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Ballon d’Or: Who’s a fraud and who's not

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Tristan Cross and Sam Diss assess the merits of the 30 shortlisted footballers deemed the best on the planet

A wind blows through your office. There are louder mumblings at the water-cooler. People have things to say. Things... about footballers. Specifically the 30 shortlisted for the Ballon d'Or 2016. And in your office, your co-wokers have some surprising conclusions: "Messi? Overrated. For me, John, he's a fraud."

'Fraud.' The word levelled at many a pro footballer by the chronically un-footballer. Armchair pundits who, despite their total lack of professional experience or expertise, find themselves with extremely strong opinions. To shut these people down, or validate them, we've devised the definitive, obviously, empirically correct list of who is a Fraud and who is Not.

JAMIE VARDY

Is there anything as romantic as the thought of an ex-Fleetwood Town player being voted into the Ballon d’Or shortlist? The answer you are searching for is 'No, there is not'. But after one phenomenal season, the Tao of Vardy has been revealed to be nothing more than “run fast with head down and then kick ball as hard as you can”. I know that doesn’t sound much different to Gareth Bale or Cristiano Ronaldo, but I’m pretty sure Vardy closes his eyes every time he hits the ball. He’s a fluke, an anomaly. He’s capo di tutti fraud. He’s so much of a fraud that it almost abstracts and dips into NOT FRAUD territory - almost. Not quite. SD

VERDICT: FRAUD

RIYAD MAHREZ

If you visit the King Power in the dead of night, you can hear it. Wailing. Hissing. Screaming. It’s faint, but you can hear it. What is that hellish sound, that ghastly noise which pierces your skin and turns your insides cold? Now, I am purely going on a hunch and not in any way saying this is true, but it’s definitely Leicester’s miracle boys Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez getting de-juiced. They’re having whatever they were pumped with last season drained from their systems. But slowly, so as not to attract attention, and then having it siphoned off into other players (Theo Walcott, Joe Allen, so far). As such, the pair will get incrementally worse until Mahrez joins QPR on loan and Vardy drops dead in early 2018. TC

VERDICT: FRAUD

DIMITRI PAYET

To be quite honest with you, I’m keen on naming my first born “Dimitri”, my second “Payet” and my third, no doubt the pluckiest of the set, someone who has to battle against adversity through his teenage years and eventually ends up running a very successful start-up, "That Free Kick Against Palace Was Pretty Much The Best Goal I’ve Ever Seen". SD

VERDICT: NOT FRAUD

ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC

I haven’t liked ‘Zlatan’ for ages. I read his infamous self-mythologising autobiography and he just came across like a bully and a monumental bellend. I hate him and I hate the stupid Chuck Norris-esque cult around him. I want Zlatan to be shite. But he’s not. It pains me that he’s not shite. He’s scored 460 goals, won 13 league titles (not including the 2 subsequently stripped after Calciopoli) and smacked in 50 in 51 last season aged 34. He’s 35 now, and he’s already got six under his belt for United, and he can’t become shite quick enough. But he’s still, defiantly, Not Shite. TC

VERDICT: NOT FRAUD

KEVIN DE BRUYNE

Up until last year, KDB was pretty much the archetypal Fraud - a flatter-to-deceive charlatan who only impressed people who played loads of Football Manager or pretended they watch Bundesliga - but now… This season he’s been the best player on the pitch for pretty much every game that City have won, dominating every area of the park, making his opponents look like Lloyd Scott. You know, Lloyd Scott. Just Google him. SD

VERDICT: NEWLY NOT FRAUD

Pogba

Paul Pogba hasn't lived up to the hype since his return to Manchester

PAUL POGBA

There are few players more obviously likely to turn around his underwhelming present form and prove himself worthy of Brussel’s finest and render those Adidas ads ‘not really embarrassing’ than Paul Pogba. I can vividly picture him nonchalantly idling up to collect yet another winners medal after pinging Manchester United to a fifth quintuple in as many years, and people screenshotting this paragraph and sending it to me and my family to expose me as the utter charlatan dunce I obviously am. But then again, I can’t risk not ‘calling’ this decline now, while the fire is hot and his performances are tepid. I can’t risk missing out on the slim chance that people will respect me for outright dismissing him as a not-talent failure at just 23 years old, resulting in me being hired in a cushty scouting job far, far away from the horrible fusty basement I’m writing this wretched little article in, and for that reason, I'm 100 per cent out. TC

