The Warm-Up: Cristiano Ronaldo wins one-horse race, Arsenal smash six
Also in Friday's Warm-Up: Everton finally get good in Europe and Emre gets booted up in the air.
FRIDAY’S BIG HEADLINES
Ronaldo's golden ball
Ronaldo’s triumph made it a clean decade where he and Messi have shared the biggest individual prize in football. Indeed, it is seven years since anyone else finished in the top two. As a key feature of the greatest rivalry in modern sport, and possibly ever, the Ballon d’Or does hold interest, an annual barometer of where this incredible power-tussle lies. But there’s more drama in the opening credits of Doctors.
Who will get on the podium?? (Neymar, not Gianluigi Buffon). Who else made the top five?? (Luka Modric). Where will Harry Kane end up?? (10th). It’s all fiddling around in the margins while the main event is decided months beforehand. Still, fair play to Ronaldo, who isn’t really the best player in the world but had a better calendar year than Messi so is an understandable winner.
As he said in the ceremony in Paris:
" I feel very happy, it's a fantastic moment in my career, I've been waiting for this for a long time. This year has been great, we won the Champions League and La Liga and, on a personal level, I was a top scorer in the Champions League. Trophies help win these awards and we have to thank my colleagues from Madrid and Portugal, it was very important for me."
Tucked away in the top 10, though, was there was a hint of a brighter, more exciting future for the Ballon d’Or? Kylian Mbappe became the youngster ever player to break the top 10, and maybe he will be the one who rescues us from the tedium of the annual carve-up between Messi and Ronaldo...
Wilshere takes his chance to shine, again
Arsenal's English midfielder Jack Wilshere (C) scores the team's third goal during the Europa League Group H stage football match between Arsenal and Bate Borisov at the Emirates Stadium in London on December 7, 2017.Getty Images
Or it would have been, except for Jack Wilshere’s performance. The Europa League has been a chance for fringe players to assert themselves. For some, like Per Mertesacker, it has been a route back to first-team action, but for others, like Theo Walcott and Wilshere, it has not. At least not yet.
After a match which saw Walcott score, get an assist, win a penalty, force an own goal, have a shot cleared off the line and have another shot miraculously saved at short range, everyone was talking about the performance of the man playing at No. 10.
Arsenal’s midweek cup exploits this season have almost always revolved around Wilshere and as well as scoring his first Arsenal goal for two-and-a-half years with a gorgeous finish, and assisting Elneny for the sixth, the midfielder was influential throughout.
As Wenger said:
" Jack's moving forward, and you could see tonight that he's really ready now to play. He's sharp, he's quick, he's incisive again with his dribble, and technically he was very good tonight. I would say for 70 minutes in the game he was dominant in midfield on the creative side. And that's very good news for us."
If Wilshere is ever going to get back in the Arsenal team, surely it is now, with Granit Xhaka struggling and, against BATE, Wenger switching back to a 4-3-2-1 system which offers up an extra place in the final third of the pitch. If he doesn’t start against Southampton at the weekend then Wilshere will just have to resign himself to watching the Europa League last-32 draw with the rest of us on Monday, hoping for a nice trip as the knockout stages start.
Everton finish on a high
Ademola Lookman celebratesReuters
Everton’s jaunt around Europe this season has been more like an episode of Sun, Sea and Suspicious Parents. Teenagers getting destroyed every week and having some tough life lessons explained to them. Even new manager Sam Allardyce wanted no part of it as he didn’t even bother to travel with the side for the away match at Apollon Limassol, with the Merseyside derby coming up. And who could blame him, with Everton already eliminated?
In his stead, Craig Shakespeare added Europa League football to his CV after Leicester’s Champions League run last season and presided over a side with an average age of 23, and a bench with an average age of under 18.
IN OTHER NEWS
The Warm-Up has many questions about former Tottenham, Ajax and Roma forward Mido’s #NewProfilePic, but the only one which matters is: why the hell not?
HEROES AND ZEROS
Hero: Branislav Ivanovic
Best known in England for uncompromising defending and being absolutely rinsed in his final season by a succession of jet-heeled wingers, Branislav Ivanovic appears to have been learning some new tricks at Zenit St Petersburg. How else to explain the fact that he did this last night?
ZEROS: The Euro 2020 organising committee
The whole ethos of this competition was, for one edition only, to bring the European Championship to as many countries and people as possible, creating a jamboree which football fans in all corners of this conflicted but still just about coherent continent could enjoy. So when it became apparent that Brussels would not be able to stage the four matches allocated to it due to problems building a new stadium, that gave a chance to other countries to enjoy the honour instead.
What of Wales, for example, shunned in the initial stage of allocations but a proud nation with a fine stadium which in May managed to host the Champions League final? Oh, and the atmosphere was exceptional around town before the game. Nope. Instead all four of Brussels’ matches went instead to Wembley, which is already hosting the two semi-finals and final. A terrible decision. The Football Association of Wales said in a statement:
" The concept of taking Uefa Euro 2020 to 13 different countries was devised to allow smaller countries, like Wales, to have a unique opportunity of being involved in staging a major tournament. Wales has never staged a Euro or World Cup final and this was its one and only chance of doing so."
Yes, but about that massive matchday revenue at Wembley…
In these troubled times, when grave battles which many thought had been consigned to history are now being refought, it is still comforting to know that so many people can enjoy the simple sight of a racist being kicked up in the air.
The usual smattering of random European matches, including Stuttgart v Bayer Leverkusen on BT Sport 2 at 7:30pm, the pick of the bunch. The Championship offering is Sheffield United v Bristol City on Sky Sports at 7:45pm.
Adam Hurrey was disappointed to only make the 25,000-strong long, long, long list for the Ballon d’Or in 2017, but hopes to break the top 10,000 next year.