For the last few years the red and blue of Barcelona and the white of Real Madrid have been de rigueur at the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala, the night when the football world puts on its finery. For a long time, however, the Ballon d’Or’s most fashionable colours were the red and black of AC Milan, with Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, George Weah, Kaka and Andriy Shevchenko all winning the award during their spells with the Italian club, and the likes of Gianni Rivera, Frank Rijkaard and Franco Baresi finishing in the top three.
Though the prestigious trophy will not be heading to the San Siro this year, with no Milan players featuring in the 23-player shortlist, Rossoneri style could be back in vogue at the Gala thanks to the efforts of the club’s French defender Philippe Mexes, who is in the running for the FIFA Puskás Award, awarded to the best goal of the year.
“There have been quite a few Ballons d’Or in the history of Milan,” he told FIFA.com. “The club always takes a lot of pride whenever one of its players wins that magnificent trophy. That’s why it’s so important for me to be representing AC Milan.”
As the central defender went on to say, the Italian club is anxious to see some new silverware in its trophy cabinet. Lamenting their recent inability to push for honours at domestic and international level, he said: “It’s frustrating. And it’s frustrating because Milan should be in the Champions League every year. We need to get back up to the highest level. I hope we can make it and that there’ll be another Milan player collecting the Ballon d’Or again before too long. That would mean we’d have the best player in the world at the club.”
Talent and toil
Since its inception, the FIFA Ballon d’Or has been the sole preserve of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the two men who have dominated the world scene for the last seven years. The mere mention of the four- and three-time winners, sees the frustration felt by Mexes give way to admiration.
“To my mind, they’re already two of the world’s greatest players, right up there with [Diego] Maradona, Pele, [Zinedine] Zidane, [Michel] Platini, [Johan] Cruyff and [Franz] Beckenbauer,” said the former AJ Auxerre man.
“They’re both outstanding. One was born with natural talent and the other has worked so hard to reach the same level,” he added, discussing the respective merits of the Argentinian and the Portuguese. “They both deserve the Ballon d’Or and there won’t be much in it – the odd victory here and there and the results of their teams.”
That is a view shared by most of the global footballing community, though it is even more authoritative when expressed by someone who has the opportunity to admire their skills at first hand.
“As a defender I get to see them in a different way,” explained the Frenchman. “Messi is so alert, so good at running with the ball and quick with it too, whereas Ronaldo is all about power, acceleration and shooting. They’re two totally different players, but the fact is that they’re both great champions who deserve to win the Ballon d’Or. It’s very tough to separate them. It’s a shame there aren’t two Ballons d’Or because they both deserve to win it every year.”
A dream come true
While that may be the case, when it comes to the final decision, it is votes that count in deciding the destination of the FIFA Ballon d’Or or the FIFA Puskás Award. And in the case of the latter, those votes come from the users of FIFA.com and francefootball.fr, Mexes among them: “I’ve seen the other nine nominees, and Messi’s and (Carlos) Tevez’s caught my eye in particular. They’re solo goals, magnificent dribbles both of them.
“Then there’s another goal scored in Germany, a magnificent strike on the volley by a midfielder [Marcel Ndjeng],” continued the 33-year-old centre half. “They are the ten best goals and they’re all pretty good, each in their own different way. I have to be honest and say, though, that I really do like mine,” he added with a smile, in reference to his acrobatic volley into the top corner from 18 yards out, which came in a meeting with city rivals Inter no less.
Mexes is getting to be something of an expert when it comes to scoring great goals. Back in 2012 he came up with a stunning overhead kick from the edge of the area in a UEFA Champions League match against Anderlecht.
“Scoring with an overhead kick was a childhood dream of mine and I fulfilled it,” he recalled. “Unfortunately, Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored one of his own ten days earlier against England, in a match where he got four goals.” That special bicycle kick saw the Swede take the 2013 Puskás Award, an achievement the Frenchman would like to emulate this time around.
“It would be an honour to win an individual award, though it would be a trophy for Milan too,” said Mexes in signing off, anxious to trigger a Rossoneri revival on the FIFA Ballon d’Or red carpet.