Ballon war! Simeone, Diego Costa and Atletico Madrid deserve Real recognition

Real Madrid dominated the awards at the 2014 Fifa Ballon d’Or ceremony on Monday to cement their status as the best team in club football.

Cristiano Ronaldo roared his way to yet another Ballon d’Or in the main category – becoming only the fourth player in history to win the prize three times. James Rodriguez scooped the Fifa Puskas Award for best goal of 2014, Carlo Ancelotti took silver in the Fifa World Coach of the Year, while four Madrid players were selected in the FIFPro World XI (including Manchester United’s Angel Di Maria). A further three Madridistas made the FIFPro reserve XI.

Despite clinching a stunning Liga title win on a limited budget, Real’s city rivals Atletico – who they welcome to Santiago Bernabeu on Thursday in the Copa del Rey – enjoyed next to no recognition in Zurich.

Only two Atletico-related players, Diego Costa and Thibaut Courtois, were chosen on the Ballon d’Or’s original 23-man shortlist, both of whom went to Chelsea in the summer. The striker received just 1.02 per cent of the vote and finished in 11th position. The goalkeeper earned only 0.51% and was down in 20th place.

Diego Godin, Miranda and Filipe Luis were all ignored when Fifa and France Football drew up their long list, despite forming the best club defence in Europe last season. The omission of Godin, in particular, is inexplicable after he eliminated Italy at the World Cup, scored the goal that won La Liga, and also struck in the Champions League final. Midfield masters Arda Turan and Koke were also overlooked.

All of these above players were also snubbed for the Fifa FIFPro World XI, with only Courtois making the reserve selection. The FIFPro XI is one of the most democratic awards in football – voted for globally by over 23,000 professional footballers. Contrary to public opinion, it is not influenced by Fifa or politics at all and there is no shortlist to steer players. Yet Godin and Miranda were shunned, while David Luiz – part of the Brazil team humiliated by Germany at the World Cup – made the cut.

The Atletico defensive pair’s omission for Luiz was a point of ridicule shared both by fans and pundits. Arda and Koke must be raising the same question about the inclusion of an ageing Andres Iniesta. Could it be that Atletico’s cynical style of play wins them few friends in the football fraternity? Or simply that many in football vote on reputation, not achievement?

This certainly seemed to be the case when FIFPro later presented the World XI as voted for in each of the participating 58 countries. Fifty-three nations didn’t select an Atletico player. Spain, Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe included Diego Costa in their best XI, Uruguay selected their captain Godin. That equates to five out of 638 players.

In the Fifa World Coach of the Year award, Atletico were also left disappointed. Diego Simeone at least managed to make the podium, but he was well beaten into third place by Germany’s Joachim Low and Ancelotti – taking 19.02% of the ballot.

The lack of acknowledgment for Atletico in Zurich after such an incredible 2013-14 season is hard to digest.

A handful of super-clubs boast such a financial monopoly today over the rest of the competition that it is almost impossible for teams like Atletico to even dream of winning major trophies. Yet they did it anyway, and are in the mix again this season.

“What’s the difference between Real Madrid and Atletico? About €400 million,” Simeone once correctly noted.

As revealed in the 2014 Deloitte Money League, Real are the richest club in the world with a total revenue of €518.9 million from the 2012-13 season. Barcelona were second when Deloitte released that list with €482.6m. Atletico, meanwhile, just scraped into the top 20 with €120m – less than the likes of Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Hamburg.

This fact alone should have been enough for Simeone to take the coach’s gong. “Simeone is the best coach in the world and if he’d won the award I’d have been as happy as if they’d given it to me,” Arda Turan tweeted, complaining that his vote had been changed in favour of Jose Mourinho.

Before last term, the Clasico duo had shared every Primera Division since 2004 – usually creating a gap of 20-30 points over third place. Low and Ancelotti’s achievements must be applauded, but history aside there was nothing unique about their victories. Atletico winning La Liga ranks as one of the greatest achievements of all time.

Atletico were consistent throughout the calendar year and excelled in the big games. In 2014, they beat Real at the Bernabeu and drew at home. They finished the season having not lost to Barcelona in six games, with Messi failing to score a single goal.

And Simeone so nearly clinched the Champions League, too. Having gone unbeaten throughout the competition and defeated the world’s seventh richest club Chelsea in the semi-finals, his men were heartbreakingly denied at the death in the final by Sergio Ramos.

The total cost of Real’s squad ahead of the showpiece was €521.9 million. Atletico’s was €79.05m – considerably less than the price the Blancos paid for either Ronaldo (€94m) or Bale (€100m).

And to prove last season was no fluke, Atletico immediately began the current campaign in style – despite selling Diego Costa and Filipe Luis to Chelsea, who also brought Courtois home from his extended loan. They overcame Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup and have since defeated their city cousins on two more occasions. They topped their Champions League group and are again proving to be a nuisance in La Liga.

Last week’s 2-0 success over Real in the first leg of their Copa del Rey last 16 tie was just further proof that Atletico deserved to share more of the Ballon d’Or awards with their city rivals.

Simeone and his troops will be keen to avenge this injustice on Thursday when Ronaldo parades his trophy.