UEFA president Michel Platini made a pretty reasonable comment in Madrid earlier this week, saying in his opinion the Ballon d'Or should go to a German player after the country's success in the World Cup. The statement set off the Real Madrid spin machine though, and the team took matters into their own hands.
First, Carlo Ancelotti went after Platini's neutrality in a pre-match press conference. The whopper came just after Ancelotti's remarks, when the club released this statement (via AS):
"In view of the declarations made by the president of UEFA, Michel Platini, concerning the winner of the Ballon d'Or, Real Madrid C. F. would like to outline:
"Firstly, its surprise at the repeated declarations regarding his personal preferences over the choice of the winner of the Ballon d'Or, particularly given that he is the head of European football's principal body, where our understanding is that the strictest impartiality should prevail.
"Secondly, the Ballon d'Or is an individual rather than collective prize which is awarded annually to the best player in the world, and we believe that, in order to maintain its prestige, those who participate in the vote should take into account exclusively the individual professional achievements of the players.
"Finally, we believe that Cristiano Ronaldo has without doubt had his best ever professional year individually, and has claimed the Champions League, the Golden Shoe and the record for the highest goalscorer in an edition of the Champions League, as well as the Copa del Rey and the top-scorer award in La Liga. In the current season, he has won the European Super Cup, scoring both goals in the match, and is achieving spectacular figures such as his 20 goals in the first 12 matchdays of La Liga, which confirm his great moment of form and ensure that, more than ever, he is deserving of the Ballon d'Or."
Politicking for your player to win the award is nothing new, but this haughty statement is some next-level bullshit. First of all, Platini's comments were completely defensible. The World Cup, as everyone knows, is the single biggest sporting tournament in the entire world. The winning players should be afforded deference come awards time, and they usually are: since the 1990 edition, the Ballon d'Or winner in a World Cup year has been a member of the winning national team all but twice, when Hristo Stoichkov won in 1994 because Brazil's Romário, who would've won otherwise, was ineligible as a non-European (a rule that was changed the following year), and when Lionel Messi won in 2010 because it was the year the world realized he was turning into an all-time great. Germany's Manuel Neuer winning would be perfectly in line with that tradition, and would reward a position, goalkeeper, that rarely gets the accolades.
And that's even before we get to the Cristiano stanning. This statement is part of the larger Ronaldo campaign, the most ridiculous statements coming from teammates, like Pepe calling him "already the best player of all time" and Fabio Coentrão somehow managing a straight face while saying "there has never been a bigger difference between the best in the world and the number two." We might agree with you there, though not in the way you mean it.
Real's own statement isn't even internally consistent. First, they call for voters to only consider individual achievements, but then they list Cristiano's team success as part of his case for the award. The best player of the last league season was Luis Suárez, who bit his way out of consideration at the World Cup, the best at the World Cup (where an injured Ronaldo was unable to leave much of an impression) was probably one of a few of the Germans (Thomas Muller, Neuer, Toni Kroos) or Messi and maybe James Rodríguez, though Ronaldo has been the best of the current season. In a purely individual performance sense, there are a few who could make just as strong of a case for the award as the Portuguese winger.
But none of this is to say Ronaldo isn't deserving of the Ballon d'Or. He will win, and it will be completely reasonable, just like it would be in the microscopic chance Neuer or another one of the Germans took it home. The problem is how unseemly this all is. The more clubs make these ridiculous statements, the more FIFA placates to these narratives like, say, pushing back voting so one particular player has a chance to make a better impression, the more it looks like the politics are what determine winners, and not what actually happens on the pitch.
Maybe we're already late to this party. Maybe we should follow Franck Ribéry's lead and consider the award what it really is: nothing more than a popularity contest. Seen through that lens, we couldn't imagine a better winner.