The Best FIFA Awards 2018: A bittersweet victory for football
The Best FIFA Awards have had a fair share of critics. Until two years back, it was presented in association with France Football and called FIFA Ballon d'Or. There have been decisions which haven't pleased the football fraternity in the past. After all, it is just a matter of opinion, just that the awards are the opinions of international team coaches, captains and journalists.
The FIFA awards though are criticised for certain reasons. It gives people the right to vote and importantly, the votes of people from all around the world have the same value as that of an expert. How can FIFA trust this voting system? There are a lot of flaws in this system. First, not every player understands the game in an unbiased way. It is very tough for someone to name the best player in an unbiased manner, perhaps with the exception of Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola.
Guardiola despite being the ultimate Barcelona supporter that he is, has put the Quinta Del Buitre Real Madrid side as the best he has seen. Being a Barcelona devotee and still appreciating your arch rivals is never easy. But that is how football should be. It should be appreciated irrespective of player, team and rivalry.
We could argue that players and coaches are the best people to vote. Players win because the majority of experts agree they should win. But since people are allowed to vote, the complexion completely changes, as they would vote for who they like the most and not necessarily the best.
Although every year there is a disagreement on whether the right man won, this year FIFA has taken some really atrocious decisions. Strangely, all the award categories are being questioned this year. To get to the root of the problem, we will have to turn things back a bit, right to where it all started.
The unprecedented snubs
On 3rd September 2018, FIFA announced its three-man shortlist for The Best Men’s Player of the Year. And to the surprise of many, Lionel Messi who had an amazing year with the exception of the World Cup was snubbed.
What arguments are there to be made? Among Salah, Modric, Messi and Ronaldo, Messi had the most goals, most assists and most numbers of trophies won for the previous season. His absence and Salah’s presence is not justified in any case.
The Best Men’s Coach Nominees added to the controversy. Zinedine Zidane found a place in the top 3 along with Didier Deschamps and Zlatko Dalic. Both coaches were present clearly because of the pieces of silverware that they won and Dalic didn't win anything either. Zidane did win the Champions League but he was outclassed in LaLiga, finishing 3rd, almost 13 points behind Barcelona.
Zidane’s rotated his squad well but he really failed to find a balance between league and UCL. Somebody like Guardiola locked the league down and reached the semi-finals with City.
On the contrary, it was Jurgen Klopp’s sole effort that resurrected Liverpool and guided them to the Champions League final. Klopp injected his front three with a shot of self-confidence that led to jaw-dropping performances by Firmino, Salah and Mane. He instated Virgil van Dijk into the team and unleashed his defensive potential. Seriously, who knew Salah prior to last season?
Staying with Premier League, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City all but ended the debate about possession football. Pep’s tactical mastermind of leaving Kevin De Bruyne as a free No.8, his work on bringing David Silva back to his best and unearthing the defensive class of John Stones, Kyle Walker and Aymeric Laporte has to be appreciated.
Both Klopp and Guardiola or at least one of them had to be inside the top 3 for Best Coach.
Moving on to the goalkeepers. Hugo Lloris, Thibaut Courtois and Kasper Schmeichel made the top 3. All of them play in the Premier League and David de Gea, unarguably the best goalkeeper in EPL last year didn’t make it. Lloris,
Courtois and Schmeichel all three are questionable selections. Mainly the last season of these three doesn’t make them deserving for the top 3, at least Schmeichel and Lloris. Jan Oblak was at his absolute best for Atletico Madrid.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen was the prime reason as to why the unforgiving defensive errors didn’t haunt Barcelona. Ter Stegen stood up to every opposition. His ball distribution, his work with the feet, his saving ability, he improvised on everything last year and he was snubbed. Nothing needs to be said about De Gea.
Assuming that Courtois was certainly the best keeper of the three nominees, here the infographic shows the comparison for the three keepers based on their 2017-18 performances. It is clearly visible that last season Oblak and Ter Stegen were head and shoulders above Courtois.
Oblak, Ter Stegen and De Gea have one thing in common, they didn’t perform in the World Cup. Oblak and Ter Stegen didn’t play (the former's Slovenia didn't qualify and the latter's Germany preferred Manuel Neuer in all the 3 games) and De Gea underperformed.
So is the award for the person who had the best World Cup? With all due respect, the World Cup is 7 games at max for a team. To put a World Cup performance above the whole 38 games in the regular league and the Champions League performance is really woeful.
FIFPro Team of the Year Shortlist
On 10th September 2018, FIFA moved on to its next big blunder, the FIFPro Team of the Year shortlist. Among the 55 names, some struck out like adulterants. Dejan Lovren, Yerry Mina and Karim Benzema, seriously? Lovren had a good World Cup but what else? Klopp brought Van Dijk in because the defence was in shambles.
About Mina, what did he do to deserve this? The three headers that he scored in the World Cup will put an end to Yerry Mina’s 2017-18 achievements. Benzema scored only 12 goals in a season in all competitions, an underwhelming number for a striker who did nothing else last season. FIFA just ignored Vertonghen, Koulibaly and Aguero’s performances in 2017-18.
