As the year draws to a close, many of the national and international footballing bodies like to hand out awards. Most football fans are a sensible bunch and don’t pay these awards any attention. After all, football is a competitive sport and what matters is performances and results on the pitch, rather than anyone elses opinion (unless you’re Cristiano Ronaldo, to whom it seems to matter very much).
Along with the fact that FIFA have a hand in many of these ceremonies awards, there is something else about them that really bothers me: they nearly always go to a striker or attacking midfielder. In England in the last 20 years, only two Players of the Year have not been either strikers or attacking midfielders: Roy Keane and Scott Parker.
Similarly, the same award handed out by FIFA for the last 21 years has seen only two occasions when attacking/scoring players didn’t get the award: Lothar Matteus and Fabio Cannavaro. It’s much the same in Africa, with only Yaya Toure and Mustapha Hadji (remember him?) representing the first and second third of the pitch in the winner’s circle since 1993.
Obviously goals are important, I’m not denying that. However, giving awards to the person who scores the most goals, or a few spectacular goals just seems like a lazy and easy way of doing things. It means you don’t really have to pay attention to a game or to the form of individuals – just take a look at who scored the goals and give them the trophy. Over the entire history of the FIFA Ballon D’or, only one goalkeeper (Russia’s Lev Yashin) has won it.
To give you an idea of the calibre of player missing out here, let me give you some examples of players who haven’t won any of these awards in the last 20 years: Gigi Buffon, Peter Schmeichel, Oliver Khan, Edwin Van Der Saar, Carles Puyol, Paolo Maldini, Michael Ballack and Xavi Hernandez. No one can deny these players are world class and are every bit as important to their sides as their more decorated team-mates, but with the exception of Cannavaro in 2006, none of them have really been acknowledged as world class footballers.
Of course, there isn’t much escaping this. Unless, we stop paying any attention – maybe the awards will go away then.