The award season may generate the most debate in football, but it is pointless as giving individual prizes in a team sport makes no sense
Ever since France Football magazine and FIFA split on the Ballon d’Or prize, there are now almost more individual awards in football than actual team titles. In a World Cup year, a player could potentially be fighting to win the Best Player of the World Cup, the UEFA Best Player, the FIFA Best Player and the Ballon d’Or. Plenty of awards. But do they really mean anything?
Of course, the greatest footballers are decisive and can win trophies with individual brilliance. Having Cristiano Ronaldo up front is better than having Charlie Austin – with all due respect. But then again, in the Euro 2016 final, it was a random striker, Eder, who scored the winning goal.
Football is a team sport, played by eleven individuals and encompassing plenty of variables, that depend on infinite factors, many of which are difficult to control. This is one of the reasons it is so popular: the weaker team can beat the superior side. A team can defend all match, get one shot on target, and win. This makes it the most uncertain of sports, and therefore it is harder to pin down who the merit goes to in victories.
Individual merit is hard to detect also because of the positions. Out of 11 players, there’s a good six to eight different positions: goalkeeper, full-backs, centre-backs, defensive midfielder, wingers, attacking midfielder, strikers. And this is keeping it simple. The job of the centre-backs is to defend, the striker has to score. Again, keeping it simple. So to pick one as better than the other is ludicrous. Cristiano Ronaldo’s goals would be meaningless without Sergio Ramos’ cover at the back.
The differences in the various positions are key. A centre-back can be the best in the world in his role, and be average in a different one. If anything, the most complete footballers are midfielders, who, by definition, have to both attack and defend on equal terms. They have to cover a bigger area of the pitch, have less points of reference and need more awareness in order to perform at the top level.
Individual awards are therefore almost impossible to assign in the correct way. Was the goalkeeper’s save more decisive than the striker’s goal?
Also, with the current format, individual prizes go to those that also get results with their clubs. A Champions League winner, a World Cup winner, at least someone who got a league title. That is the minimum. But the truth is: if we were really judging pure individual performance, the team effort should count for much less. It is a team sport, though, and the individual prize comes after – a lot after – the team victory.
So Luka Modric could be winning them all this year, after being elected best player of the World Cup and UEFA Best Player for the 2017/18 season. FIFA’s The Best is coming up, as well as the Ballon d’Or. And it probably would be deserved, even though Cristiano Ronaldo wouldn’t be happy. But his biggest achievement of the season remains the Champions League with Real Madrid, and it goes without saying that Antoine Griezmann will be a lot happier, having lifted the World Cup with France.
It is a team sport, and always will be a team sport.