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By ESPN Staff

Real's Cannavaro laughs off award jibes

MADRID, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Newly crowned European Footballer of the Year Fabio Cannavaro has said he is unfazed by criticism from several leading figures in the game about the decision to give him the prestigious award.

'It's not my problem, people seem to have a very short memory,' the Real Madrid and Italy player told a news conference on Wednesday.

'I won two titles at Juventus and at the World Cup everyone said that I was the best defender in the world, but now some people are saying they shouldn't have given the award to a defender.'

France coach Raymond Domenech, Olympique Lyon boss Gerard Houllier and former AC Milan manager Arrigo Sacchi were amongst the high-profile figures who said they would not have given Italy's World Cup-winning captain the award.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has said that his striker Thierry Henry should have won the prize.

But a smiling Cannavaro was clearly unconcerned by the comments.

'Houllier said it was madness,' he said. 'I respect his opinion, but the Ballon d'Or is now in my house.

'For me the whole thing is a dream as I never thought I'd win the Ballon d'Or. It's very difficult for a defender to win this award and it's an important recognition for this category of players.

'Defenders of the quality of (Paolo) Maldini, (Franco) Baresi, (Fernando) Hierro, (Marcel) Desailly and (Lilian) Thuram never won this award, but deserved it. A defender has the same value as a striker. You win matches because defenders defend well.

'And now I'm one of the candidates for the World Player of the Year award, it's incredible.'

Only three defensive players have ever won the European award -- Soviet Union goalkeeper Lev Yashin in 1963, West German sweeper Franz Beckenbauer (1972, 1976) and Germany's Matthias Sammer, who was also playing as a sweeper when he won it in 1996.

Cannavaro, 33, though, is the first recognised centre-back to win the honour and has also been shortlisted for FIFA's world player award together with Barcelona's Brazilian forward Ronaldinho and retired French playmaker Zinedine Zidane.

However, Cannavaro, who is carrying a minor muscle injury and is suspended for Real's next game at home to Athletic Bilbao, admitted that he had suffered a dip in form since his move to the Spanish giants.

'Since I arrived my level hasn't been the same as it was at the World Cup,' he said. 'If you look at how I played at the World Cup it is not surprising that people say I'm not playing as well now.

'It's usual for this to happen when a player changes team and city. It's always difficult after a World Cup... But the league is long, we are still in the Champions League and I'm not worried. All I'm thinking about is working hard.'