By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
For the fifth year running, there is a Spaniard shortlisted in the final three candidates to win the Ballon d’Or. But just like in the 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 editions of the prestigious prize, Spain will almost certainly not be celebrating an individual victory for one of their players in Zurich on Monday.
Spain’s story in the Ballon d’Or is one of near misses in recent years. Fernando Torres came third in 2008, Xavi completed the podium in 2009, he and Andres Iniesta finished behind Lionel Messi in 2010 and Xavi made up the numbers again last year. This time it will be Iniesta who misses out again, leaving perhaps the most dominant international team in history without the individual winner it probably deserves.
Indeed, since the inception of the award in 1956, there has been only one Spanish winner – Luis Suarez in 1960. The Barcelona and Inter great twice finished second after winning the prize, while Raul came close in 2001, ending as runner-up to future Real Madrid team-mate and surprise victor Michael Owen.
But Spain’s side these days is stronger than ever before and has made history by winning Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and the European Championships again last summer. Iker Casillas, Xavi and Iniesta have been fixtures in all three triumphs in a team described by many as the greatest international outfit ever, but still the country’s curse continues in the Ballon d’Or.
The prime year for a Spanish success in the award was surely 2010. Inter treble-winner and Netherlands World Cup finalist Wesley Sneijder was overlooked in the initial voting, leaving both Xavi and Iniesta in the final three alongside Barcelona team-mate Messi, who had failed to shine at the World Cup and ended the competition without a single strike to his name. Nevertheless, with the votes split between Xavi and Iniesta, the two Spaniards cancelled each other out and the Argentine claimed the prize for the second successive year.
Now Messi is set to claim the prize for the fourth time in a row, with even Cristiano Ronaldo powerless to prevent the Argentine from walking away with another Ballon d’Or. And Spain will miss out again.
In an era dominated by Messi and Ronaldo, Spain’s stars are likely to remain unlucky, especially if the Argentine continues to shine at international level as he has done in 2012. The gap, if anything, is widening.
Spain boss Vicente del Bosque is set to scoop the coach’s award and the Salmantine deserves that honour after leading La Roja to Euro 2012 success last summer, on the back of the side’s World Cup triumph two years earlier.
But Del Bosque will be the first to admit he could not have achieved such success without his players and one of his side’s footballers surely merits recognition, too.
In many ways, Spain’s players are victims of their own success; their brand of football owes so much to a team ethos and has achieved results through a great collective effort, benefiting from top talents but without relying on individual brilliance in the same way Barcelona and Real Madrid depend upon Messi and Ronaldo, respectively.
Perhaps, then, Fifa could consider honouring Spain with a team award. Because with Messi still approaching his peak at 25 and Ronaldo not 28 until next month, those two look likely to dominate this prize for the foreseeable future. And, having won a World Cup and back-to-back continental crowns with La Roja, as well as everything there is to win at club level, there is little more Spain’s stars can do to claim the Ballon d’or.
Follow Ben Hayward on