Ballon d’Or Nominees: A review

Sticky photo courtesy of The Guardian

Earlier this week, France Football published the list of 20 women and 30 men nominees to the Ballon d’Or 2019. This is similar to what FIFA did with The Best, although in that occasion they had shortlisted 55 players, as they were attempting to create their Best XI, and shortlisted the three who actually were in the run for The Best: Megan Rapinoe (the winner), Lucy Bronze and Alex Morgan. We had our issues with the final Best XI, and gave it a shot at selecting an alternative team who we thought were more consistent and in form throughout the year, rather than be dazzled by the pretty lights of the Women’s World Cup.

We need to cross-examine the list of 20 nominees and provide our verdict on who deserves the award, who deserves the nomination, who has made little merit to be on the list, and who has been (rudely) left out. To start, here are the nominees:

Still with us? Let’s cross-examine this list.

Who should be nominated?

Most of the 20 nominees deserve to be on the list, in our humble opinion. Lucy Bronze, Amandine Henry, Dzsenifer Marozsán, and Ada Hegerberg all played important roles for the UWCL champion and their respective countries in the World Cup. Vivianne Miedema had an outstanding year for Arsenal, and her and Sari van Veenendal and Lieke Martens were instrumental in the Netherlands’ campaign to World Cup runner up.

Same can be said about Lavelle, Heath and Rapinoe, who did not feature as much in the NWSL but their exploits for the national team speak for themselves. Asllani, Jakobsson and Fischer were also key in Sweden’s World Cup campaign, and Fischer has long demonstrated that she is Europe’s best defender.

Whilst the Matildas’ World Cup was disappointing, Sam Kerr was their top scorer and has recently won the NWSL MVP and Golden Boot awards: she would not be a surprising Ballon d’Or choice.

I am on the fence about Ellen White – I believe that there were other English players who had more of an overall impact (Nikita Parris, for example, or even Toni Duggan, perhaps not in the World Cup but for FC Barcelona). Her presence is not unwarranted, however: she did top the scoring for England.

Who may win it, and who should?

Despite the fact that the “50 specialist journalists” that France Football claims will decide the award might have a better understanding and knowledge of the women’s game beyond the players themselves (who may not ever get a chance to see each other play, and may vote based on marketing and off the field behaviour), it is hard to see how they would vote for anyone else other than Megan Rapinoe. Rapinoe had an average year in the NWSL and with the national team, but when it came to the crunch in the World Cup, she did not miss a single penalty (and she took A LOT of them).

Additionally, the field behind her is too even. Hegerberg is a fantastic player, but she did not play in the World Cup, and whilst winning the French league and the Champions League, she was not the top scorer in either competition. For all of Hegerberg’s achievements, Vivianne Miedema had a way more impressive year: top score in the WSL, was part of the Netherlands WC runner-up campaign, and she set the record for the highest scorer for the national team for the Dutch, men or women, at age 23 in the qualifiers.

Similarly, I would argue that Lucy Bronze’s year was better than Hegerberg’s too. They won the same trophies, but Bronze led England to 4th place in the World Cup. She also lost to Rapinoe in the voting of The Best, so it’s unlikely she will beat the American icon. She plays in France, which can be advantageous, but we don’t think it will be enough – we hope we are wrong.

Anyone else is really an outside chance: Sam Kerr was good in the NWSL, but her World Cup exploits fall short of the players named above; Marozsán might be eclipsed by her OL teammates, and Germany did not do so well in the WWC; same for Henry; Martens was good for Barcelona, but not to the level of the OL players; etc. No one else stands out from a crowd of truly talented footballers, and that will play against all of them, unfortunately, when pitted against the more obvious choice in Rapinoe.

But, why?

A twenty-player shortlist will always contain a few names that some (or most) people will disagree with. We are no exception. As with the Best XI, Alex Morgan and Marta have been included. As we said in our previous post, we understand the need to give recognition to the stars of the game, past or present (although particularly ‘past’), for historical catch up. But if either of them did not make my Best XI, they still don’t make it to the top 20 for the Ballon d’Or in our opinion. The latest evidence that we are not alone in this is the NWSL team of the year and second best team of the year (despite the controversy surrounding the composition of these teams – check Twitter to see for yourselves!). Neither Morgan nor Marta feature in either.

The other questionable choice is Sarah Bouhaddi, the Olympique Lyonnais and French national team goal keeper. It is a difficult choice to understand. Yes, she has won the same trophies as her OL teammates, and played in the WWC. Life is not that hard when you play in a team so dominant that they barely concede shots, let alone goals. And in the six rounds of the D1 Arkema so far, OL have a rate of goal concession much higher than last year (Olympique only conceded 6 goals in 22 games in 2018, compared to 4 in 6 games so far). The argument that Tiane Endler or Hedvig Lindahl, who were nominated to The Best keeper, could have taken Bouhaddi’s spot is hard to refute.

Perhaps to spark some controversy, I am not entirely convinced that Wendie Renard is top 20 material either, ahead of other defenders, for example. She does score a lot of goals, but this is based on Olympique Lyonnais’ midfielders’ ability to basically put the ball on her head. She is taller than everyone else, and very few of her goals involve anything other than her crossing partner’s skills. I would have liked to see a bit of a more complete defender: any of the USNWT back four would have claims to Renard’s spot, as well as the Europeans Sara Gama or Steph Houghton. Those are just my thoughts.

But, why not?

The absentee list has two names that are hard to ignore: Caroline Graham Hansen and Tiane Endler. Their absence is even more obvious when their spots are being taken by players who we believe should not be in this list and who play in the same positions (we are talking of Morgan and Bouhaddi).

One could argue that Tiane Endler’s Chile did not make it out of the group stages in the WWC. Fine. Chile never really looked like making it through the group stages, but it’s not like Endler can make them score. She stopped the USA from ripping them apart. One can also argue that she only played 13 games for PSG in 2018-19. But how was she nominated for The Best and yet missed from the Ballon d’Or? She too plays in France, so it’s quite inexplicable.

The most unfair absence on this list has to be Caroline Graham Hansen. She is hard to ignore at the moment because the start of her career in the Primera Iberdrola has been unbelievable. She is arguably the most influential signing so far, and Spanish defenders just cannot find a way to stop her. She hasn’t been scoring, but her thing is passing: she was the top assistant in the Frauen Bundesliga last year with TWENTY FIVE assists! Seven more than second placed Svenja Huth! In seven games in Spain, she has already gifted five goals, in addition to the constant threat that comes from her running and beating defenders. On top of that, Norway made it to the last eight in the WWC. How could she not be in the shortlist? *shakes head*

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