Early Doors

Ballon Bore

Early Doors

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Yesterday Lionel Messi was awarded the 2012 FIFA Ballon d'Or. Okay, he wasn't, but we know he will be, just as we knew that the shortlist would comprise Messi, his Barcelona buddy Andres Iniesta and hair gel's Cristiano Ronaldo.

It is testament to the superiority of Barcelona and Real Madrid - and particularly the world's two most prolific players, plus the universally admired Iniesta, of whom no one has a bad word to say - that it has become so predictable, yet it has also become profoundly boring as a result.

Messi and Ronaldo are givens - how could they not be included? - while Iniesta was named Player of the Tournament at Euro 2012 and scores highly on the pass completion ratio, which as we all know has become crucial to evaluating achievement in football. His selection was also inevitable.

We have even got to the stage were the inclusion of someone like Andrea Pirlo - an undefeated champion in Italy, one of the best players at Euro 2012 - would register as a surprise. Such is the dominance of Spanish football culture at the moment.

It's not surprising. Not after Real Madrid amassed a record 100 points last season and scored 121 goals in La Liga while Barcelona continued to perform to an astonishing level, pushing the boundaries of what we can expect from a team. By the time the award is given out in January Messi will in all likelihood have surpassed Gerd Mueller's record of 85 goals in a calendar year. Just imagine that, 85 goals - Messi scores in a year what Jamie Carragher would take 20 lifetimes to achieve.

There can be no real argument with the three names so the composition of the shortlist is entirely devoid of any element of surprise.

Early Doors remembers when the announcement of football's awards shortlist used to be genuinely exciting, when someone like Hristo Stoichkov would be named European Footballer of the Year in 1994.

To be honest though, ED hasn't been a fan of the award since FIFA amalgamated the old prize - originally awarded by France Football and voted for by journalists. Journos still have a say in the new one - ED is next in line when Henry Winter pops his clogs - but so too do international managers and captains.

When you consider that only a year ago John Terry was one of these, it is a concerning prospect. After all, it's not like journalists would ever vote for someone ludicrous.

There was always something more esoteric about the old Ballon d'Or. It had winners who were a bit less conventional than its FIFA counterpart's: Andriy Shevchenko in 2004, Pavel Nedved in 2003, Michael Owen in 2001.

But look at the shortlists from the past four years.

2009 - Ballon d'Or: Messi, Ronaldo, Xavi
2009 - FIFA World Player of the Year: Messi Ronaldo, Xavi.
2010 - FIFA Ballon d'Or: Messi, Iniesta, Xavi.
2011 - FIFA Ballon d'Or: Messi, Ronaldo, Xavi.
2012 - FIFA Ballon d'Or: Messi, Ronaldo, Iniesta.

Four men have dominated the shortlists - Messi has won it every time, and will do again.

If variety is the spice of life, then football's individual awards have become as bland as a bowl of porridge.

It's the same old faces every time. The same tuxedos being dry-cleaned in preparation of going to see Messi collect his latest prize. The same acceptance speeches being tweaked to mention Tito instead of Pep.

Like Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane before him, Messi is enjoying a spell as the undisputed best player in the world, yet his purple patch is not so much a patch as his default setting. A win in 2012 will make him the first man to be named the best player in the world for four years in succession. Who knows how many years he can extend that record to.

Ronaldo, though, probably fancies himself to win it. He does rather fancy himself after all.

"For me it is an honour to be a candidate for the Ballon d'Or and for Fifa's World 11, and I am very proud," he said yesterday. "They are two very special awards and I think that being amongst the candidates is primarily the result of the hard work and support of my team mates, both at Real Madrid and Portugal."

He won't win it though. Messi will. You know it, ED knows it, everyone knows it. Oh for a Stoichkov.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "This contract won't be the biggest contract of his life. That will come when he actually achieves something. What he has shown just now is fantastic potential. His next contract and the one after that is when it will come. But this is Liverpool Football Club. If you are 17 years of age and you are playing regularly you would be very foolish not to commit yourself very quickly." - Brendan Rodgers puts the onus very much on Raheem Sterling to sign a new contract with the winger approaching his 18th birthday.

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COMING UP: We preview all the weekend's games in the Premier League. Jim White is also on blogging duty while The Fantasist will be popping in to offer his insight into the weekend's Fantasy Football action. Plus, we have the second part of our two-part interview with Ipswich manager Mick McCarthy as he talks Ireland and Giovanni Trapattoni.

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