Ronaldo, Messi and the utter uselessness of FIFA's 'The Best' Award
For anyone who stayed up to watch The Best FIFA Football Awards held at The London Palladium on Monday night, they could be excused for being a bit let down by the entire affair. If you rolled your eyes, join the club.
The cringe-worthiness of it all had people shifting in their seats with applause, cheers and jeers emanating mainly from a section of lucky fans who were allowed to attend the event. Or in other words, those who spoke English in a crowd filled with players and coaches who spoke Spanish, French or Italian.
The glitz and glamour was perhaps over-hyped as their fashion sense took centre stage rather than the personalities themselves. Could someone be kind enough to inform the hosts on the 'green carpet' that this was not the Oscars or the BAFTAs? Nobody gives a damn about the suits they wore nor the accessories that went with them.
This was, after all, an event to celebrate their achievements on the pitch. Not one where you discuss their fashion choices or how long they take to get ready.
Yes, one 'lucky' fan actually had the chance to ask Neymar Jr a question at a televised event that was beamed live to viewers around the globe and the only question she could think of was, "How long did it take for you to get ready for tonight's event?" Perfume and everything.
On his part, Neymar laughed at the question once it was translated for him; probably more out of relief that he wasn't questioned about his blockbuster €222m move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain this summer. Who cares about a record-breaking (nay, record-smashed-to-smithereens) transfer, eh?
Even poor Idris Elba, a Hollywood star who can light up a room, must have wished he hadn't 'cancelled the apocalypse' in Pacific Rim. He just couldn't get the crowd to respond to his jokes that would have at least had an Oscars crowd laughing politely.
"You're a tough crowd," he said when one of his jokes on the modern football fan failed to elicit any sort of reaction whatsoever. But nobody would blame him for trying. At least he made good use of the opportunities to get a few selfies with the legends of the game.
The ridiculous event aside, it is the awards themselves that must be questioned. Of course, I have nothing against the awards given away to the Best Fans and the Fair Play award to Francis Kone who saved an opponent's life before he choked to death.
No, it's the other awards of the night that many people have issues with.
Ronaldo or Messi - does it even matter anymore?
Ronaldo, Messi, Messi, Messi, Messi, Ronaldo, Ronaldo, Messi, Ronaldo, Ronaldo... (to be continued?)
It has been a decade since we saw another player lift the award at a FIFA function. The last player to do so was Brazil's Kaka in 2007 and even that year he was joined by Messi and Ronaldo on the podium.
Nobody is debating whether a third contender actually deserves to be in the running. Nope! In the Ronaldo-Messi era, a third place finish is an achievement by itself.
But then again, does this award make sense at all anymore?
A lot of post-award analysis has already been done to determine whether Ronaldo deserves the award based on his stats. Apparently he did not but then what's that they say about statistics and mini-skirts? What they reveal is tantalizing, but what they hide is crucial.
Messi may have carried Barcelona in the past few months but it is Ronaldo who has won La Liga and the Champions League with key goals (including hat-tricks) in both competitions. Yes, he had a vastly superior team (evident from the five Real Madrid players in the FIFPro World XI) but that is besides the point, right?
Wenger had once said: "I’m totally against it (individual awards like the Ballon d'Or). I’m a team lover and a specialist of somebody who loves team work. I’m completely against it. I would not vote for anybody.”
One look at the votes suggest that fellow players and coaches did not truly vote with their mind but with their heart.
With three choices to name, Ronaldo did not vote for Messi but picked his teammates Luka Modric, Sergio Ramos and Marcelo. The Argentine returned the favour, voting for Luis Suarez, Andres Iniesta and Neymar.
A look at the choices of the other international captains who voted uncovers a pattern. Teammates for club or country pretty much got first preference.
One can't entirely blame them because footballers don't spend their weekends analysing their counterparts and their performances over 90 minutes. We do.
And with 25% of the vote allocated to the fans, would you really expect a Real Madrid fan to vote for Messi or a Barcelona fan to vote for Ronaldo? Never!
The last time a defender won the award was back in 2006 (Fabio Cannavaro had led Italy to a World Cup triumph after all). In the last 11 years, only one player from the 'other half of the pitch' has made it to the final three - Manuel Neuer (the goalkeeper came third in 2014).
But then again, we cannot ignore Ronaldo and Messi, can we now?
The award may recognise one of the two every year but it gives nothing but ammunition for the hordes of rabid fans waiting for a chance to jump at each other's throats. Soical media sites probably see their servers spike and take a hit as the insults fly. Penaldo... Pessi... Ronaldo fanbois... Barka dogs...
FIFA's 'The Best' awards are nothing more than a popularity contest
Let's also discuss the legitimacy of the The Best FIFA Women's Player award. The nominees were Lieke Martens (UEFA Women’s EURO 2017 Player of the Tournament), Carli Lloyd (the 2016 winner who had another sensational season) and Deyna Castellanos (formerly an U-17 player from Venezuela and a Puskas Award nominee).
Martens won the award, deservedly so. But here's the problem: Castellanos isn't even a professional player. She plays in the USA in a league called United Women's Soccer - a second-division league. How so many other deserving professional footballers were overlooked remains a mystery.
"The award just doesn't hold a lot of weight when you've got someone on the list I've never heard of." - Megan Rapinoe, a USA veteran with 127 caps
Moving on to The Best FIFA Goalkeeper. Nobody can argue that Gianluigi Buffon doesn't deserve it. The Juventus goalkeeper almost accomplished a treble at the age of 39!
A 6'3" phenom in goal, Buffon suddenly cut a very timid figure in front of the mic when he realised he had to speak in English. But despite being offered the services of a translator, Gigi kept it together and full credit to him for the way he spoke on stage.
But one look at the other nominees and you wonder how one particular name never even made the cut - Manchester United's David De Gea. The Red Devils may have finished sixth last season but it was the Spaniard who ensured they did (with 14 clean sheets) while he had also helped Spain qualify for the 2018 World Cup (again with many clean sheets to his name).
Did others such as Gianluigi Donarumma and the laughably error-prone Claudio Bravo have significantly better campaigns than the Spaniard to be included in the list?
The FIFA FIFPro World XI was then announced with much fanfare - they had even arranged the trophies in a 4-3-3 formation! As the players picked up the awards one-by-one, a number of fans questioned one paricular inclusion.
The team was dominated by Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus (as expected) but Andres Iniesta getting a spot in this team had people scratching their heads. The Barca midfielder is well past his peak (which was spread across the years 2008 to 2012).
There were so many others who arguably deserved a spot. Chelsea's N'Golo Kante and Real Madrid's Isco were two very good shouts for a spot in the XI and had easily out-performed Iniesta.
Disclaimer: I'm one of Iniesta's biggest fans.
Unfortunately, he has made it to this team due to his legacy rather than his performances over the voting period when Barcelona were struggling to compete in La Liga and Champions League - a period when Iniesta's minutes on the pitch were heavily restricted.
In a couple of months, we will see the same hype and euphoria when the same players attend the Ballon d'Or ceremony. That award, too, has its own glaring issues when it comes to recognising players who deserve to be nominated thanks to a few shocking omissions in the 30-man shortlist.
But until the actual trophies are up for grabs at the end of the season, we have to make-do with such circus shows that are purely designed to crown the most popular players and elevate their self-worth.
Side note: Which six-year-old came up with the name for the award and called it FIFA's 'The Best' anyway?