With the FIFA World Player of the Year award to be announced on December 21, here is a look behind the curtains.
When the public indulges itself in one of the most time-honoured and inconclusive of all debates, the one to settle who the greatest of footballers ever was, it is rather tenuous to assume that the FIFA World Player of the Year Awards would be the decisive factor in tilting the balance one way or the other. Champions League and local league medals perhaps, World Cup glory or the goals-scored record maybe, one show of brilliance that forever sparkles in the public gaze even, but a ranking system that forever suffers from a lack of uniqueness, a relatively late conception that leaves it shorn of history and sometimes even player acknowledgement? Unlikely.
Rankings and points
The awards, instituted in 1991 (and almost as an afterthought, and a delayed one at that, FIFA came up with a Women's category in 2001) purports to choose from a pool of players the best exponent of the sport for club and country over the calendar year. A panel consisting of international players, coaches and FIFPro officials (whose inclusion was a cause for criticism) rank players through a system of positional voting, and the cumulative rating points garnered by a player bestows on him the award. The Golden Ball, the FIFA World player of the year's much senior cousin, is generally regarded as the more illustrious of the two prizes, partly because of the way it has entwined both popular and critical reviews (Balon d'Or votes are cast by 96 journalists from across the globe) of player performances and also because of the sheen it has acquired over the last 50 plus years.
While both the player accolades are accused of being preoccupied with performers in the European leagues, the blame tends to fall more squarely on the FIFA awards. Then of course, the population of the list of probables with strikers or attack minded midfielders that leaves behind that critical component of gameplay - the defense and the goal keepers, the stonewallers and the bulwarks- that seems to echo the view of football as a goal scoring spectacle. The only defender to have won the FIFA awards was the World Cup winning Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 (who at 33 is also the oldest recipient), and even that was more of a populist choice. In the last few years however, both the FIFA award and the Balon d'Or seem to have toed a convergent line, with the last four recipients- Christiano Ronaldo, Cannavaro, Kaka and Ronaldinho landing both awards. A quick glance at this year's long list of 33- 23 male and 10 female- candidates for the awards throws up a few surprising names- Michael Ballack, Thierry Henry, Carles Puyol and the likes who haven't had great seasons, but seem to be riding on the performance of their respective teams. Unsurprisingly, the list just includes two goal keepers and two defenders. Going by the predilection with goal scorers, Lionel Messi, who enjoyed a monster season with Barcelona winning Champions League. the La Liga and the copa del REY, is the odds on favourite to win the award. Having finished as the runner-up for the last two years, he is surely the popular choice as well.