During the course of the Ballon d’Or awards, lobbying can sometimes make the difference and it’s often in favour of Real Madrid. Los Merengues are pushing for Karim Benzema ahead of the others, like Bayern, who are doing little in the same fashion. Why is there such a big difference? We’ll try to explain.
Twenty-three minutes. Real Madrid had waited 23 minutes, a decent wait without doubt. Spain, of which Madrid is the capital city, had just lost in the final of the Nations League against France. And 23 minutes later, Real Madrid sent a message on their Twitter account to the French national side.
Not a word for the Spanish team. But the real goal of the tweet was to launch the campaign for the Ballon d’Or: “Congratulations to our brilliant player Benzema, Ballon d’Or.” 25,000 retweets, 80,000 likes. Real are not bothered by the Nations League or Les Bleus.
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They know that this gives the first title of the season to their centre forward, a spectacular goalscorer in the final of said tournament.
When it comes to the Ballon d’Or, it’s worth trying everything. And if the verdict is uncertain, if nobody knows which criterion will be the most influential, one thing is sure: It’s better to be part of the Real Madrid team in this battle. Real is a kingmaker that has crowned seven different players (a record), because they consider the individual trophy as an award to the club. It’s a question of prestige. The Ballon d’Or is part of the DNA of a club that is built from amassing stars. It is right now the only club to have in its stadium a ‘Ballon d’Or Room.’ “In the most prestigious place,” according to the official website, and where “there are armchairs which, because of their proximity to the pitch, offer the most perfect view.”
Real, an organised gang
“It’s necessary to remember that in the first year of David Beckham at the club, Real did not have a true central midfielder, but that was the sacrifice to amass all the Ballon d’Ors,” Eurosport Spain journalist Enrique Sanchez told us. “Real were the team who had to put together the best players in the world. You had to have the Ballon d’Or winners in your team, or win some.”
The Ballon d’Or even became a unit to measure the competitiveness of the team. And to justify the dismissal of Julen Lopetegui in 2018, Florentino Perez explained: “The club's heads note that there is a big difference between the results on the pitch and the quality of a team with eight Ballon d’Or nominees”
FOOTBALL 1999 Juventus Manchester United Roy Keane Zinedine Zidane
Image credit: Imago
You should know that the Real president counts 17 Ballon d’Or for his club, including those of Michael Owen, Zinedine Zidane and Kaka, who had won their awards without having yet worn the Real kit. That’s one way to make Real the club of the Ballon d’Or (while Barcelona have actually won more), and it’s also an argument to attract players who are yet to receive individual recognition, like Kylian Mbappe, who knows that at Real, everything will be done in order to win them.
So when Autumn arrives, Real starts the campaign. This year, after the tweet that kicked it off, Zinedine Zidane, Fabio Cannavaro, Luis Figo and the Brazilian Ronaldo, former Ballon d’Or winners, former Real Madrid players, offered up their support. Even Luka Modric, the last winner from Real, gave his unconditional support to Benzema: “He deserves it and I hope that he wins. The attack was collective and organised. It’s an old habit and it’s why Real Madrid have secured Ballon d’Ors which were far from certain victories.
2013, 2018: Two trophies snatched by Real
In 2018, France were the champions of the world but Croatia won the individual recognition. The dispersion of votes between Mbappe, Griezmann and Varane opened the way for Modric. But the playmaker of the runners-up benefitted from intense lobbying from Real. While Mbappe and Griezmann had campaigns in the press, Varane never pressed his case.
Because there was no question of detracting from the candidate chosen by Madrid. “A French player must win the Ballon d’Or” in France Football, and “I dream of winning the Ballon d’Or” on ESPN, Griezmann was part of an intense media campaign.
Real had their captain to argue otherwise, their captain Sergio Ramos: "The ignorant, they try everything. When I hear this boy, I think strongly of Totti, Buffon, Maldini, Xavi, Raul or Casillas, the players who won everything, who have many trophies already, but none won the Ballon d’Or." Modric won.
In 2013, Franck Ribery was chosen as the UEFA player of the year, and was the big favourite. Cristiano Ronaldo is not even sure if he will make the trip to Switzerland for the ceremony. And then, Madrid started a marketing operation unique in Ballon d’Or history. On 27th November, during an anodyne Champions League match against Galatasaray, 45,000 fans wore a Ronaldo face mask. A banner read, “Ballon de CristianORanldo.” White sheets with the number 7 were brandished by the stadium two days before the end of the jury vote. This Ballon d’Or was hugely important to Perez because Real had won nothing in the preceding 2012/13 season (like 2020/21, nudge-nudge) and it was damaging the club’s image, prestige, and business. Ronaldo would go on to win, and Ribery has not yet got over it.
Lewandowski puts Bayern in front
Image credit: Getty Images
Spain cares, while Germany stays aloof
Bayern don’t have a Ballon d’Or plan, it’s not their style. And while Lewandowski and Lionel Messi are pushing Benzema hardest to win the award this year, the Frenchman knows he has a real chance over the other two with Real behind him. In Munich, it’s above all a question about culture.
“Bayern always defines themselves as a group, not a collection of individuals,” Eurosport Germany journalist Florian Bogner tells us. “Said in another way, it’s more important to have the best team in the world than the best players in the world. Inside Bayern, few think that winning the Ballon d’Or will make much difference to how the club is seen. And some might even think that winning the Ballon d’Or would only strengthen Lewandowski’s hand in future contract negotiations.” That’s why Munich have not won a Ballon d’Or since 1982 but since then, they have 25 Bundesligas and three Champions League titles. If Jurgen Klinsmann in 1995, Oliver Kahn in 2001 and 2002, Franck Ribery in 2013 or Manuel Neuer in 2014 were playing for Real, their destiny might have been different.
While in Spain they are obsessed by the Ballon d’Or, intensified since there were crazy battles between Messi and Ronaldo, Germany sees it all with a little bit of distance. “The German public say the players don’t get the benefit of lobbying so it’s not worth the hassle of pursuing the trophy,” continues Bogner. “Fans want to know who is the best in the world, but for the Germans, the FIFA prize is more credible.” So even if Lewandowski scores four goals this weekend against Leipzig, he shouldn’t expect a tweet from his club.
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