Actually, it went to Leo Messi, who in any circumstance is not an undeserving winner. But when you look at a man commanding a soccer ideology as perfectly as Xavi in Spain’s greatest sporting achievement then his claim to the world’s most influential player is a bit more tenuous.
Xavi’s style of playing so familiar to Barcelona was unhesitatingly incorporated into Spain’s national team. Because it works. No one maintains the shape of a midfield as brilliantly as Xavi. He is the one who resets, recycles, and releases players like Messi to do what they do best – make defenders look silly. Though Spain won the World Cup with the fewest goals scored they were never outplayed. With a player like Xavi it usually comes down to the matter of when they score. Messi is his best executioner but Villa, Bojan, and Pedro have been beneficiaries too.
With Maradona casting aside Juan Sebastian Veron, the only player within a whiff of Xavi’s calibre – Messi became less effective having to drop deeper to link up with Javier Mascherano. The Germans just had to wait in ambush. No one more than Messi knows better the reason for the disparity between his club and national performances. He, Veron and countless others acknowledge the symphonic quality of the Barca midfield orchestrated by Xavi.
We can also make the case for Wesley Sneijder, instrumental in giving Inter the title that they craved most, the Champions League. Under Roberto Mancini, the attack was carried out by individualistic and opportunistic strikers like Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Real Madrid reject brought to Inter in a master stroke by Mourinho became the club’s playmaker easing the burden on Diego Milito. Sneijder also proved no slouch at scoring goals. Pushed hard by Roma, his set pieces proved decisive in winning the Serie and the Coppa Italia. And who can forget his seal on the Brazil game in the World Cup.
Sid Lowe explains why someone like Sneijder was overlooked in the run up to the final three candidates. He became a victim of FIFA’s desire to amalgamate the Ballon d’Or with the Fifa World Player Award. Under the old format, the Ballon D’Or awarded by France Football would have chosen Sneijder. Messi would have finished fourth. But now the expanded pool of voters includes coaches and captains who pulled the votes for the Argentinian.
Some tabloids complained about an anti-Spanish bias after the awards. But the more obvious explanation is that Xavi and Iniesta split the vote which unfortunately did not work out well for either one of them. The increased number of voters have also diluted objectivity. Many have a political axe to grind. Some just choose their team mates in a fit of blind allegiance.
Jose Mourinho deserved the coach of the year award. So much of his success is built on a chip on the shoulder bravura that even in this august moment he did not let go of his cagey and calculating persona. He looked like someone was going to announce it as a very big mistake. But he too is notable for doing what Xavi does so well, make others give off their best. Wherever he is – Porto, Chelsea, Inter, and now at Real, his players are lifted to a different level of performance.
Marta became the world’s best woman player for the fifth time. The title is an ongoing battle between the Brazilian and Birgit Prinz for the last seven years – a feat of notable durability.