Again the same reason, Benzema scored 7 goals in the UCL, Mina scored in the World Cup, Lovren was solid in the World Cup. Again FIFA proved that the performance in the World Cup is above season performances.
FIFPro Team of the Year: Dani Alves' selection
On 24th September 2018 in London, England, the actual gala took place. The events in the award night were just adding insult to the already ruined image of FIFA. Journalists slammed many of the decisions prior to the event and the night’s proceedings were just going to make it worse.
The FIFPro Team of the Year was announced and to the amazement of many, a certain gentleman made it to the back four on the right-hand flank. Who else? Dani Alves. Dani Alves’ ability is out of the question, he is no doubt one of the best right-backs available currently. But ability doesn’t earn you a spot in the team of the year, the performances of the previous year does.
Alves spent the World Cup injured and wasn’t as significant as the other players for PSG. Dani Carvajal won the Champions League with Real Madrid. Bayern Munich's Joshua Kimmich had over 20 assists during the whole of last season. There were better alternatives, but they were snubbed.
FIFA Puskas Award
Dani Alves’ selection was the least controversial of issues. Let's move on to the first award category, the FIFA Puskas Award. The criteria for this award as stated in FIFA.com reads, “An aesthetically beautiful goal”. Does FIFA have the minimal of an idea what aesthetics are?
Of all the goals, they awarded Mo Salah for his solo goal against Everton. It was tough no doubt, but that wasn’t aesthetic. That is not how you describe aesthetic. It won over Ronaldo and Bale’s bicycles, over the edge of the box scorpion by Riley McGree.
Christodoulopoulos’ freekick was better than it, with the insane curve on it. FIFA had a simple job, choose a winner between Arrascaeta’s jumping side-heel finish and McGree’s edge of the box scorpion. They had aesthetics written all over their finishes, but this was a poor decision by FIFA. It is an insult to the other goals
If FIFA prefers tough goals over beautiful ones, then Cheryshev had to win. Messi’s physics-defying blinder in 2015 lost out because it wasn’t “beautiful for the eyes”, then how come Salah won? Maybe because of the media hype surrounding him.
There are no comments on the Goalkeeper of the Year. But think about this, how come the Goalkeeper of the Year is not in the Team of the Year? FIFA has bamboozled one and all.
The Best Men's Player
Luka Modric won the Best Men’s Player of the Year award. Out of the three players, perhaps the most deserving. But still, there are some issues unaddressed. Modric was unnoticed, out of the discussion, out of the power rankings for Ballon d'Or and FIFA The Best Awards.
How can a 7-match World Cup change the odds on its head? It is a season award and not a World Cup award. A World Cup might seem more tough and glorifying as it happens once in four years. Modric had one highlight in the World Cup, the game against Argentina. But Modric was not even an outright best in the World Cup. It was leaning more towards Hazard.
Modric has stats away from him, he is there because he was a playmaker and maybe stats won’t lean towards him. Messi dropped as deep as he could to create last season while scoring the goals and making the assists. Messi had more passing accuracy and key passes than Modric, clearly a playmaker’s main criteria.
We can just compare some stats that should describe a playmaker. UEFA Champions League was easily Messi's weakest performance last year. Messi was berserk in LaLiga. Taking out the goals that Messi scored, these stats purely show playmaking skills.
Luka isn't above Messi even when we compare only playmaking and that too, in a competition where Messi performed at a lower level than he did in LaLiga. What explanation does FIFA have for this? How could 2017-18 be Modric's year based on 7 games in the World Cup?
Moreover, FIFA now owes an explanation to great players like Iniesta, Xavi and Pirlo. Even last season why doesn’t FIFA recognise Jorginho’s role for Napoli? Jorginho was as instrumental as Modric was for Madrid. So how does FIFA measure performance, by the team success or the player’s best form?
Nobody would talk about Modric’s successful 2017-18 if his shot against Argentina didn’t go in. It is a victory for football in the sense that they recognised a midfielder’s role. But it seems FIFA had it with Ronaldo and Messi’s duopoly. The voters had enough of seeing Messi and Ronaldo lift the award. Many Messi fans would root for Modric because of their hate for CR7, but this is not an anti-Ronaldo agenda.
Cristiano was as instrumental for Real Madrid upfront, and perhaps that is why he scored 50% of their goals. It might seem that Modric ended the duopoly but 2018 is a long as Modric will stay in this discussion but Messi and Ronaldo will be in it for as long as they retire.
FIFA should not be excluding Messi and Ronaldo on purpose and their absence just makes the gala that much less appreciated. Modric's victory is sweet in the sense that FIFA is recognising performances outside statistics, but it is a bitter one in the sense that more deserving people were snubbed in almost all categories.
Note: This is merely an opinion and not necessarily needs to be the same for everyone.
Stat infographics are courtesy Squawka.com and are set to per 90-minute average.