The prestigious Ballon dâ€™Or will not be awarded this year because the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the soccer season.
Awarded by France Football magazine, the Ballon dâ€™Or has been given out every year since Stanley Matthews won the first one in 1956. Lionel Messi has won it a record six times – one more than longtime rival Cristiano Ronaldo.
The magazine started giving out a women’s award in 2018, but that has also been put on hold.
â€œItâ€™s such a strange year that we couldnâ€™t treat it as an ordinary one. Letâ€™s say that we started talking about (making the decision) at least two months ago,â€ France Football editor Pascal FerrÃ© told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
â€œIt isnâ€™t a decision we took lightly but we had to accept it couldnâ€™t be a normal or typical Ballon dâ€™Or winner, and what really worried us it that it wouldnâ€™t be fairly awarded.â€
Because the gameâ€™s rules have been modified during the pandemic, the award itself was impacted.
â€œThe season started with certain rules and ended with other rules. In January and February, soccer was played in front of full stands. Then from May and June it was with empty stands,â€ FerrÃ© said. â€œThen we had the five substitutes rule and not three. Then other changes happened in terms of the competitions, notably the final eight (eight-team knockout format) for the Champions League when it had started with home and away legs.â€
With the European Championship and the Copa America postponed this year, the Champions League would have massively weighed on the awardâ€™s outcome but with a format inadvertently providing a shortcut for an eventual victor.
â€œThe Ballon dâ€™Or would have been decided over just three games: quarterfinal, semifinal, final,â€ FerrÃ© said. â€œThere were loads of changes (to soccerâ€™s rules) which are totally legitimate and which we donâ€™t contest given the worldwide health crisis, but we couldnâ€™t consider this as a typical year. Exceptional circumstances led to an exceptional decision.â€
The Kopa Trophy for the best player under 21 and the Lev Yashin award for best goalkeeper have also been canceled this year, FerrÃ© said.
Ronaldo, who will be 36 in February, can still win an Italian league-Champions League double with Juventus this season, but he is not the only player affected by France Football’s decision.
Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski reached 50 club goals for the first time and can win a treble. Kylian MbappÃ© and Neymar can clinch quadruples for Paris Saint-Germain.
â€œLook at Lewandowskiâ€™s performances this year, his form has been at the level of Messi and Ronaldo,â€ FerrÃ© said. â€œAnd Paris players, imagine if they win the Champions League.â€
To maintain the awardâ€™s authenticity and level of suspense, players were not informed of the decision before the announcement.
â€œWe are independent and autonomous enough not to have to raise our little finger and ask what they think,â€ FerrÃ© said. â€œWe will take their frustration as a sign of their attachment to the award.â€
If the virus impacts next season the same way, however, the award will be awarded.
â€œIt would be less of a problem in terms of fairness, because this time around weâ€™ve had two parts to the season: normal and not normal,â€ FerrÃ© said. â€œImagine that in 2021 all matches are played behind closed doors (without fans) and with five subs. We would adapt, because it would be comparable.â€
To fill this yearâ€™s gap, the magazine created another trophy: the France Football Dream Team.
The magazineâ€™s jury of 180 will elect historyâ€™s best team from a shortlist of five players in each position. The star-studded lineup will be known sometime in autumn.
Ronaldo will not be able to equal Messi this year, but he could find himself in the same team for the first time.
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