Ballon d'Or 2014: Where are all the English players?
FIFA announced its shortlist for the 2014 Ballon d'Or awards on Tuesday. The award is football's equivalent of Hollywood's Oscars. Like always, the 23-man list in contention for one of world football's most coveted prize raised a furore.
This year, FIFA's list courted controversy for the exclusion of Luis Suarez despite his 31 goals and 14 assists for Liverpool 2013-14 season, a performance that won him European Golden Boot Award and Premier League's best player award.
The list is selected by football experts from the FIFA Football Committee and by a group of experts from France Football. The wise men also deemed it unworthy of shortlisting even a single England player.
As for the English Premier League, only five players – Yaya Toure, Eden Hazard, Angel Di Maria, Thibault Courtois and Diego Costa – made the cut. Technically, only Yaya Toure and Eden Hazard were rewarded for their consistency in the Premier League, while the other three joined England's top flight football only after the judging period was over.
However, none of them are British as well. The only British player in the Ballon d'Or list is Gareth Bale.
Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge had a breakout season at Liverpool. The duo headlined Roy Hodgson's "New England" experiment at the World Cup. Both exceeded expectation in their roles for club and country. However, Sturridge and Sterling are nowhere near displacing the likes Manuel Neuer, Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Muller and Philipp Lahm from the shortlist.
Germany became the first European nation to win a World Cup in the Americas in 2014, which meant, that achievement guaranteed them heavy representation in the Ballon d'Or list. But on sifting through all the names, it would be hard to form unambiguous consensus in favour of any England player even over the likes of Javier Mascherano or Paul Pogba.
A look at last season's PFA Premier League team of the year makes for interesting reading.
The PFA side: Petr Cech (Chelsea), Seamus Coleman (Everton), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Luke Shaw (Southampton), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Yaya Toure (Manchester City), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Southampton), Luis Suarez (Liverpool), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool).
Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Daniel Struddige and Gary Cahill were the only English players in that list. This group would form the core of England's challenge in major tournaments in the future. Yet, they neither made it to the FIFA FIFPro World XI nor the Ballon d'Or shortlist.
Since 2008, Ballon d'Or has been a Cristiano Ronaldo-Lionel Messi duopoly. The two have six awards between them, with the Argentine leading the Portuguese 4-2. Though, this year, Ronaldo is overwhelming favourite to land the "Golden Ball" on the back of Real Madrid's conquest of the Champions League. Even the likely challenge to Ronaldo-Messi Ballon d'Or show in the future could come from Neymar and Eden Hazard and not any English player.
The evaporating presence of England players in top Premier League teams is a dangerous trend. The last English player to win the Premier League Golden Boot was Sunderland's Kevin Phillips way back in 2000. The growing influx and influence of foreign players in the cash-rich league, some would say, at the cost of homegrown players has led to the decline of English football.
Hence earlier this year, Chairman of the Football Association (FA), Greg Dykes came up with 80-page report proposing radical restructuring of English football.
The report included changes to the loan system and work permit proposals in the national game and the creation of a fifth professional league. The mission, as highlighted by Dykes, was to have 90 English players playing regularly in the top five leagues in Europe by 2022. As on the day of publishing the report, that number was 66.
Among all the changes suggested, the formation of a new league called League 3 deserves further debate and deliberation. Clubs would install 'B' teams in this new league, which would comprise of 25-man squads that must include at least 20 homegrown players, of which only three can be over 21 years. The 'B' teams cannot progress to the Championship or compete in FA or League cups.
Of course, there are voices in favour of and against the report. But finding middle ground to boost football at grassroots level should be the way forward.
The performance of England at the recently concluded World Cup perfectly illustrates the reasons behind the decline in English football. The last England player to win the Ballon d'Or was Michael Owen in 2001. As things stand, the wait for English fans to end that drought could be endless.