Tuesday, October 30, 2012


It looks odd that during the process of selection of the choice of the Ballon d’Or or the FIFA player of the year, views of the people who would participate in the selection process, regarding who is the best candidate for the same and why, and related matters are expressed in public. Thanks to Jose Mourinho, Real Madrid's manager, this year it has happened in a manner probably never before, and his views have appeared in many newspapers, rather prominently in some, and this is true, not just of the national newspapers of India. Ever since Real Madrid won the La Liga a few months ago, he has been pitching for Cristiano Ronaldo, and pretty loudly too. But this piece is not about his views.

Even a cursory glance at the list of players who have won this award (in its present or its earlier form) would show that the winners have been mostly attacking midfielders and strikers – the goal scorers. There are hardly any defenders in the list, Fabio Cannavaro being only the second winner of this award, which he received in the World Cup year 2006. As for goalkeepers, the German goalkeeper, Oliver Kahn, won the Golden Ball award, given to the best player of the tournament in the 2002 World Cup, but the World Player of the year award eluded him. Rewarding goal scorers certainly reflects the popular perspective about the game: since goals decide matches, football is a goal scorers’ game. Seeing a beautiful goal scored (remember Maradona’s second goal against England in the 86 edition of the World Cup and Messi’s goal against Getafe FC in the Copa Del Rey semi final match in 2007?) is an aesthetic experience, as is seeing a defence-splitting pass that leads to a goal. A memorable one is  Maradona’s that knocked Brazil out of the 1990 World Cup and broke a million hearts (including mine!). In contrast, the defender’s game appears to be a spoil sport. He tries to break the rhythm of the attack and to dispossess an attacker of the ball, somehow, even by cynical fouls, and all this is not pleasing to the eye. There may be few exceptions. One was the Brazilian Cafu – it was a delight to see him racing along the flank from his own half deep into the opponent’s and crossing the ball to the strikers in the back area. But in one’s memory and in the collective memory, a great goal lingers as a delightful experience much longer than a daring Cafu run or a spectacular Shilton or Kahn save. Thus the goal scorer receives all the attention and the accolades from the public, being sometimes seen as the main cause of the victory of a team. Our case here is that whereas all this may be true to a considerable extent, there is indeed an exaggeration of the goal scorer’s contribution to a match. Football is a team game and when a match is won, the contribution of the defence is quite significant. Gone are the days when a team could undermine its defence and assert that it is their adversary in the match that should be concerned about defending. World Cup 1982 showed Brazil the inadequacy of this mindset of theirs.

For reasons of television coverage, we in India watch matches played in Europe, in particular, EPL and La Liga, but not in Latin America. So in a moment of luxury when an Indian football fan like me thinks in terms of who deserves the FIFA award in a particular year, he hardly thinks beyond Europe.  As for me, I think this year it should go to a goal keeper or a defender (including the defensive midfield defender). The performance of two players in these categories in  2011-12 season stands out most prominently: Andres Iniesta of Barcelona and Iker Casillas of Real Madrid. Andres Iniesta is a midfielder, but often plays rather defensively. In fact, he is one who can play as a defensive midfielder, central defender, and an attacking midfielder with equal ease and grace. He plays attractive football. Although not a prolific scorer, he has scored decisive goals in some very important matches. A brilliant play maker; he controls the midfield effectively and initiates many intelligent moves. His contribution to Spain’s retaining the European crown this summer was recognized when he was honoured as the best player of the tournament. Some weeks ago, he received the UEFA Best Player in Europe award. As goalkeeper, Iker Casillas’s contribution to Real Madrid’s winning La Liga 2011-12 and to Spain’s winning Euro 2012 is great. In fact, many consider him to be the best goalkeeper in the world today.

As I said, I feel it is high time FIFA gives the defenders and goalkeepers their due in terms of the World Player of the year award. This will be in proper recognition of the fact that football is a team game. As a spectator and a football lover, I will be happy if either Casillas or Iniesta get the award. I find it difficult to choose between them. May be for once FIFA should choose both!

No comments: