The Ballon d'Or and its divorce from FIFA

The Ballon d'Or: a long and illustrious history

The Ballon d’Or was created in 1956, the same year as the European Cup. In fact, the two were thought up by the same people: the editorial group behind L’Equipe and France Football. Years later, FIFA tried to get in on the act and created its own award, which it named the FIFA World Player. The two lived side by side for 19 years but FIFA’s accolade never managed to match the original Ballon d’Or in the collective imagination. It just seemed an unnecessary copy and more often than not (12 times out of 19) the winners were the same. With this in mind, FIFA made a decision: ‘if you can’t beat them, join them.’

Johan Cruyff pictured receiving the Ballon d'Or in 1971

Two awards become one

Since 2010, both accolades have been fused into one: the FIFA Ballon d’Or. I liked it, and I’m sad that it’s gone. But when I visited Paris, the original home of all of this, I could tell that they weren’t happy with it. I got the impression that they felt that they’d given up more (the name, the tradition) than they’d received back (the FIFA stamp, something that is far less prestigious in some cases than the body would like to admit). Nevertheless, I still liked it. There was just one award. Journalists, national team managers and captains voted and FIFA put on a big, glamorous show while at the same time managing to keep the outcome a secret until the very end.

Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo: an award for each?

A return to old ways

Now they’re going their separate ways. It doesn’t surprise me, bearing in mind the little enthusiasm I saw in Paris. They felt that FIFA didn’t give them the importance they deserved. The Ballon d’Or will go back to being what it used to be, voted for only by journalists. FIFA will probably dig out and blow the dust off their failed FIFA World Player award – the award that just seemed a fake copy of the Ballon d’Or, voted for by people who, as we have come to see quite clearly in recent years, make decisions in a very conditioned way. At least some good can come of this divorce: Messi can win one and Cristiano Ronaldo the other. That way they’ll both be happy, just for once.