Monday, November 27

Cannavaro... Ballon D'Or?

Today was France Football's official announcement of the year's Ballon D'Or honoree: Fabio Cannavaro. Scarcely a surprise, since Spanish and Italian newspapers had reported on this as early as November 16th, when the magazine's editor was spotted in Madrid presumably to inform the thirty-three year old of having won the race for Europe's (and perhaps the world's) most coveted individual award for the sport, the first for a defender since Matthias Sammer was awarded the Ballon D'Or a decade ago in 1996.

The early announcement felt just shy of surprising. And today's confirmation, while not a woeful choice by any stretch of the mind, feels myopic, based solely on his performance in the summer's World Cup, which in hindsight, was almost completely bereft of remarkable games and individual performances. In a charmless tournament, Italy perfectly exemplified the adage... you don't have to deserve the World Cup, you have to win it.

It is not hard to contemplate players more deserving of the award. Even without having to go past the Italian squad, there was the choice of Gianluigi Buffon, his amazing save of Zidane's powerful header late in the final, and a long, legendary career of safekeeping behind him. Certainly the most well regarded since Russia's Lev Yashin, "The Black Spider". That he came second place in the overall vote tally for the award is indicative of his abilities and of the unappreciated nature of his position. And had it not been for Zidane's career suicide-cum-headbutt, I wouldn't be writing this at all.

But when a seemingly unremarkable team performs such a feat, defensive stability becomes the focus of praise. And thus Cannavaro more or less stumbles into the award. Incredibly, the first in a long line of legendary Italian defenders to have won the award. The difference? His World Cup in Germany 06 to Franco Baresi's third place in Italy 90 and to Paolo Maldini's second place in USA 94.

In a way, I have an easier time seeing this decision as honoring Catenaccio, Italy's defensive legacy, their raison d'etre and their particular way of living the sport. And it suits. A tolerable choice until Messi blooms, Eto'o claims sole ownership of Barcelona's attack or Henry stops underperforming on the big games.


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