Billy Munday reviews FIFA’s latest ‘Best’ awards, finding a couple of surprising winners.
The great and the good of the footballing world descended on Milan last Monday night for FIFA’s latest attempt to hijack the Ballon d’Or as the sport’s primary individual awards. The trophies aren’t as eye-catching, the ‘Best’ tagline isn’t as grand, but the debate is still there.
Lionel Messi, Virgil van Dijk and Cristiano Ronaldo were up for the Men’s Player of the Year award and, after the latter failed to show up at all, it was clear that the trophy wasn’t heading to Turin. The Juventus forward watched on from home (or didn’t) as Messi, both sheepish and imperious, wandered up to collect his prize from Gianni Infantino. Many had argued Van Dijk’s case – given his effortless leadership of Liverpool’s Champions League winning defence – but, when you watch Messi week-in week-out, you start to wonder why there is even a discussion any more.
Yes, Barcelona were dumped out by Van Dijk’s Liverpool in Europe; yes, they were also beaten by Valencia in the Copa del Rey final; and yes, they haven’t exactly made the most convincing start to the current campaign.
Messi netted twice in that Champions League semi-final first leg, one a wonderous free-kick. He also scored in vain in Spain’s cup final showpiece in Seville. He’s barely played for Barcelona this season, either. And people will still blame him for his team’s shortcomings.
[Rapinoe’s] displays in France propelled her to a pedestal of worldwide stardom and, despite the array of talent on show across the country, she stood out both technically and mentally
This wasn’t just a fantastic year for Messi and Van Dijk, but women’s football as well. The game’s huge strides turned into leaps and bounds, thanks to the success of the France World Cup and the subsequent shower of interest shown right across the globe.
Megan Rapinoe was the face of the United States’ World Cup triumph and so much more. Even taking away her powerful political presence, there’s an outstanding footballer left behind. Her displays in France propelled her to a pedestal of worldwide stardom and, despite the array of talent on show across the country, she stood out both technically and mentally. She was a more than deserved winner of the Women’s Player of the Year accolade, but you wouldn’t have argued had the names of Alex Morgan or Lucy Bronze been inscribed on the trophy instead.
Elsewhere, Jurgen Klopp picked up the Men’s Coach of the Year and Jill Ellis the Women’s Coach of the Year, but there wasn’t much doubt about that. The real uproar erupted when the likes of Marcelo and Luka Modric were named in FIFPro’s Team of the Year. Real Madrid experienced their worst season in recent memory under three different coaches and, in reality, Sergio Ramos was lucky to make the XI as well.
Marcelo lost his place to academy graduate Sergio Reguilon for his dreadful displays at left-back while Modric spent much of last season looking either lost, tired, injured or all three. Los Blancos were handed a severe lesson by Ajax in a competition which they’d won in four of the last five years, so Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt were included. But, you have to wonder whether they’d have made the cut had they stayed at Ajax rather than move to two of Europe’s heavyweights during the summer. It’s also worth mentioning that no Manchester City player was included. As if winning four domestic trophies in one campaign isn’t enough.
Football and FIFA’s desperate search for an ostentatious Oscars equivalent is gaining traction but, in the end, who really cares? Clearly not Cristiano Ronaldo.