Giles Smith’s Thursday Thoughts

Chelsea fan Giles Smith comes to praise Cesar, not to overlook him as he presents this week’s column…

Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kante appear on the shortlist for the 2017 Ballon D’Or, which was announced this week, and I don’t suppose anyone around here would deny either of those players the copper-bottomed right to be there.

Mind you, we say ‘shortlist’, adopting the term used by several media outlets who covered the announcement, but, of course, when you come to look at it, it’s not very short at all. Thirty players feature in the field here - 30 candidates for one award. Technically, we’d call that a longlist, wouldn’t we? They certainly would do over at, say, the Booker prize, where, in an effort to ratchet up the annual literary tension (like it needed any ratcheting), they shove out a longlist of 16 virtually unreadable novels first, and then whittle it down to a shortlist of the eight outstandingly unreadable ones later in the process, before finally announcing, still later on, the winner, which is to say the single most absolutely unreadable one. By Booker standards, this Ballon D’Or selection amounts to pretty much two longlists-worth. Still, I suppose we should be grateful that they don’t try to milk it.

In the meantime, as fruitless a preoccupation as it is, I’m sure we can all think of the names of a few players who, in our own opinions, ought to be in the squad – especially a squad as big as this one. I would say I had my fingers crossed to see, in particular, the name Cesar Azpilicueta in that batch of 30, but actually it’s closer to the truth that I’ve mostly given up hope in this area. The non-appearance of Dave on these end-of-year honorary team-sheets is, I think we can all agree, one of our time’s great unsolved mysteries. 

I’d rank it up there with continuing uncertainty regarding the whereabouts of Shergar and the decision of the Krispy Kreme doughnut people, about five years ago, to stop doing the Glazed-with-Kreme one. What on earth was the thinking there? It’s called Krispy Kreme doughnuts, for heaven’s sake; and suddenly you can’t get an actual Krispy Kreme doughnut anymore? It’s like Pizza Express deciding not to do pizza.

Anyway, Dave, you will remember, didn’t make it into last year’s PFA Team of the Season, nor, perhaps even more bafflingly, into the Team of the Season for 2014/15, which included the other three title-winning members of our then back four (John Terry, Gary Cahill, Brana Ivanovic) but not Dave.

The PFA Awards are, of course, voted for by the players, and though it’s a cliché to suggest that the professionals see the game differently from the rest of us, I’ve got to say that, until that 2014/15 team selection was published, I didn’t realise that they saw it THAT differently. Ryan Bertrand completed the defensive line, which was, in a sense, a respectful nod in our direction, given where the formative portion of his history was spent, and I’m by no means suggesting he isn’t a good player who had an excellent season. But even so. Leaving out Dave that year made no sense, even in a world in which the cabinets at Krispy Kreme contain no Glazed-with-Kreme ones.

When last year’s PFA team came out, and Dave was again unaccountably missing, you had to wonder what he would have to do to get noticed, short of playing with a giant neon arrow suspended above his head. ‘See that big arrow over there? Watch how busy it is. See how much it does. Note how much the solidity of this team owes to it in the course of a match and across a season. Observe the two titles that might not have been delivered quite so readily without it.’ 

Ah well. Even if Dave were down for the Ballon, we wouldn’t especially be tipping him to lift the trophy come December - and, sorry to say, but we’re kind of obliged to feel the same way about the chances of Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kante, too. All partisanship aside, the fact is that, in the last 10 years, this particular award has only gone to a player called either Lionel or Cristiano. The last player to win the Ballon D’Or who wasn’t called either Lionel or Cristiano? That would be a decent quiz question. Except I’m now going to ruin it by telling you. It was Kaka of AC Milan in 2007.

In the context of the award’s history, once again this year it’s hard to look any further on the list than your Lionels and your Cristianos. And for what it’s worth, if there was any doubt about whose turn it is to win this time, I’d suggest that scoring the hat-trick which took your imperilled country to the World Cup finals (and thereby inadvertently proving beyond doubt to a judging panel of football writers that you do fancy it on a cold Tuesday night in Ecuador) probably clinches it for the person called Lionel.

The good thing is, it doesn’t really matter. The Ballon D’Or is surely the definitive example of that category of light entertainment which Rob Brydon has lastingly defined as ‘just a bit of fun.’ Except, of course, in as much as it stirs up resentment about who isn’t on the list. But I’m sure both Kante and Hazard know – and I’m sure Dave knows, too: football is a team game and, when push comes to shove, it’s measured in trophies, not awards. Things you have to win, in other words, rather than things people (who are human, and have failings) decide to give you.