VERDICT: FRAUD

ARTURO VIDAL

He has five haircuts, runs like he’s just inhaled a Mayfair club bathroom’s worth of Tony Montana's finest, and goes out partying instead of training, just like the beloved players of yore. He’s undoubtedly quality and terrifying - an underrated attribute, it must be said - but he teeters so closely to the edge of Fraud for the simple reason that Italian leagues are total fiction. But yeah, fuck it. He’s fun and won the Copa America. Have one on me. SD

VERDICT: NOT FRAUD

PAULO DYBALA

Much like Arouna Dindane, Mauro Zarate and Bacary Sagna, ‘Paulo Dybala’ is an inherently satisfying name to say. Paulo is already a brilliant base name, then the short, staccato ‘Dyuh’ combines beautifully with the ‘bahlah’ to produce a name you can repeat over and over again, sounding more and more knowledgeable about football every time. I love to say it, and so frankly I’m invested in the young Dybala maintaining his impressive goalscoring record and becoming the sort of world class player I can one day boast that I’d “been saying his name for years.” TC

VERDICT: NOT FRAUD

GONZALO HIGUAIN

Big fat Gonzo is a big fat goal machine in Serie A, a league that literally means nothing, but cannot hack it on the grand stage. SD

VERDICT: FRAUD

ANDRES INIESTA

Even though he’s very obviously the most boring man in the world - a man with no interests outside football; a man with friends and family that don’t so much resent his presence but actually forget he exists despite being a world famous sportsman - he is quite clearly one of the most naturally gifted players of all time. SD

VERDICT: NOT FRAUD

Lewandowski

Who really is Robert Lewandowski?

ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI

Look at Robert Lewandowski’s face for 10 seconds, then tell me he looks like a footballer and not someone who is clearly over 40 and works in the IT department of any given office. Robert Lewandowski isn’t even part of the IT department because he’s good with computers, he just manages his little team. You don’t know that, though. You don’t even really know his name, you just sometimes see him in the communal kitchen, microwaving his lunch and staring blankly into space. He has five separate tupperwares he keeps his lunches in, and he’s marked each with the five days of the working week, but each seemingly contains the exact same amorphous mulch. Every time you say hello, he immediately snaps out of his blank stare, ejects his meal in a blind panic and hurries back to the basement. You discover Robert Lewandowski’s name and, during a dull afternoon, pop it into Facebook and find his profile. It’s just endless overexposed pictures of him on permanently overcast days, clad head-to-toe in Kangol, wearing a raincoat but also shorts, doing the exact same half-smile in front of nondescript hills he’s climbed or holding aloft a fish he’s caught. All of his Facebook statuses are his results from Which Game of Thrones Character Are You? quiz games, all captioned “Hmmm...”, and all his interactions are amazingly blunt: “Cool.” “Nice.” “Haha.” You dive deeper and find hundreds of photos of Robert in a Bayern Munich kit ...seemingly playing for Bayern Munich? Eh? What? He’s not an internationally renowned Bundesliga footballer, he’s the guy who nobody signed the office birthday card for on account of not knowing who he was. Isn’t he? Who are you, Robert Lewandowski? TC

VERDICT: FRAUD

PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG

He’s just fast. Being fast is good. SD

VERDICT: NOT FRAUD

KOKE

No opinion. Not bothered. Not interested. Do you know how much time I have to watch the Premier League games? Not nearly enough that I don’t regularly skip the 90 mins and just go straight to Match of the Day. And you expect me to watch La Liga? And, like, not even Barca or Real, but the nerd’s choice Atletico? And then you want me to have an opinion on one of their players that isn’t even a striker? Any time I've somehow inexplicably found myself watching an Atletico game, if Koke was playing, he didn’t make any lasting impression. As far as I know he barely exists. Frankly, I wish he didn’t. TC

