Colombian striker Radamel Falcao has been selected as one of the 23 best players in the world, two days after scoring his 150th goal in Europe.
Falcao was nominated for FIFA’s coveted Balon d’Or on Tuesday morning, along with the elite of world soccer. Last year he came fifth. The award has been monopolized in recent years by Leo Messi, with the Argentina and Barcelona striker being named the world’s best player for the last four years.
But after Barcelona’s 7-0 aggregate demolition at the hands of Bayern Munich in last season’s Champions League, there is a strong case for the award to go to a player from the all-conquering treble-winning German team.
Bayern have six players nominted, with Frank Ribery – named Uefa’s European player of the year for the 2012-13 season – the leading contender amongst a crowd including defender Philipp Lahm, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, and midfielders Thomas Müller, Arjen Robben and Bastian Schweinsteiger.
If Ribery were to win the Balon d’Or he would be the first Frenchman to do so since Zinedine Zidane in 1998, who in that year memorably scored two headed goals in the World Cup Final to take the hosts to victory over Brazil.
As always, Cristiano Ronaldo will be in the running, although he is unlikely to overhaul Messi this time after the dinimutive Argentine scored 46 goals to Ronaldo’s 34 in last year’s La Liga, and also steered his Barcelona side to the league title, with Real Madrid trailing 15 points behind in second place.
Another contender is Gareth Bale after the Welshman single-handedly took Tottenham Hotspor to the brink of qualification for the Champions League, scoring 21 goals in the 2012-13 English Premier League, many of which were winners, and taking home the treble of PFA Players’ Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year, and FWA Player of the Year. The only other player to win all three awards in a single season was Ronaldo in 2007.
Bale became the most expensive player in history when he moved to Real Madrid for $138 million this summer. But he has struggled to make an impact so far, and was outshone on his ‘clasico’ debut by Barcelona’s new Brazilian star Neymar, who is also a contender for the Balon d’Or.
Falcao was also a big-money signing this summer – moving to Monaco from Atletico Madrid for $80 million to become the most expensive Colombian ever. He elevated his former club Atletico Madrid into consistent title challengers, scoring 70 goals in just 91 appearances, and has already scored 8 times for Monaco in 11 games.
Since arriving in Europe from Argentine side River Plate four years ago, “El Tigre” has scored at the frankly absurd rate of 0.83 goals per game, which translates to 150 goals in 179 games. Interestingly, his goal rate is exactly the same as Messi’s at Barcelona. Ronaldo scores at the comparatively meagre rate of 0.63 goals per game.
Falcao’s goals have delivered the UEFA Europa League championship to both of his last two clubs, Porto and Atletico, and this year took Colombia to their first World Cup finals since 1998. He scored two penalties in the sensational comeback against Chile that earned his country their ticket to Brazil 2014.
He is one of six Latin Americans nominated for the top individual prize in soccer. In addition to Messi and Neymar, there is also room for Uruguayans Edison Cavani and Luis Suarez, as well as Brazilian Thiago Silva.
The winner will be announced on January 8 in Zurich, Swtizerland.
Balon d’Or shortlist:
Gareth Bale (Wales), Edinson Cavani (Uruguay), Radamel Falcao (Colombia), Eden Hazard (Belgium), Zlatan Ibrahimović (Sweden), Andrés Iniesta (Spain), Philipp Lahm (Germany), Robert Lewandowski (Poland), Lionel Messi (Argentina), Thomas Müller (Germany), Manuel Neuer (Germany), Neymar (Brazil), Mesut Özil (Germany), Andrea Pirlo (Italy), Franck Ribéry (France), Arjen Robben (Netherlands), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany), Luis Suárez (Uruguay), Thiago Silva (Brazil), Yaya Touré (Côte d’Ivoire), Robin Van Persie (Netherlands), Xavi (Spain).