If you look at the recent rankings produced by the Ballon d’Or, you’ll be led to believe that Raphael Varane is the best central defender in the world, with no one else even in contention for that title. Sergio Ramos is the only other centre back to even feature in the 30-man shortlist for the award.
While it’s clear that these nominations are always weighted heavily in favour of players whose teams succeed in international tournaments in a given season, it seems ridiculous that the actual best central defender on the planet doesn’t even get a nomination.
Yet, after performing at a consistently world class level over the course of the calendar year, Giorgio Chiellini was left off the 30-man shortlist for the Ballon d’Or without so much of a murmur of disapproval from football ‘experts’ around the world.
Chiellini has been an outstanding centre back for many years now, possibly most renowned for being part of the famous BBC trio that he forms with Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci. However, while Barzagli has been on a slow-but-steady decline for the past four seasons, and Bonucci hasn’t been quite as reliable since his return from AC Milan, Chiellini has continued to improve, with the current season arguably the best of his career.
The non-qualification to the 2018 World Cup undoubtedly scarred Chiellini, and is possibly one of the most significant reasons for his increased motivation over the past year. However, many believe that the main factor to have propelled his performances into ‘beast-mode’ is Gianluigi Buffon’s departure.
Ever since he’s been tasked with wearing the Juventus captain’s armband, Chiellini has played with a ferocious hunger that is likely driven by the idea of lifting a certain piece of silverware that no Juventus captain has lifted in over 20 years.
Chiellini has honed his rugged and aggressive style and combined it with a meticulous attention to detail. His tackles are timed seamlessly, as if he knows where the ball is going to end up a split second before anybody else, making it possible for him to win the ball cleanly even in the most improbable of situations.
Perhaps Chiellini’s exclusion from a Ballon d’Or nomination shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Juventus got knocked out in the Champions League quarter-finals last season and Italy didn’t even qualify for the World Cup. In stark contrast, Varane won both the Champions League and the World Cup. However, as impressive as those accomplishments are, are they enough to view the Frenchman as the best in his role?
It’s just another example of the Ballon d’Or being an award for the ‘Most Successful Player in the World’ in a given season, rather than the ‘Best Player in the World’. Very few would argue that Luka Modric is a better footballer than Lionel Messi in the present-moment, yet the Croatian’s Ballon d’Or win went down without too much of a fuss.
Chiellini’s performance in the Derby d’Italia was just the latest of a slew of picture perfect displays he has put on this year. Even in this Juventus side so jam-packed full of stars, Chiellini has risen above the rest, becoming Juventus’ best and most consistent player this season.