He knows who won the Ballon d’Or. No, he won’t tell.

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In reality, of course, many of the names have a clear majority behind them. “For the men, maybe 20 or 22 players will be obvious to everyone,” he said. “We’re discussing the last eight or ten. The meetings can be long, two or three hours, but we want everyone to be proud of the final selection. It’s not just the chef’s list. And we’re not trying to forget anyone: a few years ago, we found out that we’d seen 1000 matches or more together that year. Being on the list is something very serious.”

Once a consensus is reached, France Football will send its shortlists to its jury of more than 170 vote-wielding journalists around the world (as well as announce them publicly) in early October.

It is at this point that the veil of secrecy comes down. The judges – one per country – submit their five choices in order to what Ferré describes as a “private email server.” Printed on whatever form that takes, he protested: The system is so secret that he refused to reveal how it worked, except to say that only he and his secretary have access to it. The rest of the France Football staff is 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 sounded vaguely dubious when told that perhaps the most direct parallel was the Oscars results.

That the responsibility weighs so heavily on Ferré and his magazine should not be attributed to an inflated sense of self-importance. They take the Ballon d’Or seriously because they know exactly how much it means to players. When Ferré called Luka Modric, the 2018 winner, to tell him the news that he had won, the Croat cried “like a child,” Ferré said.

“It’s Christmas for them,” he said. “It’s the only chance you get in a team sport to celebrate alone.”

It is a meaning that only seems to grow with each passing year. The primacy of the Ballon d’Or is a curious phenomenon. In 2010, it married FIFA’s official equivalent, the World Player of the Year award, to become the FIFA Ballon d’Or.

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