Her’s FIFA’s Golden Ball nominees list for this World Cup’s best player award, selected by FIFA’s “technical study group”: Wesley Sneijder of the Netherlands, David Villa of Spain, Diego Forlan of Uruguay, Asamoah Gyan of Ghana, Andres Iniesta of Spain, Lionel Messi of Argentina, Mesut Oezil of Germany, Arjen Robben of the Netherlands, Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany and Xavi Hernandez of Spain.
You will notice there is not a defender nor a goalkeeper amongst the ten nominees. The closest we have to a defensive player is the roaming Bastian Schweinsteiger. This does mark a departure from recent Golden Ball awards: a defensive player has finished in the top three of voting in each of the past three World Cups (Favio Cannavaro of Italy in 2006, Oliver Kahn of Germany in 2002 and Lilian Thuram of France in 1998).
No individual defensive player has been hyped-up in the way Cannavaro or Kahn were in the previous two tournaments, while Thuram unusually scored a couple of goals to earn his spotlight.
Perhaps it’s just because the backlines of Spain and the Netherlands, the finalists, haven’t had an obvious outstanding performer, or at least, not one picked up one by the media. Incidentally, FIFA’s shortlist for Young Player of the Tournament is also comprised entirely of attacking players (Thomas Mueller, Giovani Dos Santos and Andre Ayew, for the record).
FIFA’s awards don’t particularly matter, though they do go into record books and have an unmatched prominence. It’d be nice if the nominees reflected some balance between attack and defense (not that Schweinsteiger or Xavi play one way, of course).