The shortlist for the 2011 FIFA Ballon d’Or has been announced, with last year’s winner Lionel Messi the chief favourite to retain the coveted World Player Of The Year title. Unsurprisingly, Spanish players dominate the stellar list of candidates, while just one English player features amongst the names – Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney.

Thirteen of the names on the Ballon d’Or World Player Of The Year shortlist ply their trade in Spain and seven of the players are Spanish born, facts that tell their own story. Although few football fans will be surprised by this, that’s not to say that everything about this year’s Ballon d’Or nominations was expected.

Many have been left puzzled by the omission of Manchester City’s David Silva from the 2011 Ballon d’Or nominations, as he was an early front runner to collect the award. Furthermore, Bayern’s Mario Gomez and Arsenal’s Robin van Persie, who have both averaged 1.04 goals per game throughout 2011 with an identical record of 28 goals in 27 appearances, have also been left off the Ballon d’Or shortlist.

Only Cristiano Ronaldo can better that strike rate, with 33 goals in 28 games for Real Madrid throughout 2011 – that’s 1.18 goals per game. But despite that incredible form, Ronaldo is nowhere near being favourite to take the 2011 Ballon d’Or title. That honour goes to one Lionel Messi.

The Argentinian player is the heavy favourite to take the Ballon d’Or World Player Of The Year title for a third time, rated a best price of 1.17 by Ladbrokes, after another breathtaking year of performances by the “Little Maestro”.

In the 2011/12 season so far, Messi has already notched an incredible 22 goals in 17 appearances for Barcelona – including 5 from 4 games in the Champions League – and that’s before we even consider last season, in which Messi collected winners medals in the Champions League, La Liga, the Spanish Super Cup and the 2011 UEFA Super Cup, shattering goal scoring records along the way.

Most football punters and fans are understandably taking the view that the 2011 Ballon d’Or World Player Of The Year award is a foregone conclusion, preferring instead to ask “Who will finish second to Messi?”, and unless you like placing large bets at tremendously short odds, that may not actually be a bad approach towards this year’s Ballon d’Or betting.

With that in mind, it may be worth taking a look at Paddy Power‘s “Ballon d’Or Top Three Finish” market. Although there is little point in backing Messi at a massive 1/500, or even Ronaldo at 1/10, there is certainly some value to be found amongst the candidates.

Although considered to have little chance of winning the award outright – as big as 251.00 to win with Paddy Power – Neymar has had a phenomenal season and is not given the credit he deserves. In 2011 he has claimed the Brazilian league title and Copa Libertadores with Santos, as well as the South American Under 20 Championship with Brazil and has bagged an impressive haul of 7 goals in 13 full internationals – all at just 19 years of age.

Despite the inevitable bias towards those playing their football in one of the major leagues, the Paddy Power “Top Three Finish” price of Neymar – the only member of the 2011 Ballon d’Or shortlist from outside of the top European leagues – still looks big at 67.00.

But the most likely player to round off the 2011 Ballon d’Or top three, behind Messi and Ronaldo, must surely be Messi’s Barcelona colleague Xavi. Widely acknowledged as the man that pulls the strings in the heart of the Barcelona midfield, Xavi is behind much of Barcelona’s beautiful “tiki-taka” style. At 2.00 to finish in the top three, this could be a cracking bet.

Here is the betting for the 2011 FIFA Ballon d’Or World Player Of The Year Award, courtesy of Paddy Power:

Xavi – 2.00
W Rooney – 3.50
A Iniesta – 3.75
L Suarez – 4.33
G Pique – 13.00
S Aguero – 21.00
M Ozil – 26.00
X Alonso – 26.00
I Casillas – 29.00
C Fabregas – 29.00
D Villa – 29.00
T Muller – 29.00
D Alves – 29.00
B Schweinsteiger – 29.00
K Benzema – 34.00
Bar – 51.00

The winners of the 2011 FIFA Ballon d’Or awards will be announced during a televised ceremony at Zurich’s Kongresshaus on January 9th 2012.

FIFA Ballon d’Or 2011 World Player Of The Year Nominees in full: Eric Abidal (France), Sergio Aguero (Argentina), Karim Benzema (France), Iker Casillas (Spain), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Dani Alves (Brazil), Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon), Cesc Fabregas (Spain), Diego Forlan (Uruguay), Andres Iniesta (Spain), Lionel Messi (Argentina), Thomas Muller (Germany), Nani (Portugal), Neymar (Brazil), Mesut Ozil (Germany), Gerard Pique (Spain), Wayne Rooney (England), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany), Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands), Luis Suarez (Uruguay), David Villa (Spain), Xabi Alonso (Spain) and Xavi (Spain).