If cliches were gospel in soccer then players would have you believe that individual prizes matter little in the quest for collective success.
That viewpoint is one certainly endorsed by Arsene Wenger, with the Arsenal boss hitting out at soccer’s obsession with personal triumph in a sport defined by the efforts of the team.
Such is the hype and scale of debate surrounding the race to win the 2013 Ballon d’Or ahead of its award in January, it is reasonable to question whether the kudos of winning individual prizes is now the greatest lure for the game’s most high-profile stars.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Franck Ribery and Lionel Messi are the three favorites to be crowned the world’s best player, with the latter of that trio the current holder and record four-time winner of the trophy.
In recent years, Ronaldo and Messi have engaged in a two-horse race, but it is the emergence of Ribery as a leading contender – on the back of Bayern Munich’s remarkable treble-winning feat last season – that has sparked mass public interest on a scale never seen before.
International coaches, captains and selected members of the media make the casting votes and the revelations of several of those figures has resulted in a number of nominees publicly pitching their respective cases in a manner akin to a presidential election.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s claim that he doesn’t need to win the Ballon d’Or to know he is the game’s greatest player was prompted by a wave of support for Ronaldo following his incredible run of form at the start of this season. The Portuguese forward has never been shy in his desire for individual glory and he was quick to acknowledge the backing of Real Madrid fans after they unfurled a banner supporting his case in Wednesday’s Champions League clash with Galatasaray.
Financial rewards have also played their part in the award’s growing profile. Reports have claimed Santos will receive 2 million euros if Neymar achieves a top-three finish in the Ballon d’Or over the next five years, as part of the deal that took him to Barcelona over the summer.
With the season approaching the midway point for most of Europe, it is the efforts of individuals that are taking center stage when arguably the focus ought to be on the team battles in the Champions League and domestic title race. Perhaps Wenger has a point ...