Flying Dutchman to end Spain’s reign
Having been given the rather dubious honour of writing the inaugural sports blog, I awoke with horror to the news that Darragh Ó Sé had already questioned the future of this International Rules malarkey after the tame exchanges between Ireland and Australia in Limerick on Saturday.
This, of course, does no preclude us from having our say on the matter but, frankly, it’s broadly in line with that of the former Kerry midfielder, who feels “the game was just a huge disappointment”. We may have gone further and branded it a complete and utter waste of time, but we’ll humbly defer to our more learned colleague on the matter.
Thus, there was a hole in our plans, but that has now been filled by the Ballon d’Or, the annual award bestowed upon the greatest soccerball player on the planet over the last 12 months.
If only it was that simple.
There are some who would argue, quite legitimately, that Lionel Messi should be crowned king right now because, as his Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola said recently, he is the best player in the world.
But these things are never that straightforward. Unlike three of the other four nominees from the Catalan club, for instance, he didn’t win a World Cup winners medal to add to his league title.
And that trio, unlike the four Inter Milan players included on the 23-man list, didn’t win the treble by claiming their domestic cup and league, as well as the European Cup.
Probably the best way to sort the contenders from the pretenders, is to firstly eliminate who is not, this season at least, Ballon d’Or material. This is a ruthless but time consuming process.
All seven Spaniards stay for now because of their victory in South Africa and their universally impressive season’s with their clubs – be they Barcelona (Xavi, Andre Iniesta, Carles Puyol), Real Madrid (Xabi Alonso, Iker Casillas), Valencia (David Villa) or Arsenal (Cesc Fabregas).
The Inter Milan quartet of Samuel Eto’o, Julio Cesar, Maicon and Wesley Sneijder remains for a brilliant season under Jose Mourinho, and in the case of the latter a fantastic World Cup.
That leaves 12 to make their case. So in alphabetical order, Dani Alves, why should you be included?
Dani Alves (Brazil, Barcelona): Eh, because I am a attacking full-back who plays the beautiful game for the beautiful Barcelona and I score the odd goal?
Dead Rubber: Yes, but Dani, you’re no Maicon. So, sorry, but no. Next?
Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast, Chelsea): Seriously? Do I have to do this?
Dead Rubber: Yes
DD: I scored 29 goals in 32 league games on the way to the Premier League title.
Dead Rubber: And?
DD: And one for the Cote D’Ivoire in a poor World Cup?
Dead Rubber: Exactly. Next?
Diego Forlan (Uruguay, Atletico Madrid): Well, 18 in 32 league games for humble Atletico, six in the Europa League and five in the World Cup on the way to fourth place.
Dead Rubber: Succinctly put. You’re in.
Asamoah Gyan (Ghana, Sunderland): Did you see my World Cup? I was brilliant.
Dead Rubber: Well, you weren’t really. Sure, you scored three in five, but if you got your head up a bit more somebody else could’ve scored too. Plus, you play for Sunderland now and that would just be ridiculous.
Miroslav Klose (Germany, Bayern Munich): Once again I proved I am great tournament striker with four goals in five at the World Cup.
Dead Rubber: Yes, that you did, but what was it you were doing for the rest of the year?
Philipp Lahm (Germany, Bayern Munich): I captained the side that defied the critics in South Africa and tore England and Argentina apart. Plus I was in Champions League final.
Dead Rubber: True, true. But no, the competition’s too strong Phil and the lack of trophies costs you this time.
Lionel Messi (Argentina, Barcelona): Eh, hello….
Dead Rubber: Sssssh, you had us at ‘eh’.
Thomas Mueller (Germany, Bayern Munich): Was I not the surprise package with five goals and a WC semi-final appearance? Did I not appear in the Champions League final?
Dead Rubber: Yeah, we like you, but you did miss a lot of sitters in the CL so head to the young players’ queue. Your time might come yet.
Mesut Oezil (Germany, Real Madrid): I too announced myself on the World stage in the summer, with consummate ease in the hole.
Dead Rubber: Ye what? No, not this time, mate. You were good, excellent even, but not Golden Ball material. Yet.
Arjen Robben (Netherlands, Bayern Munich): European Cup final? World Cup final?
Dead Rubber: Hmmmm…
AR: Cracker against Man United?
Dead Rubber: Okay, you’re in.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal, Real Madrid): Most expensive player on earth.
Dead Rubber: For now.
CR: I scored 34 in 38 last season!
Dead Rubber: Yeah, but you didn’t win anything, at all, and only managed to beat North Korea in the World Cup.
Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany, Bayern Munich): Ich bin Schweiny!
Dead Rubber: Yeah, sorry, we’re full.
So, just three from the also-rans, meaning we have 14 from the original 23. There’s plenty more dead weight to shift. Speaking of dead weight, Julio Cesar (Inter) and Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), ye’re out. Congrats on the silverware, but a goalkeeper’s not getting the inaugural Dead Rubber’s super-duper footballer award.
Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas, as sublime as you both are, how could it go to either of you ahead of a Barca player?
Carles Puyol, you’re a Barca man but you’re not even the best defender at the Camp Nou. Gerard Pique, you were robbed.
Okay, almost there, (he wheezed).
Eto’o, pack your bags. Granted it’s not your fault you were used out wide so much at Inter that your goalscoring suffered, but they’re the breaks, and Diego Milito would be rightly gutted were it you.
Maicon, you beast, cracking goal n’all but Brazil didn’t meet the standards you set at Inter, so it’s a ‘no’ from us. We’ll monitor your progress, though.
Andres Iniesta, you scored two in South Africa, one of which was the World Cup winner, but like Robben, you missed a chunk of last season with your club and, unlike the Dutchman, you netted one compared to his 16 in the league.
Messi, you’re the greatest, buddy, but it’s not you, it’s us. We just can’t see past the lack of a World Cup or European Cup this year, but you’ll always be our little bit on the side.
Forlan, a remarkable achievement, but this Europa League business, you beat Fulham. It’s sort of a hollow victory, isn’t it? It’s hardly the top table and was it not for a hand on the line you never would have gone to the World Cup semis. Through no fault of your own, of course, but still.
And then there were three.
By this stage, we realise it’s a close run thing, but this is how we see it. (And by ‘we’, we mean I).
If Spain had won the World Cup playing like they can, Xavi would have been impossible to ignore, but they didn’t do that. They stumbled through seven games, scoring eight goals, five of which were scored by David Villa.
His finishing was second to none and ultimately he was the reason Spain beat Honduras (two goals), Portugal and Paraguay (one in each). He also scored against Chile in a 2-1 win. He scored freely for Valencia, but there was no joy on the club front.
And that is why he’s no Wesley Sneijder.
Wesley so nearly did it all. He orchestrated Inter’s treble, scoring five in the Champions League. He then dragged a lamentably physical Dutch side to the World Cup final, with the same amount of goals as Villa, but from midfield, and consistently created despite being burdened by two hatchet-men plodding along beside him.
Yes, he fell at the final hurdle, but he is our Ballon d’Or winner nonetheless.
Sheeesh, on second thoughts, maybe I should’ve just laid into the International Rules.
The real winner will be revealed in Zurich on January 10th.