The nominations for 2016’s Ballon d’Or are out – and after UEFA Champions League glory and a sparkling showing at EURO 2016, it is Real Madrid and Wales’ Gareth Bale who leads the way for the home nations, in pursuit of European football’s premier player’s prize.
However, the Cardiff-born winger is not the only Welshman to be nominated in recent years; with the other, another U21 international, upsetting the apple-cart heroically back in 2012.
Nestled amongst the starry company of Mario Ballotelli, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Cristiano Ronaldo, Bangor City striker Les Davies made for a stunning inclusion on the 32-man longlist, a list that had no place for countryman Ryan Giggs of Manchester United or a number of Giggs’ higher-paid and higher-profile Premier League contemporaries.
But how did the part-timer from the Welsh Premier League find his way onto a list more commonly populated by the multi-millionaire megastars of Manchester, Milan and Madrid?
The answer lies with a voting process that saw one journalist from each of UEFA’s member nations select their five top players across Europe; and rank them in order of preference.
As legend now has it, it was Dave Jones from Wales’ Daily Post who cast his top vote for Davies (pictured); the veteran reporter’s cheeky nod enough to help the 27-year old factory worker known affectionately as ‘The Truck’ across the line and into the longlist.
Davies, who had trials with Manchester City as a youngster, had scored a hatful for Bangor in the preceding 2011-12 campaign. However, he will forever be closest linked with this unique footballing factoid, as for one glorious moment, the Welsh Premier League marksman shared a stage with Lionel Messi and a host of other celebrated Ballon d’Or contenders.
Today, Davies turns out for North Walian rivals Connah’s Quay, featuring in their UEFA Europa League qualifying round victory over Stabæk of Norway and the subsequent second round tie.
Meanwhile, Bale will look to become the first Welshman ever to win the Ballon d’Or when the final three contenders for the 2016 accolade are confirmed later this winter. AC
The 2012 longlist:
Sergio Aguero (Man City), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid), Mario Balotelli (Man City), Jakub Blaszczykowski (Borussia Dortmund), Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), Peter Cech (Chelsea), Fabio Coentrao (Real Madrid), Les Davies (Bangor City), Didier Drogba (Shanghai Shenhua), Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona), Radamel Falcao (Atletico Madrid), Joe Hart (Man City), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (AC Milan), Andrés Iniesta (Barcelona), Shinji Kagawa (Man United), Vincent Kompany (Man City), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Luka Modric (Tottenham), Mesut Ozil (Real Madrid), Pepe (Real Madrid), Andrea Pirlo (Juventus), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Raul (Al-Sadd), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Wayne Rooney (Man United), David Silva (Man City), Fernando Torres (Chelsea), Yaya Toure (Man City), Robin van Persie (Arsenal), Xavi (Barcelona).
The 2016 longlist:
Sergio Aguero (Man City), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund), Gareth Bale (Real Madrid), Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Kevin de Bruyne (Man City), Paulo Dybala (Juventus), Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Gonzalo Higuain (Juventus), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Man United), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Koke (Atletico Madrid), Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur), Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich), Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Neymar (Barcelona), Dimitri Payet (West Ham), Pepe (Real Madrid), Paul Pogba (Man United), Rui Patricio (Sporting Lisbon), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Luis Suarez (Barcelona), Jamie Vardy (Leicester City), Arturo Vidal (Bayern Munich).
- Gareth Bale by Carl Recine, Reuters/Action Images
- Les Davies by Peter Cziborra, Action Images
- Cristiano Ronaldo by Jason Cairnduff, Action Images