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Opinion - Revisiting the 2008 Ballon d'Or: When Fernando Torres made a solid case for the award

Elvis Ume O
ANALYST
Feature
21 Sep 2019, 01:09 IST

Ronaldo won his first of five Ballon d'Or's in 2008
Ronaldo won his first of five Ballon d'Or's in 2008

While the Champions League and World Cup might rank high up there as the pinnacle of the game on a collective level, when it comes to individual awards, there is none bigger than the Ballon d'Or.

For all the talk of football being a team sport, personal accolades also rank highly on the wishlists of every footballer, particularly those at the very highest level, and although they might not come out to openly admit it, almost every player has dreamed of holding aloft that prized possession.

Why wouldn't they? As a list of Ballon d'Or winners reads like a roll call of the greatest in history, and every player would love to join a pantheon including names like Marco Van Basten, Ronaldo de Lima, Zinedine Zidane, Michel Platini, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Ronaldinho to name a few.

The Ballon d'Or has been awarded every year from 1956, and from its inception until 2009, the recipient of the award was strictly decided by sports journalists across the European continent.

Journalism is a highly revered profession, with professional journalists receiving training to present opinions in an unbiased manner, and generally, their views are usually held to extremely high standards, while they help shape public opinion.

However, after all is said and done, it is pertinent to note that despite their training and whatnot, journalists are very much human like the rest of us, prone to the same biases and prejudice that we all face, and this can cloud their judgement when giving views on public discourse.

There have been numerous instances throughout the history of the media helping to propagate propaganda, bending public perception to the whims and caprice of the journalist in question, and the voting pattern for the Ballon d'Or is no exception.

While some awardees were truly deserving such as Johan Cruyff in 1971, Michel Platini in 1985, Marco van Basten in 1989, Ronaldo in 1997 and Zinedine Zidane a year later, there were also some other questionable decision by the voting panel of journalists such as placing Michael Owen over Raul Gonzalez in 2001 and Matthias Sammer finishing over Ronaldo de Lima in 1996.

In this series, starting from 2008 till the next decade, we shall be making a case for players who were cruelly denied the Ballon d'Or.

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2008 Ballon d'Or winner - Cristiano Ronaldo

Then representing Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo put in a spectacular individual performance for the Red Devils, scoring 42 goals in all competitions to help Sir Alex Ferguson's men to the Premier League title as well as the Champions League.

The Portuguese international polled 446 votes in the total tally, and this award was significant for many reasons, with the most noteworthy being that it marked the first year of a decade in which Ronaldo and Lionel Messi would dominate the award ceremony in what is the most intense personal rivalry ever seen in the world of professional sports.

A certain 20-year-old Lionel Messi finished second with 281 points while Fernando Torres placed third with 179 points.

As far as individual performances go, Ronaldo's display in the 2007/2008 season ranks high up there with the best of all time, and it is almost blasphemous to suggest that he did not deserve the 2008 Ballon d'Or.

However, while Ronaldo might have been the overwhelming favourite to clinch the award, Fernando Torres also deserved a bigger shot than his third-place finish and could arguably have won the award in Ronaldo's stead.

The case for Torres to have been named the 2008 Ballon d'Or winner

Torres banged in goals for fun with Liverpool
Torres banged in goals for fun with Liverpool

Torres had starred with his boyhood club Atletico Madrid, performing as one of only a handful of quality players at the club in times which was a far cry from the prestige enjoyed Los Rojibancos at the moment.

A transfer to Liverpool in 2007 brought him to global attention and what followed at Anfield was nothing short of extraordinary.

The then 23-year-old was extremely potent in front of goal, scoring all manners of goals in a season which saw him net 33 goals from just 46 games in all competitions.

Of those 33, 24 came in the Premier League which saw Fernando Torres eclipse Ruud van Nistelrooy's previous record of 23 for most goals scored by a foreigner in their debut Premier League season and this is a record that still stands till this day.

There were also numerous goals record during the course of that season. Torres became the first player since Roger Hunt to score in eight consecutive Anfield matches and ended his debut season with four hat-tricks for Liverpool. By contrast, Cristiano Ronaldo scored just one hat-trick in his entire Manchester United career.

While his Liverpool heroics did not end in any tangible team success, Torres did not end the year trophyless, as, after his spectacular campaign with the Reds, he continued from where he left off on the international scene with Spain.

The Fuenlabrada native assisted a goal for David Villa in the opening game against Russia and opened his goals account in the 2-1 victory over Switzerland. His most important contribution, however, came in the ultimate game when he scored the only goal to help Spain to a 1-0 victory over Germany.

To the casual fan, this was just another goal in just another international final, but to 46 million Spaniards back home, that goal represented much more than that.

Torres' goal helped end 44 years of heartbreak for Spain
Torres' goal helped end 44 years of heartbreak for Spain

For many years, La Furia Roja had been the ultimate definition of 'perennial underachievers,' as despite having a very strong league with multiple world-class players, the Spanish national team simply could not pull their weight at international tournaments.

From Juanito, Carlos Santillana and Carles Rexach in the 1970s, Emilio Butragueno and Manolo Sanchis in the 1980s to Raul Gonzalez and Fernando Hierro in the 1990s, Spain had no shortage of world beaters who dominated on the club scene, but for one reason or another failed to make it on the international stage.

Year after year, it was the same story, with Spain breezing through the qualification stage only to fall short at the main tournament, and heading into Euro 2008, there was no indication that it was going to end differently.

Indeed, Spain had embarrassingly been eliminated at the group stage at Euro 2004 four years earlier, while they only got as far as the round-of-16 at the 2006 World Cup, and despite having talented players like David Villa, Xavi, Iker Casillas and Fernando Torres, the Spanish public would have been forgiven for not getting their hopes up.

As it happened, Torres' 33rd minute lobbed finish past Jens Lehmann in the final helped Spain to their first major international trophy in 44 years, and this was somewhat symbolic in breaking the previous 'shackles', as it helped launch an unprecedented era of international success for the Iberian nation.

The Euro is the biggest international competition on the European continent, and performance in the tournament has gone a long way to determining the Ballon d'Or winners throughout history.

Matthias Sameer (1996), Luis Figo (2000), Michel Platini (1984) but to name a few owed their Ballon d'Or triumphs to their displays at Euro rather than performance on the club scene, and it is pertinent to note that 2008's winner Cristiano Ronaldo scored just one goal from four matches as Portugal got knocked out at the first knockout stage.

While Cristiano Ronaldo might have been a very deserving winner of the 2008 Ballon d'Or, Fernando Torres was equally deserving, and his third-place finish would go down as one of the many gaffes in Ballon d'Or podium finishes.

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