Why FIFA has degraded the Ballon d'Or into a vapid popularity contest

If he hasn't already, Lionel Messi should get onto his builders about expanding his overflowing trophy room.
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If he hasn't already, Lionel Messi should get onto his builders about expanding his overflowing trophy room. For no matter what he does on the pitch, Messi can be assured he'll continue winning FIFA's beauty contest, er, sorry, Ballon d'Or.

France Football had something special. The Ballon d'Or was decided by a panel of journalists who agonised over their selections, knowing that the choice would reflect upon themselves, the magazine and the credibility of the award.

FIFA had their gong - the manufactured World Player of the Year - which ran in direct competition to the Ballon d'Or. Fans weren't fooled. It was an award created out of envy. It had nothing of the prestige of the Ballon d'Or and was never going to catch on.

Then France Football sold out.

Now we have a beauty contest , decided by national team captains, coaches and 'journalists', though some are really pundits. The crazy thing is that the award's creator, Gabriel Hanot, was fully supportive of surrendering all the credibility built up over 44 years of the trophy's existence to FIFA.

FIFA condemns their Ballon d'Or by their own words.

Reacting to a report by Al Jazeera, quoting Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky and PSG defender Thiago Silva that their votes had falsely been recorded for Messi, a FIFA spokesman declared to Eurosport: "It's a false rumor. When we were told what happened, we did the necessary checks and can confirm what was posted on the night of the ceremony.

"Everything was perfect, the documents are correct. Everyone is free to interpret as you wish, but some do not remember who they voted for."

So, the people involved in voting on the most 'prestigious' individual trophy the game has to offer, which we devote hours upon hours discussing and debating, are so detached from the process they can't even remember who they went for barely weeks after their vote was cast?

You can bet every member who sat on the France Football selection panel can remember who they voted for - and more importantly why.

Past victories marked significant points in the history of the game. Michael Owen's win in 2001 reflected Liverpool's Treble under Gerard Houllier. George Best beat Franz Beckenbauer in 1968 after winning the European Cup with Manchester United. The Dane, Allan Simonsen, won in 1977, beating Michel Platini and Kevin Keegan, after inspiring Borussia Monchengladbach to the title and the European Cup final.

How does Messi's award reflect what happened on the pitch in 2012?

The answer is it doesn't.

Yes, his goalscoring record was important, but what of Chelsea's amazing, against-all-odds Champions League triumph? He may still not have made the final three, but you'd like to think, under the old format, there would've been judges arguing the case for Didier Drogba to be recognised. The sheer will and determination of the Ivorian outshone Messi in last season's competition. It wasn't Drogba who bottled the spotkick in the semifinal, nor coughed up possession in the first-leg for Chelsea's winner. But it was the Blues legend who headed home when all appeared lost in the final - on Bayern Munich's home turf - and then kept his nerve to convert the winning penalty.

Yes, in the final voting, he may've missed out, but there would surely have been someone on that panel arguing the case, just as Jose Mourinho did when paying tribute to his old team:

"I know some people think Barcelona are the masters of the game and will criticise Chelsea like they criticised Inter Milan two years ago. But they know nothing about character, about effort, about a team with 10 men resisting tactically, physically, everything."

Where do the qualities of "character, effort" and sheer will stand in today's Ballon d'Or? Would Fabio Cannavaro or two-time winner Kevin Keegan, both of whom display the attributes so valued by Mourinho, have been recognised by today's beauty contest?

Selling out to FIFA not only damaged the integrity of France Football's original award, but football's chronicle has lost something meaningful in the process.

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