Is the lack of English players abroad a reason for their exclusion?

Lionel Messi Ballon d'Or

As always when the Ballon d’Or shortlist is announced there are four or five realistic contenders for the award, and then the additional 15-odd players who are granted the recognition of a nomination. At the back of a year which saw the mighty Barcelona dethroned as the force on the continent by a rock solid Bayern Munich, there might be fiercer competition this time round, especially after Franck Ribery won the European Footballer of the Year award. But let’s face it, we struggle to see the golden ball go to anyone other than Ronaldo or Messi.

One thing will alarm us at the British isles more than anything, though. Despite the presence of five Premier League players, not a single Englishman made the cut to the 23-man shortlist. Not even Wayne Rooney, a regular nominee for the last decade, was considered worthy by FIFA to join the world elite.

The only British feature for the award ceremony in Zurich on January 13th will be Real Madrid star Gareth Bale. The Welshman undoubtedly had a blistering season last year, averaging more than a goal a game for Spurs, and coming within an arms length of firing the north Londoners to the Champions League. Bale is natural edition on the list, but our domestic league enjoys considering itself the best in the world, so why the omission of English players?

Is it possible that FIFA fancy foreign leagues above the premiership?

It is too easy to question the football governing body’s business – they awarded Qatar the 2022 World Cup – and I always feel that their nomination processes is a beauty contest rather than an actual assessment of footballing ability and influence. For instance, could someone explain to me how Neymar has stood out as one of the top 23 players in the world the last year? For all his cute tricks and abundance of potential, you’d have a hard time arguing that his contributions at Santos outdo for example Champions League finalist Marco Reus’s performances for Borussia Dortmund last season.

The fact that only two defenders (Philipp Lahm and Thiago Silva) and one goalkeeper (Manuel Neuer) feature on the list further suggest that the Ballon d’Or should be renamed “The Highest Profiles in Football”-awards. And this is problematic for Englishman. Being an English footballer in the Premier League just isn’t sexy.

These awards tend to go to more exotic footballers. To South American and Mediterranean style players that epitomize skill, flair and finesse. What associations does the arch-English Englishman evoke? Jack Wilshere said it best a few weeks ago.

“We’re English. We tackle hard.”

There is, sadly, nothing sexy about the English stereotype. Therefor, I believe Steven Gerrard can track back, tackle, break up play, and pinpoint cross passes as if his life depended on it, but if Neymar nutmegs five or six defenders, he will easily be preferred. He’ll be cooler, he’ll be more appealing. Therefor, perhaps more English players should move abroad. Not only in order to boost their image, this seems a useless for pure football means, but to look above the immediate horizon for inspiration.

At the moment, not a single member of the England international squad play outside of the Premier League. England might be a massive importer of foreign assets, but it is a poorly ran exporter in football terms. Whereas foreign players seem happy to go abroad, English footballers stay grounded, confident that the English way is the best way. England’s World Cup campaign currently relies on a through an through English side that have grown up, learned their football and made their careers in England, with an English manager that plays a thoroughly English system.

It’s outrageously pragmatic.

The reluctance to accept foreign influence is halting the development of English football. While other countries around Europe are developing an interesting and attractive way of playing football, something about the Anglo-Saxon culture seem to dictate that the Three Lions become tag-alongs rather than innovators. Now, I’m sure Roy Hodgson accept input from other parts of the continent, but the framework of English football is at the moment a bit peerless and uninspired. And results reflect it. England have fallen to tenth place on the FIFA ranking, behind exciting and up-and-coming nations like Belgium and Switzerland, and no English player has won the Ballon d’Or since Michael Owen achieved the feat in 2001.

In fact, Frank Lampard was the last Brit to appear in the top three when he claimed second place in 2005. This is a depressing record for the country that regards itself the spiritual home of football.

In an attempt to arrive at a conclusion, I will say that I am sure the national coaches, captains and journalists who are voting for the best player in the world on January 13th will make a good decision, they have a knack for getting it right. But if England is to ever achieve international greatness again, I am confident that English football will need to embrace foreign influences in a different way. Although the Carrington and Shenley training grounds might be absolute state of the art facilities, I hear they do some decent work at this place called La Masia. Maybe a few English blokes could check it out.

Adnan Januzaj made a move abroad, why can’t the English?

Is pragmatism the cause for the absence of Englishman on the Ballon d’Or shortlist, or is it something else?

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