In Brief

Ronaldo wins Ballon d'Or: Has it become a La Liga love in?

Real Madrid star reclaims award from Lionel Messi as Spanish teams claim the top six places, with Riyad Mahrez seventh

By Gavin Mortimer

Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo was crowned the world's best footballer for the fourth time as he beat Lionel Messi to the Ballon d'Or on Monday night.

Messi finished second and Atletico Madrid's French forward Antoine Griezmann was third, underlining the fact that the award is in danger of descending into farce such is its bias towards Spanish clubs. They should rename it La Liga Ballon d'Or and be done with it.

Luis Suarez of Barcelona finished fourth, his teammate Neymar was fifth, and Gareth Bale of Real Madrid was sixth. Sometimes one wonders if the 173 journalists who cast a vote watch any other football apart from La Liga.

They're all great players but last season La Liga was a three-horse race with Atletico Madrid finishing third, behind Barcelona and Real Madrid, 24 points above fourth-place Villarreal.

It smacks of injustice that Jamie Vardy, whose 24 league goals in 36 games played such a decisive part in Leicester's fairytale season finished no higher than eighth, while Foxes teammate Riyad Mahrez was seventh in the vote, the best ranked Premier League player.

But such is the nature of the Ballon d'Or - aka or the "Ronaldo and Messi love-in" as it's known in some circles.

The last time it was won by anyone else was 2007 when Kaka took the award. And Ronaldo and Messi have come first and second in nine of the past ten years (Andres Iniesta came second in 2010).

Has there really been no-one else in a decade of football - not a German, a Swede or a Frenchman - who has deserved the award? The last player from outside La Liga to make the podium was Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who finished third in 2014.

"I never thought in my mind that I would win the Golden Ball four times," said Ronaldo, whose win last night goes with his victories in 2008, 2013 and 2014, but still leaves him one short of Messi's tally. "I am pleased. I feel so proud and happy. I have the opportunity to thank all of my team-mates, the national team, Real Madrid, all of the people and players who helped me to win this individual award."

Ronaldo scored 54 goals for Real Madrid last season, helping them win the Champions League final, and he was a member of the Portugal squad that won the European Championships, although his impact on the final was negligible after going off injured in the first-half.

Already this season he's scored 19 goals in 20 games for Real, and with Messi having netted 22 times for Barcelona the world can look forward to one of them receiving the Ballon d'Or 12 months from now.

Jamie Vardy is only English player on Ballon d'Or shortlist

25 October

Eight Premier League players, but only one of them English, are on the 30-strong shortlist for this year's Ballon d'Or award, which looks certain to be won once again by either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.

Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy is the sole Englishman deemed worthy of inclusion in France Football's list of the world's best players. 

"To be named alongside Barcelona’s Lionel Messi is yet another example of the remarkable rise of a man who was playing for Stocksbridge Park Steels in the seventh tier of English football in 2010," says The Times, but neither he nor any of the other English-based players on the list is likely to come close to challenging the top dogs of world football.

Vardy is joined by his team-mate Riyad Mahrez, Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, West Ham playmaker Dmitri Payet and the Man City duo of Sergio Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne, all of whom impressed with their performances in the Premier league last season. 

The final two players from the English top flight, Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahmiovic, are both at Manchester United, but earned their place on the shortlist playing for Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain last season. 

Welshman Gareth Bale of Real Madrid is also on the shortlist, representing Wales, and is one of the few players who could challenge Messi or Ronaldo.

It took nine hours to unveil the shortlist of players, as France Football released the names in batches, but by the end "there was still an air of predictability about it all", says Alan Smith of The Guardian.

"Above the inexorable pettiness fastened to this vainglorious contest the dearth of British players among the world's best was again laid bare... The last Premier League player to win was Ronaldo in 2008 and for a league so desperate to claim it is the world’s best this annual jamboree makes for grim viewing."

It is also predictable viewing. This year will be the ninth in a row that the world's best player has been either Messi or Ronaldo. Current holder Messi has five titles and Ronaldo three.

"It is in the battle for third where the real interest resides," says Smith of the Guardian. "[Antoine] Griezmann and Bale are obvious contenders, with Barcelona's Luis Suarez and Neymar, who brought such joy to Brazil during the Olympic Games, sure to feature high up when the results are announced.

"For the sixth time in eight years, the podium will probably belong solely to La Liga. Spain continues to dominate with 13 nominees shared between Real, Barca and Atletico."

Ballon d'Or shortlist:

Sergio Aguero (Man City), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund), Gareth Bale (Real Madrid), Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Kevin De Bruyne (Man City), Paulo Dybala (Juventus), Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico), Gonzalo Higuaín (Juventus), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Man Utd), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Koke (Atletico M), Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), Robert Lewandowski (Bayern), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Riyad Mahrez (Leicester), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich), Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Neymar (Barcelona), Dmitri Payet (West Ham), Pepe (Real Madrid), Paul Pogba (Man Utd), Rui Patrício (Sporting Lisbon), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Luis Suarez (Barcelona), Arturo Vidal (Bayern Munich), Jamie Vardy (Leicester)

Renato Sanches beats Marcus Rashford to Golden Boy award 

24 October

England and Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford has missed out on the European Golden Boy award, finishing second behind Portugal and Bayern Munich youngster Renato Sanches.

The award is presented to the best player under 21 years of age in Europe's top divisions. It is voted for by journalists in 30 countries and presented by the Italian newspaper Tuttosport.

Sanches, who signed for Bayern from Benfica for €35m in May, helped Portugal win the European Championships this summer.

"After picking up an injury at Euro 2016, Sanches is yet to play a full 90 minutes or provide a goal or assist for the German champions, but he did enough to convince the judges to award him the prize," says ESPN.

"The first Portuguese player to ever win the award, Sanches is in select company. Manchester United's Anthony Martial lifted the award last year, while previous winners include Raheem Sterling (2014), Paul Pogba (2013), Mario Gotze (2011), Mario Balotelli (2010), Lionel Messi (2005) and Wayne Rooney (2004)."

Hopes that United could make two titles in a row were dashed, says the BBC, and Old Trafford "had to make do with second place despite Rashford's brilliant breakthrough year at Old Trafford".

Another young Bayern Munich star, Kingsley Coman, was third.

With one award settled, the nominations for the Ballon d'Or have been revealed today by France Football magazine, which runs the award, which is presented to the world's best player.

A long-list of 30 players was due to be unveiled throughout the day. Sergio Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne of Manchester City and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were included in the list, but there was no room for Ibrahimovic's Manchester United teammate David de Gea, reports the Daily Mirror. Another notable absentee from the shortlist, which was announced in stages in alphabetical order, was Karim Benzema of Real Madrid.

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