Cristiano Ronaldo will surely win a fourth Ballon d’Or on Monday, but Luis Suarez was a viable candidate to end football’s eccentric duopoly..
In a world of uncertainty, some things remain the same.
If 2016 was the year of Brexit and Donald Trump, football’s popular vote continues to provide no seismic ripples. When Cristiano Ronaldo converted the winning penalty in Real Madrid’s victory over Atletico Madrid after extra-time in the Champions League final in May, a fourth Ballon d’Or looked likely.
When Ronaldo and Portugal lifted the European Championship trophy in early July, the bunting was already being dusted down to celebrate Ron’s latest wink, gleaming smile and thumbs up. According to the Barcelona newspaper Mundo Deportivo, Ronaldo will be announced winner of the annual prize on Monday.
Portugal’s finest player reportedly conducted an interview with the founders of the award, the newspaper France Football, on Thursday and was presented with his fourth gong later in the evening.
A group of international journalists have voted for this year’s recipient, and most have apparently plumped for more of the same.
The choice of Ronaldo is simple and easy. The Ballon has became ruled by the Messi and Ronaldo duopoly over the past nine years. Messi was presented with his fifth a year ago and Ronaldo will get to within one on Monday.
If one does not win it, the other one does. But was there any real rival to Ronaldo or Messi this year in this game of politics?
There was certainly a strong and valid case to be made for Luis Suarez, who helped himself to 59 goals in 53 games in a season when Barcelona landed La Liga for a 24th time and the Copa del Rey.
It can be argued his role was more important to Barca than Messi or Neymar in fending off Madrid and Atletico.
Suarez scored 40 goals and provided 16 assists to finish the season as Liga’s leading goalscorer. It was the first time since Diego Forlan in 2009 that a player other than Messi or Ronaldo had won the Pichichi Trophy for the country’s most prolific forward.
A tally of 59 goals in 52 goals over the course of 2015/16 was an astonishing return. Suarez scored 10 in nine when Messi was injured.
He has scored 12 goals in 19 matches so far this season, and two for Uruguay.
His goal in the 1-1 draw with Real Madrid in the Clasico last Saturday brought his total for Barca to 96 goals in 114 matches, including 48 assists.
Atletico’s Antoine Griezmann scored six goals in helping France reach the final of Euro 2016, including two against Germany in the semi-final, but being party to defeat to Portugal in the final probably did for his hopes.
Suarez never expected to be recognised at such an elite level. It would be more of a surprise than Leicester lifting the Premier League or the Chicago Cubs carrying off the World Series to see another bloke holding the Ballon. Kaka won it in 2007, but that feels like a different era.
“The Ballon d’Or is more to do with marketing and press than for achievements on the pitch,” said Suarez.
“I’ve earned all the awards I’ve been given.
“I don’t have a chance (in) the Ballon d’Or because it works around marketing and I don’t have that. ”
“My ambition is to win another Champions League, that would be great.”
It seems like Ronaldo’s outstanding contribution in Champions League and European Championship-winning teams has tipped the balance in his favour.
Yet individual excellence cannot solely be measured by numbers. It seems team success feeds into the thought process.
Fabio Cannavaro was named winner in 2006 when he captained Italy to the World Cup, but he was a central defender.
What seems to be vital to the award is representing Barcelona or Real, and being Messi or Ronaldo, a point Franck Ribery of Bayern Munich warmed to at the end of 2013 when the France winger finished third behind Ronaldo and Messi despite carrying off the Bundesliga, Champions League and Club World Cup with Bayern Munch .
“I won everything, with the team and individually. Ronaldo won nothing,” said Ribery.
“I feel I had earned this award. It’s all politics. The Ballon d’Or is no longer for the best player. ”
The Ballon d’Or rewards greatness, but it seemingly cannot see past two men out in a world of 7.5 billion. The duopoly’s domination of the award is almost as eccentric as the ongoing failure to recognise greatness in anybody else.
Perhaps this year more than most, there were alternatives out there. Luis Suarez was one of the great ones.
When Ronaldo wins this year’s Ballon d’Or, Suarez can content himself with the knowledge that he hardly lost it.