Before we begin, a disclaimer/health warning. Award shortlists are always, always wrong. This is because of subjectivity, and because those stupid Other People refuse to recognise that you are right and they are wrong. Such is life. With that in mind, however, here are some initial thoughts on FIFA's newly-published Ballon d'Or shortlist. These, too, will inevitably be wrong. Deal with it.
1. FIFA really love the World Cup
Fair enough. Everybody loves the World Cup, after all, but FIFA run the thing. And if the tournament itself can at times feel as though it's a celebration of FIFA rather than, say, football, then the post-World Cup Ballon d'Or is, at least in part, a celebration of a celebration of FIFA. Those few games in the summer are very, very important.
This means, first of all, piles and piles of Germans. Six in all, the best represented country by a distance. The spine of the Brazil 2014 champions — Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos and Thomas Müller — is present and correct, along with Mario Mario Götze, who joined the pretty exclusive club of World Cup-winning goalscorers. Their parts in Bayern Munich's record-breaking domestic season can't have hurt either. Spain, meanwhile, are down to just the three inclusions. How the mighty.
Secondly, it means a couple of oddities. A cynic might suggest that Neymar's inclusion on the list owed as much to the tragic tale of his broken back as it did his performances for Barcelona or Brazil, while James Rodríguez is perhaps being recognised for his wonderful work in the field of transfer fee inflation. But let's not be cynical. Let's instead celebrate the simple joy of yellow shirts in the sunshine.
2. FIFA really don't love Luis Suárez
Even making allowances for personal preference, subjectivity, and so on and so forth, it's exceptionally difficult to argue that Barcelona's no-longer-suspended forward Luis Suárez isn't one of the top 23 players in the world. He's probably not in the top two, but last season he scored 33 goals in 39 games for club and country, won a part share of the European Golden Shoe, and nearly dragged Jose Enrique to a Premier League title in the process. So why isn't he on the list?
Well, you know that World Cup FIFA like so much? It turns out that if a player takes the opportunity to stand up, in front of the watching world, and BESMIRCH, STAIN and DEGRADE the tournament and the good name of FIFA, then they don't get shiny things. Stop eating people, Luis. It's a terrible, terrible look.
Alternative theory: since Brendan Rodgers didn't make the Coach of the Year shortlist, maybe FIFA just don't like Liverpool.
3. FIFA have curious views about Juventus' midfield
Perhaps this is another consequence of World Cup fever. In Brazil, Arturo Vidal was carrying an injury, didn't complete a single game, and was more-or-less a passenger as Chile won over the hearts of the neutrals and oh-so-nearly knocked the hosts out in the semi-finals. Paul Pogba, meanwhile, was generally wonderful for a France team that briefly looked like they might be in with a chance of winning the thing.
But as talented as Pogba is, Vidal was considerably more important to Juventus' steamrollering of Italy than the young Frenchman, and so he can consider himself the recipient of the official SB Nation Permission to Feel Hard Done By award. Maybe the knee injury that wiped out the end of the season played a part. Or maybe FIFA just got annoyed with the whole Manchester United transfer saga. If the latter, well, you can kind of see their point.
4. Andrés Iniesta's doing very well for himself
On talent and pleasingness, there's no doubt that Barcelona's translucent playmaker is one of the world's very best. But, well, he's not had that great a year: Barcelona's domestic campaign was, by their own stratospheric standards, a bit rubbish, and then Spain went to Brazil and made fools out of themselves. Iniesta himself has looked generally out of sorts for some time, and while all fans of light-footed joyfulness will be hoping that Luis Enrique can restore his vim, vigour and Vimto, it's hard to back his inclusion here. Enjoy the SB Nation Included on Reputation Award, Andrés!
5. Brace for some wailing and gnashing from England
Well, the short answer is that Wayne Rooney had a pretty average year. The longer answer is, perhaps, that England are currently in something of a transitional phase. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, last noble soldiers of the Golden Generation (and the last two non-Rooney players to come anywhere near winning the Ballon d'Or or its predecessors), are creaking towards the end of their careers; the next generation hasn't quite established themselves as worthy successors.
Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, maybe even Jordan Henderson. All talented, all with the potential to trouble the very top of the game, but none quite there yet. They may never get there, of course, but this might not quite be a total disaster. Save the true misery for a few years' time.
6. That trophy is hideous
If your trophy's called the Golden Balloon — okay, fine, Ball — then there's not much you can do with the main thing. It's going to be golden, it's going to be globular. And that's fine. But look at what it's sitting on: the most prestigious individual award in world football and they've balanced it on a pile of Camden market healing crystals. Okay, so they're probably insanely expensive Camden market healing crystals, secured from only the finest Camden market healing crystal mines and hand-buffed to a shine by the world's foremost Camden market healing crystal polishers. But gosh, don't they look cheap?
FIFA Ballon d'Or 2014:
Gareth Bale (Wales/Real Madrid), Karim Benzema (France/Real Madrid), Diego Costa (Spain/Atletico Madrid/Chelsea), Thibaut Courtois (Belgium/Atletico Madrid/Chelsea), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal/Real Madrid), Angel Di Maria (Argentina/Real Madrid/Manchester United), Mario Goetze (Germany/Bayern Munich), Eden Hazard (Belgium/Chelsea), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden/Paris Saint-Germain), Andres Iniesta (Spain/Barcelona), Toni Kroos (Germany/Bayern Munich/Real Madrid), Philipp Lahm (Germany/Bayern Munich), Javier Mascherano (Argentina/Barcelona), Lionel Messi (Argentina/Barcelona), Thomas Mueller (Germany/Bayern Munich), Manuel Neuer (Germany/Bayern Munich), Neymar (Brazil/Barcelona), Paul Pogba (France/Juventus), Sergio Ramos (Spain/Real Madrid), Arjen Robben (Netherlands/Bayern Munich), James Rodriguez (Colombia/Monaco/Real Madrid), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany/Bayern Munich), Yaya Toure (Côte d'Ivoire/Manchester City)
FIFA World Coach of the Year (Men's Football) 2014:
Carlo Ancelotti (Real Madrid), Antonio Conte (Juventus/Italy national team), Pep Guardiola (Bayern Munich), Juergen Klinsmann (USA), Joachim Loew (Germany), Jose Mourinho (Chelsea), Manuel Pellegrini (Manchester City), Alejandro Sabella (Argentina), Diego Simeone (Atletico Madrid), Louis van Gaal (Netherlands/Manchester United)
Women's World Player of the Year 2014:
Nadine Angerer (Germany), Veronica Boquete (Spain), Nilla Fischer (Sweden), Nahomi Kawasumi (Japan), Nadine Kessler (Germany), Marta (Brazil), Aya Miyama (Japan), Louisa Necib (France), Lotta Schelin (Sweden), Abby Wambach (USA)
FIFA World Coach of the Year (Women's Football) 2014:
Philippe Bergeroo (France), Peter Dedevbo (Nigeria U20), Laura Harvey (Seattle Reign), Ralf Kellermann (VfL Wolfsburg), Maren Meinert (Germany U20), Norio Sasaki (Japan), Pia Sundhage (Sweden), Asako Takemoto Takakura (Japan U17), Jorge Vilda (Spain U17/U19), Martina Voss-Tecklenburg (Switzerland)