FRAUD

DIEGO GODIN

Anyone who has an opinion on Diego Godin is lying. He’s a tough lad in La Liga, which is like going back to your old primary school and just kicking children in the sternum at random. You’ve seen him play five times but you can’t actually remember anything he’s done. You’re lying, aren’t you. You liar. YOU. You’re the fraud. (So is Godin) SD

VERDICT: FRAUD

TONI KROOS

Let’s be honest, he’s not going to win. What a waste of everyone’s time this inclusion was. Toni Kroos is the banter vacuum straggler who’s only been allowed into the five-a-side Whatsapp group because sometimes you need to make up the numbers. “Really sorry, I can’t make it today lads! Got the doctors! Gutted! Sorry once again! (Next week I’m there for defo!) T x” he says. Everyone double blue ticks it. Nobody acknowledges it. TC

VERDICT: WHO CARES

Antoine Griezmann: Mummy's boy who always looks like he’s on the verge of bursting into tears

ANTOINE GRIEZMANN

On the one hand he scored 32 goals last season and has already racked up six in eight games for this campaign. On the other he always looks like he’s on the verge of bursting into tears. And not endearing tears other. Hateful, weasel tears of a mummy’s boy grassing you up to the headteacher because he thought he could handle a cheeky puff behind the bike shelter but got in way over his head. TC

VERDICT: FRAUD

HUGO LLORIS

Has no eyelids but is Tottenham’s best player, even if he is prone to the odd cock-up. SD

VERDICT: NOT FRAUD

GIANLUIGI BUFFON

Gigi is a God, and like God, Buffon is very old and wise, and smokes lots and lots. He might be a bit of a fascist with extreeeeeeeemely dodgy views, but nobody can doubt his Not Fraud-ness, not even you, Mary Contrary. SD

VERDICT: NOT FRAUD

MANUEL NEUER

Neuer is the kind of player your sister’s annoying new boyfriend loves, the one really into Fantasy Football who forced you to join his mate’s league, forced you to pay the twenty quid entry fee and forced you to join the accompanying WhatsApp group which you immediately muted. Occasionally he’ll corner you at family parties to talk about the importance of “sweeper keepers” in modern football. It’s hell. (But Neuer is good, though. You have to concede, with a sigh. “Yeah,” you say. “He’s obviously amazing,” knowing that you are dooming yourself to a lifetime of boring football autobiographies for Christmas from the bloke who’s sleeping with your sibling) SD

VERDICT: With a sigh, NOT FRAUD

RUI PATRICIO

Massively against this one. Goalkeepers aren’t good at football. It’s the position for those of such weak disposition and social standing growing up that they willingingly volunteered to 'go in for a bit' because nobody else did and they wouldn't be allowed to play otherwise. And we want to reward these professional Billy-No-Mates, these sycophantic creeps with the highest individual honour in football? No. TC

VERDICT: FRAUD

Muller

Thomas Muller, eternally tagged as the world's best/worst footballer

THOMAS MULLER

Thomas Muller is the epitome of the “best worst footballer” tag tryhard idiots give to obviously good players in order to sound informed. “He’s rubbish, except at scoring goals, assisting goals, running with the ball, passing the ball, moving into space, being a vital component of a side who’ve won endless Bundesliga titles, and also a vital component of a national side who’ve won the World Cup.” Yes mate, truly he is rubbish. TC

VERDICT: NOT FRAUD

SERGIO RAMOS

Lunatic. Love him. He has an incredible cocktail of a kind of a corner-kick-activated propulsion system and very, very nice haircut. He’s always two minutes away from a goal or a red card and isn’t that what football is all about, really? (And also he’s won everything there is to win as a player, for both club and country - I guess that counts for something) SD

