France puts huge importance on award
16 January ~ Having invented the award through magazine France Football, the French have a special relationship with the Ballon d'Or. They treat it with great reverence, which explains why Franck Ribéry was so desperate to get his hands on it. After finishing third behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi on Monday night, Ribéry slipped away without speaking to the media. But there were plenty of others standing by to comment on his behalf on a day where Ribéry's nomination was the main story in France.
Before Ribéry's fate was sealed, ex-Norwich City striker Marc Libbra, now a TV pundit, criticised Zinedine Zidane for supporting Ronaldo over Ribéry. Former France and Werder Bremen midfielder Johan Micoud – a panellist on the same show on L'Equipe 21, the channel that provided rolling coverage of the event – pointed out that, as a Real Madrid employee, there was little else Zidane could do. Following Ribéry's defeat – for it was treated as such in France – the general feeling was that the Bayern Munich winger had been harshly dealt with, although no one was surprised.
The following day's L'Equipe ran a front-page piece headlined Cruelty that said: "For nearly ten years now, success in football has been measured increasingly by statistics. How else can you explain Ronaldo and Messi's dominance? What other reason can there be for Ribéry finishing third? Modern football has developed a cult of dominant players along the lines of US basketball. Ronaldo, Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic belong in that category; Ribéry doesn't."
Three-time winner Michel Platini also supported Ribéry: "I'm very disappointed for him. For 50 years the Ballon d'Or took into account the trophies a player won during the year. Now it's based more on a player's overall standard of performance. That poses a problem. It's a little something that's changed since the Ballon d'Or became a FIFA award [in 2010]. Are we going to have Ronaldo-Messi again next year, then Messi-Ronaldo the year after, then Ronaldo-Messi after that?"
L'Equipe and others highlighted that if only journalists had been allowed to vote – as was the case until 2010 – Ribéry would have won comfortably. The scribblers preferred him, whereas international managers and captains voted for Ronaldo first and Messi second. That's unlikely to prove a consolation for the 30-year-old France international. As France Football pointed out in their celebratory edition on Tuesday: "The quest to win the Ballon d'Or had become an obsession for Ribéry in recent months. Now he has an enormous void to fill. It remains to be seen how the [adopted] Bavarian will overcome his disappointment." James Eastham