Ribery left ruing subtle shift in Ballon d’Or criteria


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Mrs. Ribery is just going to have to use some of her husband's huge salary to fill the space on the mantelpiece.

It had been destined for the Ballon d'Or as Mr. R. himself told French media some months ago. Claiming he only rarely thought about it, the Bayern Munich star admitted his wife was somewhat more obsessed with football's biggest individual prize and had cleared a special place for it in the family's Bavarian home.


The gong hubby got in Zurich on Monday as part of the team of the year will barely help fill the void, and judging by the look on Ribery's face when the team photo was taken - alongside a seemingly bashful Cristiano Ronaldo - that award may join the Christmas jumper from the mother-in-law in a dark, unloved closet.

If his utter desolation was not already abundantly clear, Ribery skipped the post-ceremony meet-the-media jollities, allowing others to serve up the usual 'it's such a shame but...' soundbites that he was clearly in no mood to proffer.

"We're proud of Franck," said Bayern president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, trying to put a brave face on the Frenchman's clear and bitter disappointment. "He won all important championships and cups which you could in Europe and worldwide in 2013. After being elected European Footballer of the Year, this third place is once more confirmation of his great achievements, as well as the titles he celebrated with Bayern."

"It's a democratic vote. You have to acknowledge that, you have to congratulate," said Bayern's sporting director Matthias Sammer. "But for us, Franck is the best. He won everything, and did everything for that. But others have decided. He has another good couple of years ahead of him, and can still win it."

So maybe Mrs. Ribery can keep the space open after all, but it seems unlikely that the Ballon d'Or will ever cross her threshold.

"This year I have won everything with Bayern and we beat all records," said Ribery to French media recently, echoing what he has stated repeatedly since the summer. "I did what had to be done on and off the pitch." Though he deserves no reward for not having another extra-marital affair with an underage call girl, he certainly did pick up an Ali Baba-esque haul of silverware, far more than Ronaldo or Messi.

But Wesley Sneijder won everything in 2010 and didn't get the Ballon d'Or either. That will be of scant consolation to Ribery, but the award is no longer about what it was when he no doubt dreamed of winning it as a youngster reading France Football growing up in Boulogne-sur-Mer in northern France.

The award, dreamt up by the renowned magazine and first given to Blackpool's Stanley Matthews in 1956, was previously voted on by a panel of 'expert' journalists from across Europe. Fittingly for a team sport, individual talent was not the sole criteria by which laureates were honoured, with their team's achievements - and their contribution - given significant weight. With Bayern's all-conquering 2013, under these rules, Ribery would almost certainly have won.


"I'm very disappointed for Franck Ribery. Will it be Ronaldo-Messi again next year, in two years Messi-Ronaldo and in three years Ronaldo-Messi?" said UEFA president Michel Platini, which is quite rich coming from a man who was the first to win the old version of the award three years in a row, before stating what everyone else is thinking.

"In the last 50 years, the Ballon d'Or has acknowledged success on the pitch. It is now more forgiving in terms of the overall performance of a player, and that leads to a problem, although Ronaldo is a fantastic Ballon d'Or. Since the Ballon d'Or has been under FIFA, it's been changed a little bit."

That is undoubtedly true, but if it is to be based on pure individual talent, Ribery cannot compete with Ronaldo or Messi as the vote - the thoughts of national team coaches and captains as well as journalists - reflected. As France Football said when the three-man shortlist was announced in early December, "Unlike Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Ribery is not an exceptional player capable of winning matches on his own and creating out-of-this-world differences. If he always claims 'Bayern has made me strong', the reverse is not necessarily true."

It is worth remembering while Ribery unspectacularly helped France through to the World Cup finals in their play-off with workmanlike Ukraine, Ronaldo almost single-handedly dispatched Sweden and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. While everyone would put Ronaldo - and Ibrahimovic, for that matter - in the top five players in the world, few would bandy Ribery about in the same bracket. Except Mrs. R. of course.

Ian Holyman - @ian_holyman

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