VERDICT: NOT FRAUD

PEPE

I like Pepe, because on his day, he’s a defender capable of reading attacking player better than any other, and he’s got the pace and strength to back him up. He’s also got the potential for acts of reckless stupidity and unspeakable violence. You don’t know whether you’ll get the Pepe who will competently steward his side to an effortless clean sheet, or the one who’ll try and amputate your dick clean off with both feet, then feign a debilitating stroke so successfully that you get a stern warning from the ref. TC

VERDICT: NOT FRAUD

LUIS SUAREZ

Undeniably good at football, but also unapologetically racist while playing it. TC

VERDICT: NOT FRAUD FOOTBALLER, FRAUD OF A HUMAN BEING

LUKA MODRIC

Sometimes you get the feeling that maybe Luka Modric is the best midfielder in the world. The way he controls games, tackles like a ferocious toddler, and scores goals, all the while looking like a severely dehydrated Ivan Rakitic - it commands respect. SD

VERDICT: NOT FRAUD

Could it be Cristiano's year?

CRISTIANO RONALDO

He's a force of nature. Maybe he's beyond nature. When he finally jibs the six-pack, when his midriff becomes soft with carbs, he’ll still be able to post double-digits in the goal charts by simply willing balls to go into the goal without touching them, like a Madeiran Matilda. SD

I've got a lot of time for Cristiano. Not least for making it his goal in life to dedicate his entire life to Lionel Messi, his self-percieved mortal enemy. Picture Messi and Ronaldo meeting for the first time: the Argentine scamp's got the introverted smugness of those prodigal chess kids raised solely on their parents’ praise, thinks Ronaldo’s a fan, pulls out a pen ready to sign his shirt, while Ronaldo’s just glaring at his outstretched hand, every muscle tensed in loathing. “I. Don’t. Like. You,” he spits through gritted teeth. Everything he’s done since - every hour spent alone whacking balls up and down an empty training pitch, every gruesome ice bath, every 4,000 crunches at dawn, every flavourless vitamin-enriched and nutritionist-advised meal, every brand endorsement and every bland media appearance - has just been a meticulous, maniacally obsessive campaign to unseat Messi as the best player in the world, nothing for the love of the game, all out of pettiness. I love it. And this summer he basically won his country the Euros as Messi wimped into international retirement, tears in his eyes, having humiliatingly failed Argentina yet again. TC

VERDICT: NOT FRAUD

LIONEL MESSI

He’s Messi. Even with that incredibly bad hair - hair so bad that it’s physically painful to look at - he’s unimpeachable. SD

VERDICT: NOT FRAUD

SERGIO AGUERO

He’s finally sorted his hair out, and, if he can find some legs that don’t break down every sixty minutes, he’ll be the best centre-forward in the world. A man who can truly score goals from nowhere, a man with enormous knees. Seriously. His knees might not work but they are works of art. When he retires, donate those knees to MCR Art Gallery so they can be appreciated, in full, by future generations. SD

VERDICT: NOT FRAUD

GARETH BALE

Bale is world class at two things every unfeeling, stats-addled bore has dismissed as 'bad football.' A) shooting from selfish and downright stupid positions and B) knocking it past players and running. "Oooh play for the team, pass it sideways, keeping possession is aesthetically beautiful." Oh fuck off, Pep, throw your copy of Inverting the Pyramid in the bin and marvel at a player with complete mastery of the two things every Under 16s manager who’s ever attended a single coaching badge health and safety course tells you not to do. He's the most exciting player in the world, not because you never know what he's going to do, but because you know exactly what he's going to do, and so do the defenders who have dedicated their lives to the art of reading play. They know exactly what he's going to do hours in advance. And they can't do anything to stop him. You can't beat him to the ball, you can't boot him off the pitch, you can't stop him hoofing it in from 40 yards out. He's the most electrifying man in sports entertainment. TC

VERDICT: NOT FRAUD

NEYMAR

The first highly touted Brazilian wonderkid to deliver on his promise in a generation, Neymar was also fined €45.9m after being found guilty of a little thing called: TC

VERDICT: TAX FRAUD

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