took the France job. His contractual saga, when he more or less threatened to quit if he was not signed on, only created more critics amongst the French fans. What further irritates Les Bleus fans however are the unfulfilled promises regarding Blanc’s projet de jeu (style of play). Indeed Blanc has often spoken of his admiration for the Spanish style and has made it his goal to emulate it with this team. However, France is quite some ways off from that and has not produced anything remotely close to it. Finally, but certainly not the least, is Blanc’s insistence to include Frank Ribéry in the team. Indeed Ribéry has a terrible reputation in France since the Naisna incident and many are simply calling for him not to be included in the EURO squad. In a way, an omission would be justified given that his performances for Les Bleus have always inexplicably been much poorer than for his club. But in another way as well, the Ribéry case is one that applies to many of Les Bleus’ players. Samir Nasri and Patrice Evra are the more notable examples. This issue has polarized the fans from the players, with the French public labeling them as nothing more than overpaid superstars who don’t care about playing for the shirt. This is France’s biggest stumbling block and challenge for Blanc at the EUROs indeed, to turn the hearts of the French people.

In conclusion, Blanc has a tough battle ahead of him. Le President has to not only win the hearts of the French people but also his team has to perform on the pitch. But then again, both are intrinsically linked and should follow through naturally. Blanc does boast of the ultimate ace-in-the-hole however- a transformed Benzema who possesses all the skills, maturity and leadership to bring this team to a semi-final berth at this summer’s EUROs.