The award, which is now in its 55th year, gives recognition to the world’s finest player over a 12-month period and, after merging with the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 2010, the competition is as fierce as ever.
Of the shortlist this year, unsurprisingly, eight of Spanish Champions Barcelona’s first team are included; Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Eric Abidal, Dani Alves, David Villa and summer recruit Cesc Fabregas. Indeed, current holder Messi is looking to retain the trophy for the third year running and, if he achieves that goal, would become the first player to do so since Frenchman Michel Platini who won successive titles from 1983 to 1985.
Real Madrid also feature heavily on the list; Cristiano Ronaldo, who won the award in 2008, is enlisted, along with Karim Benzema, Mesut Ozil, Iker Casillas and Xabi Alonso. The rest of the list includes honourable nods for Wesley Schneider and Diego Forlan of Inter Milan, Thomas Muller and Bastien Schweinsteiger of Bayern Munich. Wealthy Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala are represented by former Barca striker Samuel Eto’o and Brazilian teenager Neymar, of Santos, becomes the first player outside of Europe to be nominated since Boca Juniors’ Juan Roman Riquelme in 2007.
The Premier League is represented by Sergio Aguero of Man City, Luis Suarez of Liverpool and Wayne Rooney and Nani, both of Man United. However, there is a glaring omission from this list – one Robin van Persie of Arsenal.
The Dutch forward has enjoyed a very fruitful 2011 and is currently on a run which has seen him score 28 goals in his last 27 games, a strike rate normally reserved for the likes of Messi and Ronaldo. He is top of the Premier League scoring charts in this season’s campaign with 10, by virtue of an excellent hat-trick against rivals Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last weekend, a game which the Gunners won 5-3.
Van Persie was awarded the captain’s armband in the summer due to the departure of Cesc Fabregas and the former Feyenoord striker has wasted no time in repaying that faith to manager Arsene Wenger with a series of outstanding individual performances in this campaign. The Chelsea match we’ve touched on but let’s not forget his two-goal salvo against Sunderland at the Emirates in October culminating in a stunning free-kick which sealed a 2-1 victory. He also scored important doubles against Bolton Wanderers and Stoke City – games which Arsenal won 3-0 and 3-1 respectively.
His importance to the Gunners’ resurgence in form is paramount and, with 18 months remaining on his current contract, manager Arsene Wenger needs to tie the Dutchman down to a new deal or risk losing him to a higher footballing power, a la Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas.
The fact that Robin van Persie’s name is not on this year’s Ballon d’Or shortlist is an insult to the man’s supreme technical ability, goalscoring prowess and super-sweet left foot – the best seen in the Premier League since German midfielder Thomas ‘The Hammer’ Hitzsperger. Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szcz?sny summed up his lack of inclusion perfectly in one word – ridiculous. I’m inclined to agree with the Pole on this one.
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