This is a guest post from Davies Simposya from Zambia, with his comments on the current system for awarding the FIFA best player of the year, and a proposal for changes to the award.
THE “FIFA BEST PLAYER OF THE YEAR” AWARD IN ITS CURRENT FORM
Let me narrow down to the reason for this write-up. I have observed with admiration the changes and reforms that are taking place at FIFA; all of which are aimed at making football more and more all-embracing. This is very commendable. Even on the field of play changes are being introduced to increase fairness and reduce errors. Even when it comes to rewarding players and managers for some outstanding achievements, positive changes are being made.
In the same vein, I am proposing a change to the mode of choosing the “FIFA Best Player of the Year”. In its current form, it is more of a “FIFA Best Offensive Player of the Year Award”.
Why do I say so? It is easier to notice and appreciate the performances of offensive players on the pitch (ie, strikers and offensive midfielders). And their feats are more enduring in the minds of spectators. A striker’s goal will more likely be remembered by the panel of judges than the last-ditch tackle of a defender. When we are watching a game of football, what we expect are goals. When there are no goals, however exciting the football match can be, that match will more likely be said to have “fallen short”. Even the loudest cheer is reserved for goals.
Defensive midfielders, defenders and goalkeepers are disadvantaged under the current system of picking the “FIFA Best Player of the Year”. Their roles on the field of play are less glamorous than those of offensive midfielders and strikers. Therefore their contributions to the overall success of the team are more likely to go unnoticed than those of the forwards.
Let me use this illustration to drive my point home, hypothetical though it is.
Let us take a goalkeeper, a central defender (No. 5) and a forward (No. 9); all playing for the same club and country. During a particular year, the goalkeeper makes a total of 40 spectacular saves for club and country; the No5 makes 45 eye-catching, last-ditch tackles for club and country and the No9 scores a total of 38 goals for club and country. And in that year their club wins 3 major trophies. Their country happens to win the FIFA World Cup that same year. Assuming no other players anywhere have matched or surpassed their achievements for that year and so they are the three finalists in the race for the FIFA Best Player of the Year Award. I am pretty sure the No9 will emerge as the winner of the award. Since we use goals to determine who wins a particular match, we are inclined to appreciate more the goals of the No9 than the spectacular saves of the goalkeeper or the last-ditch tackles of the No5.
Defensive players are disadvantaged under the current mode of picking the best player of the year.
To level the playing field, I propose a like-against-like system of selecting the FIFA Best Player of The Year. Under this system, players will be segregated according to their primary role on the pitch. This means goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and forwards will compete for the accolade as distinct groups. This, in essence, means the FIFA Best Player of The Year will now have four winners who will be called FIFA Best Goalkeeper of the Year, FIFA Best Defender of The Year, FIFA Best Midfielder of The Year and FIFA Best Striker of The Year. This proposed change will increase competitiveness among players as they will know they have a chance to be awarded for outstanding performance in their PRIMARY ROLE on the field of play. The midfielder will know his or her ball distribution assists and helping out in defence will not be measured against the goals scored by the striker. If along the way he or she even scores a number of goals (which is usually the case), it just adds to their chances of being picked as the best player of the year. Similarly, the goalkeeper will know their spectacular saves, their gravity-defying leaps to punch the ball away from danger will not be measured against the goals of the striker.
I noticed that among the recipients of the FIFA Best Player of The Year there is not a single goalkeeper. And only one defender has ever won it. Does this mean there have been no goalkeepers or defenders who have done exceptionally well to deserve recognition as the world’s best? My answer is a polite but emphatic NO. The sole reason they are not picked is that their achievements are overshadowed by the achievements of their teammates (strikers) whose roles on the pitch are more glamorous and appealing to the panel of adjudicators. I do not mean to take away anything from the recipients of the award so far. They worked hard and merited it. I personally have over the years enjoyed watching them display their skills and goal-scoring capabilities.
Our inclination to value goal-scoring more than other roles on the pitch is reflected in the transfer fees paid for players. The price tag of the most expensive defender ever can go into the price tag of the most expensive forward ever 3-4 times.
It is my firm belief that this proposal will add value to the game of football. It will give belief to upcoming players whose primary role on the pitch is not goal-scoring, that they too stand a chance to win the most prestigious individual accolade in football, and therefore will be more motivated. Furthermore, the proposed format will signify that football is a team sport, with players assigned different roles, some glamorous and can be done with flair; and some arduous yet equally important to the success of the team.