No Italians on the Ballon D’Or shortlist

European Champions Barcelona have dominated the shortlist for the 2011 Ballon D’Or as football’s governing body dealt a hammer blow to Italy, who have not managed to field a single player in contention for this prestigious award.
Lionel Messi is the front runner in a competition that sees seven Barcelona players compete for the honour. Along with this Real Madrid can also boast five, giving La Liga a healthy percentage of the participants. Serie A on the other hand, has only two players in the form of Samuel Eto’o, who now plays his football with Russia’s Anzhi Makhachkala, and Inter’s Wesley Sneijder. The Nerazzurri also have Diego Forlan on the list but this is more for his exploits in Spain in the previous season with Atletico Madrid. Slim pickings indeed, for a league that once held Europe’s premier stars.
Since Stanley Matthews won the first Ballon D’Or in 1956 Italy have had much success in this competition. They have had five separate players win the award and currently lie joint forth in the table for overall winners along with England and Brazil. Only Germany (7), Holland (7) and France (6) have had more success. This in itself however, is somewhat misleading as Johan Cryuff won the award three times as did Michel Platini (whilst at Juventus) and Marco Van Basten (whilst at Milan). Italy on the other hand can boast five separate winners which, along with Germany, is the most overall.
Serie A has given a home to many of the Ballon D’Or winners with Juventus and Milan topping the list of most successful clubs in this award. Along with Barcelona they have had six players each who have won the award on eight occasions. It seems however, that in recent years there are a number of factors that are starting to take their toll on Italy’s wounded league.
Looking at the history of these awards certainly gives an insight as to how these awards are judged. There has always been a major dependency on how the player performs in Europe’s elite competitions such as the old European Cup or Champion’s League, whilst the national teams success also holds a huge bearing on where the award goes. The integrity of the league and the player also has a bearing all of which have taken their toll on Serie A. Italy cannot really argue on this basis at the present moment in time, they were rewarded in the 1980’s and 1990’s when the league lead the way accumulating 13 of the 20 winners in the space of two decades, this could have been even more had Diego Maradona not been ineligible at the time because the award was then restricted to European players. Today however Calciopoli, the UEFA coefficient and the general poor performances in Europe by Italian teams since, bar some Milanese success, have all resulted in Italy loosing ground in this competition.
The debate once explored goes deep into the heart of Italian culture. How can Italian clubs perform better in European competition? How can they attract the world class stars again? How can they build better stadiums with the turmoil that engulfs the Italian economy? One thing for sure is that the Ballon D’or shortlist is just the tip of a very large iceberg.

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