France Football has named a 30-man shortlist for the Ballon d’Or and Stephen Kasiewicz wonders why Federico Chiesa, Lorenzo Insigne and Marco Verratti do not feature among the best players of the year.
The annual announcement of the Ballon d’Or nomination list can turn even the most rational football fan into a conspiracy theorist. It usually prompts an avalanche of unanswered questions.
Who are the faceless group from France Football that compiles the contenders? Is it nothing more than a shallow, predetermined popularity contest? Why are goalkeepers and defenders all but excluded from winning the main award? Arguments erupt on social media; trolls emerge from their caves and when all is said and done Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo usually end up with the gleaming golden ball.
Only five Italians have picked up the coveted best player prize since the award’s inception in 1956 – Omar Sivori, who played for both the Azzurri and Argentina (1961), Gianni Rivera (1969), Paolo Rossi (1982), Roberto Baggio (1993) and Fabio Cannavaro (2006).
Yet there is genuine optimism that Jorginho could join them after an outstanding year in which the Chelsea and Italy midfielder won both the Champions League and European Championship.
Four other members of the triumphant Azzurri squad were named in the 30 strong contingent of contenders. Paris Saint Germain goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma – widely regarded as the best in the world in his position – the agelessly dominant Juventus defensive duo of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini and brilliant Inter midfielder Nicolò Barella.
Only two other players from Serie A were recognized – Milan and Denmark central defender Simon Kjaer and Inter’s Argentine forward Lautaro Martinez – in a questionable list that includes a host of predictably familiar names.
The glaring omission of Juventus winger Federico Chiesa, Napoli talisman Lorenzo Insigne and Paris Saint Germain’s Marco Verratti suggests that there is an underlying bias in the selection process. This school of thought ties in with a growing movement of Italian football Tifosi who strongly believe Serie A sides have been the victims of blatantly unfavourable refereeing decisions in the Champions League over the last few seasons.
The criteria for the Ballon d’Or shortlist is unknown but has favoured attackers, predominantly from Spain’s La Liga and players based in the English Premier League over the last decade. The decision-making committee seems to adopt a scattergun approach.
Perhaps the staffers of France Football are given green tracksuits and a different cut-out face mask of a world-renowned player. A shadowy red-figure then instructs them to embark on a frenzied adult Squid Game style elimination contest of Petanque in a secret Parisian bolt-house to choose the nominees. Or maybe they use the old-fashioned method of picking names out of a hat.
Regardless, the absence of Chiesa is the most baffling, especially considering his exceptional international form. The 23-year-old fuelled the Azzurri’s surge to the European Championship title, scoring stunning goals against Austria and Spain on the way to the final. His formidable speed, direct style and dextrous dribbling skills sparked a second-half comeback as Italy overcame England at Wembley to claim a memorable victory, and he is now an irreplaceable mainstay in Roberto Mancini’s side. Chiesa has often provided inspiration and impetus in a Juventus team sorely lacking both and claimed the Italian Cup and Supercup with the Old Lady last term.
It would be an exercise in futility to make direct comparisons between the former Fiorentina player and others on the list, but it is still a perplexing snub.
Insigne was also given the cold shoulder despite playing an integral role in the Azzurri’s UEFA Euro 2020 victory. The trademark curler which stunned Belgium in the quarter-final showed the Napoli winger at his finest. It is no exaggeration to say the 30-year-old ranks among the absolute best in his position across the top five European leagues. If the domestic form is considered a barometer of success, then Insigne would surely have made the list. He netted a career-high nineteen goals for Napoli in Serie A last term, and continues to lead by example as the Neapolitans sit at the top of the standings with a perfect record this season.
Verratti was the only member of the Azzurri midfield trio to be left out. Jorginho and Barella both received nominations, yet the Paris Saint Germain playmaker was not deemed good enough to join them. In a rare season in which he failed to pick up another French Ligue 1 title, the deep-lying playmaker made a remarkable return from injury at EURO 2020. Absent from the opening two group matches, the 28-year-old excelled in every area of the midfield thereafter. He put on a passing masterclass – completing 93% of all passes made – provided three assists, tracked back tirelessly and regained possession several times at key moments as Italy were deservedly crowned European champions.
The great and the good of Italian football, including luminaries such as Arrigo Sacchi and Marcello Lippi, have already backed Jorginho to win the men’s Ballon d’Or award.
The Brazilian born midfielder would be a worthy winner, but it is still a mystery why only five members of the European Championship winning team, and just two others from Serie A, merited selection on the shortlist in the first place.