Ballon d'Or: No Luis Suarez, no credibility for FIFA's top prize


It is 76 days until the presentation of the 2014 FIFA Ballon d’Or in Zurich and already the entire procedure has become a complete laughing stock following the announcement on Tuesday of the shortlist for the award.

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The reputation of the trophy has been besmirched before by poor decision making, and the latest panel has continued the trend by seemingly picking 23 names at random.

While there can be no doubting that the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Costa, Thomas Muller and Angel Di Maria deserve inclusion, the selection of Andres Iniesta and Eden Hazard leave the mouth agape.

Had there been no other realistic candidates then those additions may have been more understandable, but the exclusions of Luis Suarez and Xabi Alonso, among others, are utterly baffling.

Yes, Suarez has only recently returned from a four-month suspension, but this is meant to be a 12-month award. The only possible reason for his name not appearing among the 23 is by way of a reaction to the bite on Giorgio Chiellini which ended his World Cup. But the Ballon d’Or is a footballing prize, not a political statement.

Just as he sat out the first five games of the 2013-14 Premier League season because of a biting ban but later collected the Player of the Year award, Suarez has already been punished and should be given the opportunity to have his name attached to the golden prize.

While it may be right to argue that he has not been among the best three players in the world in 2014, he certainly ranks among the top 23. His phenomenal campaign with Liverpool pushed Brendan Rodgers’ men to within a whisker of a first English title in 24 years, and the difference between that campaign and the current one is stark. Without Suarez, Liverpool is a Premier League also ran. With him, the Reds could reach for the stars.

His form was magnificent throughout the first six months of 2014, and his extraordinary run of 10 goals in four games in Dec. 2013 also deserves recognition given that they were scored after voting had closed for the 2013 Ballon d’Or. By netting twice for Uruguay against England despite having not played in five weeks through injury, he left everyone under no illusions as to just how good he is.

Very few players can claim to have matched the feats of Suarez or Alonso over the past 12 months, and certainly not Iniesta or Hazard.

The latter has only recently rediscovered his top form after a difficult beginning to 2014. He was unable to have a real impact on the second half of last season as Chelsea faded out of the Premier League title race, while at the World Cup he was expected to be Belgium’s go-to man but ended up flopping. He was even left appealing to the national press to remove the many ratings of less than four out of 10 that he had received in Brazil.

Iniesta, meanwhile, seems to get selected for individual awards year-on-year no matter what his general performance levels, and in 2014 more than any other year in the past decade he has been underwhelming. He dropped below his previous high standards for both club and country as each lost their status as the leading lights in the game. Gone are the days when three Barcelona players deserve to be in the final running for the Ballon d’Or, but FIFA seems to want to continue the myth for no clear reason.

Xabi Alonso was exactly the kind of midfielder that Iniesta wasn’t in 2014. He was at the peak of his powers as Real Madrid won the Copa del Rey and stormed unabated to the Champions League title, and while he played no part in the final triumph over Atletico Madrid due to suspension he did much of the hard work on the way to Lisbon.

Even since moving to Bayern Munich in August, the former Liverpool man has continued to deliver dominating performances. He has immediately slotted into a side that is dominating the Bundesliga and only last week humiliated Roma 7-1 in Italy.

We shouldn’t be surprised though. In 2010, Wesley Sneijder failed to make the final three despite leading Inter to an unprecedented treble and being the five-goal inspiration behind Netherlands’ run to the World Cup final. Moreover, teammate Diego Milito scored the clinching goals in the Champions League win, Serie A triumph and Coppa Italia victory but didn't even get onto the shortlist.

Even last year, Mesut Ozil made the 23-man list despite not netting in 2013 until April and struggling to have the desired impact at Real Madrid. Meanwhile, Andrea Pirlo and Xavi once again found their names included despite their equally falling stars.

We haven't even considered the coaching nominations - particularly the inexplicable choice this year of United States manager Jurgen Klinsmann.

When the world gathers in Switzerland on Jan. 12, it is likely that the right man will be crowned as the greatest player on the planet for 2014. But the shortlist again fails to accurately reflect the best 23 players in the world this year. The result is another vote of no-confidence in FIFA and in the procedure involved in selecting the Ballon d'Or winner.