We are still in this post-Golden Ball environment that surrounds us. As I explained on previous occasions, the election of Luka Modric as the best player of 2018 represented a great injustice, as there were other players who deserved it much more than him. But this is neither the first nor the last time that is not awarded to who really was the best of the year. And is that the Golden Ball, despite being the most prestigious individual award that a player can receive, has never been free of controversy and wrong choices. That is why today we will review the unjust Golden Balls of this millennium; those editions that were delivered wrongly and we will do historical justice for those who really deserved it. You will be surprised to see how many times France Football missed it when delivering such a famous award.
Ballon D'Or 2000.
Technically this was not the first Golden Ball of the millennium (which contrary to popular belief, the new millennium began in 2001), but I considered it unfair and therefore I could not leave it out. In that distant year 2000, the winner was the Portuguese Luis Figo, who won in the voting Zinedine Zidane and Andriy Shevchenko. The funny thing about this award is that at the club level Figo could not win any title with FC Barcelona. On the other hand, in the Champions League the culé team was eliminated in the semifinals against Real Madrid. In those days, Barcelona had already fallen into one of its historical holes.
While with his selection, Figo disputed the EURO 2000 in which they managed to reach a historic semi-final. Unfortunately, the Portuguese team lost in the semifinals against the powerful France, who was the current world champion, with a golden goal from Zidane. It is noteworthy that despite not having obtained the title, Figo was one of the best players of the tournament and a fundamental pillar of his team. The reality is that Figo, despite not having obtained important titles, had a year with a very good football level, being both his club and his national team. But for those who watched that 1999-200 season, it was clear that Portuguese was far from being the best footballer in the world. There was simply someone better than him. The reality is that his controversial transfer to Real Madrid in the summer of 2000, which made him the most expensive signing in history, influenced a lot among the voters. As always, the blessed marketing.
So who should win the Golden Ball? It could not be other than the French Zinedine Zidane. Despite not having obtained titles with Juventus, anyone with four fingers in front recognized that Zidane was the soccer player who played the best football in that year 2000. Despite having had poor goals and assists statistics in that year compared to what is being asked today, those were other times and the goals did not matter so much. The truth is that Zidane did not need goals to make it clear that he was the best of all. His influence in his club and in his National Team was undeniable and irreplaceable.
In addition, the jewel in the crown of that year 2000 for Zidane was crowned champion of the EURO with France. Zizou was awarded unquestionably as the best player of that tournament, appearing at times when he most needed it with a team with goals and memorable performances (such as the aforementioned semifinal against Portugal, for example). The truth is that Zidane had all the merits, both individual and collective, to get that Golden Ball. It's not that Figo had a bad year, it's just that Zidane was better. And if that edition had been fair, the French midfielder had another Golden Ball in his windows.
Ballon D'Or 2001.
This is, without a doubt, the most scandalous, controversial and unfair Golden Ball of the millennium; and beware if it is not also from the modern era. That year 2001, against all odds and surprisingly, the Englishman Michel Owen was distinguished as the best player of the year; being also the second youngest to get it, at 21 years and 11 months. This prize surprised everyone, even Owen, since he was not among the favorites to opt for this award. A large trail of suspicion involves the choice of Owen as a Golden Ball since few considered that he had done the necessary merits on an individual level to get this award. In that year the Liverpool striker was going through the best moment of his still promising career. That season Owen managed to lift 5 titles with Liverpool: UEFA Cup, FA Cup, Carling Cup, Charity Shield and the European Supercup. There is no doubt that it is a fairly broad crop of titles. Yes, Owen won all the titles that nobody cares about.
But the reality is that the English striker did nothing extraordinary at the individual level to deserve the Golden Ball and, in the end, remember that it is an individual prize. Maybe we could think that despite not getting really important titles, Owen would at least score a lot of goals to justify, but nothing could be further from reality. Owen finished fifth in the Premier League scoring charts in the 2000-2001 season scoring 15 goals, well short of the 23 scored by Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink. In fact, Owen did not even have the best year of his career in 2001 with respect to the scoring charts. Owen also was not a UEFA Cup goal scorer obtained by Liverpool and could not score in the most important matches of that competition. Do they seem sufficient merits to be named the best footballer in the world? It is clear that no. The problem was not what Owen did or did not do in 2001, but against whom he competed.
And it is that the maximum candidate to take control of that Ball of Gold was none other than Raúl González Blanco. In that year 2001 the Spaniard was at the height of his career, scoring goals of all shapes and colors in whatever competition he set foot. In that 2000-2001 season Raúl accumulated individual and collective titles that converted the long-awaited dream that a Spanish would once again be awarded as the best in the world in a latent and almost inevitable reality, almost. On the club level Raúl managed to win with Real Madrid La Liga that season, in addition to being UEFA Champions League semifinals being beaten by Bayern Münich. And from the individual, Raul won the Pichichi Trophy that season that distinguished him as the top scorer in La Liga after scoring 24 goals; He also finished third in the fight for the European Golden Boot. To all this we add that he was the top scorer in the UEFA Champions League and the best striker in the competition. Goals and more goals. Particularly in that year 2001, with a scoring nose seldom seen, Raul was the effectiveness made footballer. Both collectively and individually, there was no one with more merit than Raúl to win the Golden Ball. What went wrong then?
One thing: being Spanish. And when we see that the magazine that delivers the Golden Ball is France Football ... of France, we understand everything. It is no secret to anyone that between France and Spain there has always been a great rivalry. And France Football does not pass this. Although it is true that accredited journalists from all over the world vote, we also know that the opinion of the French editors of the magazine weighs heavily. The truth is that France Football has always felt a great aversion to anything that is Spanish and, as demonstrated in 2001, they do not hide it. This is the reason why no Spanish footballer has managed to win the Golden Ball in the modern era since Luis Suarez achieved it back in 1964, although you did all the merits as Raúl did in 2001. They say that in the decade of 1980 had already stolen one of inexplicable way to the "Buitre" Emilio Butragueño. Do you know what was the excuse of France Football not to give the Golden Ball to Raúl? That he had not won anything with the Spanish National Team. Perhaps they forgot two things: 1) In 2001, no international tournament was played; and 2) Owen had not won anything with England either. There is no different way of calling the Golden Ball 2001 more than a total shame and an insult to football and the intelligence of its fans.
Tomorrow I will return with three more examples of unfair Gold Balls, to continue doing historical justice and reward those who really deserved it.