The 30 name shortlist for the 2009 Ballon d’Or nominees has been announced, a formality they may well have dispensed with as we all know Lionel Messi will walk away with the trophy. I did note however, one glaring fact when scrolling down the list of the largely usual suspects – not a single Italian is to be found. That is quite staggering when you consider Italy go into this year’s World Cup as reigning Champions, but if based solely on the last 12 months performances – can or should anyone really be surprised?
There can be no doubt that Serie A suffered tremendously as a result of the Calciopoli scandal, and with the exception of Inter, the top teams are still trying to get back to their level of 5 years ago. The era of Italian dominance in Europe seems a distant memory, replaced with the big four EPL clubs along with Barcelona, battling it out over the recent past for the right to hold the biggest prize in European club football. It would seem that the honours list of the world’s brightest and best talent reflects this tidal shift.
Ironically I would have to argue that Italy’s most consistent performer over the last year has been a man who has yet to be called up to the national team squad by Marcello Lippi, namely one Antonio Cassano. As Italy have failed to live up to their billing as World Champions, with a frankly embarrassing showing at the Confederations Cup and a stop-start qualification campaign for next year’s tournament, there has been an ever increasing pressure of public opinion to include Cassano in proceedings to give Italy a much needed boost of creativity, goal threat and general X factor in their play, but Lippi has to this point bee consistent in his refusal to even acknowledge the possibility.
At 27 the notoriously famous flake seems to have finally turned the corner mentally this season and has certainly been the stellar performer from an Italian perspective so far this term. In reality Lippi’s stubborn stance leads me to believe the odds are much higher that Totti will come out of International retirement and join the squad before Fantantonio ever gets a look-in.
It’s a shame really as the game sorely lacks people like Cassano today. Despite his reformed character he is essentially still the same man, a hint of the Cantona’s is probably the best way to put it and King Eric was another to be largely overlooked by his country. At the moment it seems Cassano will be made to regret his volatile past by an artificially enforced absence from the biggest stage, I for one just hope we are all not left feeling we missed out on something as well.