In truth, of course, many names have a clear majority behind them. “For the men, maybe 20 or 22 players will be obvious to everyone,” he said. “We are discussing the eight or ten finalists. Meetings can be long, two or three hours, but we need everyone to be proud of the final selection. It’s not just the chef’s list. And we try not to forget anyone: we found out a few years ago that between us, we had watched 1,000 games or more that year. Getting on the list is very serious.
Once something approaching a consensus has been reached, France Football sends its presets to its jury of over 170 journalists with voices across the world (as well as announce them in public) beginning of October.
This is when the veil of secrecy falls. Jurors – one per nation – submit their five choices, in order, to what Ferré describes as a “private mail server”. Pressed into whatever form it takes, he objected: The system is so secret that he refused to even disclose how it worked, except to say that only he and his secretary have access to it. The rest of the France Football staff are kept in the dark.
“We are very careful,” he said. “But the identity of the Ballon d’Or winner is a big secret. There is no equivalent in the rest of the sport, I think. He looked vaguely dubious when told that perhaps the most immediate parallel was the Oscars results.
That the responsibility weighs so heavily on Ferré, and his magazine, should not be attributed to an exaggerated sense of their own importance. They take the Ballon d’Or seriously because they know exactly how much it means to the players. When Ferré called Luka Modric, the winner in 2018, to tell him he had won, the Croatian “cried like a child,” Ferré said.
“It’s Christmas for them,” he said. “It’s the only chance you have in a team sport to celebrate on your own. “
This is an importance that only seems to grow from year to year. The primacy of the Ballon d’Or is a curious phenomenon. In 2010, he was married to the official FIFA equivalent of the World Player of the Year award to become the FIFA Ballon d’Or.