Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, and Andres Iniesta made the shortlisted for the Ballon d’Or. This means that the the Ballon d’Or is guaranteed to stay in Barcelona (Messi won last year after Barça’s annus mirabilis.)
There are a lot of people grumbling about the shortlist, notably in Milan, and perhaps with good reason. Inter won the treble, yet no Inter player was considered good enough. No doubt that the Madrid tabloids AS and Marca are secretly fuming at the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo (as is, I am sure, Cristiano Ronaldo.)
There are enough people to bash the shortlist, so I want to defend it. It is really a recognition that (a) the three best players in the world are Messi, Xavi, and Iniesta (possibly in that order); and (b) this Barça side is quite possibly the best club side to ever play the game. Even though Inter won the Champions League last season, it is Barça that has captured the hearts and minds of the football romantic.
Oddly enough if there is one questionable candidate on the list it is Messi himself, almost universally acknowledged as the greatest player in today’s game. The reason why this is curious is because of the World Cup. Xavi and Iniesta were integral players on the winning side (a Spain team that is going to go down in history as one of the greatest national teams ever.) Undoubtedly, the lack of World Cup success is what kept the Inter players and Cristiano Ronaldo off the shortlist. In a World Cup year, a World Cup winner usually wins the big awards. Messi, by sheer virtue of his talent, got the final spot despite a disappointing World Cup for Argentina (which, I hasten to add, was not Messi’s fault. Argentina would not have done nearly as well as it did had Messi not been pulling the strings. The fault for Argentina’s subpar performance lies with its Maradona, and everyone knows it.)
Although any of the three would be a worthy winner, I cannot image the Ballon d’Or going to anyone other than Xavi–sort of a lifetime recognition award. He is Barcelona’s midfield general. He creates the attacks and controls the pace of the match. Xavi was behind Barcelona’s sextuple and Spain’s Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 triumphs. If it were fair, the award would go to both Xavi and Iniesta. They have a symbiotic relationship in the midfield–while both are great, together they are divine. It is the Xavi Iniesta combination that sets Barcelona and Spain apart from the competition. They will be forever mentioned in the same breath like other great artistic duos: Lennon & McCartney, Astaire & Rogers, Peanut Butter & Jelly.
As every Barça fan is all too aware, Xavi is not getting younger; eventually he will retire. There is almost no doubt that La Masia’s production line is preparing for that. In fact, La Masia already produced an heir for Xavi: Cesc Fabregas, the one that got away. Although the majority of boys who go to La Masia do not end up on the Barcelona first team, Fabregas eventually would have. He was being groomed for greatness. However, he was lured to Arsenal with the promise of playing time–something which Barcelona could not offer him at the time. Arsene Wenger kept his word; Fabregas is the star of Arsenal, whereas he would probably be a substitute for Xavi and Iniesta at Barcelona (as he is for Spain.) The Barcelona midfield may be too clogged for a Fabregas right now. But Barça and the cules want him back; they feel his return is destiny. Fabregas himself has indicated that he wants to go home. Barça tried to bring him back this summer, but to no avail.
A part of me wonders why Fabregas is anxious to return. He may be the heir apparent, and he will fit into the team wherever he plays, but he will probably not start. Nor will he be the leader that he is at Arsenal. On the other hand, Fabregas is very much an equal to Xavi and Iniesta, as he proved at the World Cup and the Euro 2008. Perhaps he is at a crossroads, either he returns now or never. Maybe he is okay waiting for his turn to lead just so that he can be a part of one of the greatest club sides ever.
As a Barcelona fan, I want to see Fabregas as a part of the Blaugrana. And after Xavi retires, I want to see a Ballon d’Or shortist of Messi, Iniesta, and Fabregas.