Surprise Nominees #1 – 2002 Ballon d’Or

Surprise Nominees #1 - 2002 Ballon d'Or

Welcome to “Surprise Nominees”, a series where I take a look at the nominees of an award in world football and pick out the players you wouldn’t have expected to see there. The players are not necessarily undeserving of the nominations in some cases and these are all my own opinions. Without further ado, here are the surprise nominees from the 2002 Ballon d’Or…

2002 was a packed year for football. Brazil won their 5th World Cup in Japan and South Korea, Arsenal were Premier League champions, Borussia Dortmund were German champions, Valencia beat Real Madrid and Barcelona to win La Liga and Sheriff Tiraspol retained their Moldovan title. Feyenoord went home with the UEFA Cup while Real Madrid won a remarkable 9th Champions League in Glasgow. There were big names aplenty in the running for the title of best player in Europe – the eventual winner Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Kahn, Zidane, Ballack, Owen, Henry, Raul, Rivaldo, Hasan Sas and many more including everyone below.

Papa Bouba Diop (Lens/Senegal)

Nicknamed “The Wardrobe” because of his hulking size by Fulham fans, Diop is the first surprise nominee from the 2002 Ballon d’Or. His nomination was not because of scintillating club form but instead his performances at the World Cup where he scored 3 goals from midfield including the winner in the opening game against reigning champions France. Diop managed 2 points in the voting the same as Rio Ferdinand and more than 27 other nominees including Iker Casillas, Pablo Aimar and Patrick Kluivert. The surprise of this nomination is purely because when looking at his career, he has never really been good enough to play for a top tier team in one of the major leagues nor has he really experienced truly big matches. He has had spells at clubs like Grasshoppers, Neuchatel Xamax, Portsmouth, Fulham, AEK Athens, West Ham and Birmingham which has hardly guaranteed him a pile of winners medals. Also, Diop got lots of praise and comparisons to Patrick Vieira but so did Salif Diao and he struggled with a step up when he joined Liverpool so the question will always remain with Diop. And, when all is said and done, you have to ask the question: was Diop truly better than Real Madrid and Spain number 1 Iker Casillas in 2002?

El Hadji Diouf (Lens/Liverpool/Senegal)

The insanely controversial winger/striker Diouf is another surprise nominee from 2002. Much like Diop his nomination came from his performances at the World Cup where he looked like a genuinely world-class player and provided the assist to Diop against France. Also like Diop, he gained 2 points in voting and beat out legends of the game like Filippo Inzaghi, Paolo Maldini and David Beckham. Diouf is surprising, quite simply, because he was absolutely god awful post-World Cup. When a team spends £10 million on a striker to take them to the league title, they expect more than 3 goals in 2 seasons and a whole heap of controversy. Diouf was never a £10 million player rather he looked like one before he was caught out at a big team with the pressure on. His spell at Bolton helped his reputation a bit but he never truly set the world on fire when he played for Sunderland, Blackburn, Rangers, Doncaster or Leeds. It’s baffling still to this day that Diouf was nominated let alone he actually got a vote never mind two.

Junichi Inamoto (Arsenal/Fulham/Japan)

Japanese starlet Inamoto is another surprise nominee. His nomination came definitely came from the World Cup as he scored two goals as the co-hosts got to the second round for the first time. Unlike the Senegalese pair before, Inamoto didn’t receive any votes at all which is hardly surprising as all he did was score two goals at the World Cup. If we take 2002 as a whole Inamoto should not have even be thought of when they were considering who to nominate. He spent the first half of the year not playing for Arsenal and then after the World Cup he had a good spell with Fulham but nothing to suggest that he should be in the same category as Cafu, Vieri and Totti for the year. He followed it up with spells at West Brom, Cardiff, Galatasaray, Eintracht Frankfurt, Rennes and Kawasaki Frontale none of which earned him another nomination. The Inamoto case is similar to so many that will be seen in this series – an OK player who has a couple of good games at a tournament and is immediately thought of as a world beater despite not having done anything in their career.

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Seol Ki-Hyeon (Anderlecht/South Korea)

The final surprise nominee is Korean winger/striker Seol Ki-Hyeon. His nomination came from both a solid club season and outstanding performances at the World Cup as South Korea reached the semi finals. Much like Inamoto, Seol didn’t manage to get any votes. His nomination is surprising because, like the others above, he played well in a tournament rather than set the world alight at club level. The other surprise with Seol’s nomination was that he wasn’t even considered the best player in Belgium yet he was the only Belgian League player to be nominated. His career really took off post-2002 when he joined Championship side Wolves followed up by spells at Reading, Fulham, Al-Hilal, Pohang Steelers, Ulsan Hyundai and Incheon United. When a player considered distinctly average by Premier League standards is getting nominated ahead of players like Pavel Nedved then there is going to be a huge amount of surprise there.

There is the surprise nominations from the 2002 Ballon d’Or. If there are any awards you want to see in the future then let me know and, no matter how obscure, I will get it done.

Hopefully you enjoyed this and thanks for reading!

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