FIFA The Best Awards: Time to Do Better
The Best FIFA Football Awards were announced today. And, sadly, they weren't the best.
On the men's side, there were some mild controversies. Should Jurgen Klopp have won over Hansi Flick? Did Manuel Neuer really deserve to win after a year that was slightly off his best? How long can Messi and Ronaldo keep placing in the top three despite serious dropoffs in quality? But these are all the normal controversies.
On the women's side, however, things went off the rails early and only got worse as the night continued. It started with goalkeeper of the year, won by Sarah Bouhaddi. But was Bouhaddi really the best keeper this year? Of course she wasn't.
Coach of the Year, Sarina Wiegman helmed the Netherlands as they beat the likes of Estonia, Slovenia, Turkey and Russia in qualifying. But they drew the only three matches they played against competition even remotely on their level. Is that really the resume of the best coach of the year? Of course not.
The FIFPro World XI were also announced. Included on the team: Megan Rapinoe who hasn't played since March and contributed only a few hundred minutes during the entire window. She went on Twitter herself to say essentially 'thanks, but no thanks' to her fellow players. Of course, being Megan Rapinoe she put it a bit more diplomatically:
The XI included some other questionable names. I am a huge supporter of Barbara Bonansea, and she really is a wonderful player. But one of the three best midfielders in the world? No way. The same is true of Vero Boquete. Lovely player who doesn't belong anywhere near this list.
And then there was the biggest award: player of the year. Once again, the result was absurd. Lucy Bronze is an exceptional football player. She's arguably the best right back in the world. But come on. If we want to be generous, she might just barely squeak into the top 10. And that's being very generous. You could cut Pernille Harder or Vivianne Miedema in half and you'd still get a more impressive year than the one Bronze produced.
The reality is: Bronze won because she consistently makes these lists, and name recognition is nine-tenths of the law when it comes to the big football awards.
None is this is meant to slight the players and coaches who won these awards. You don't even get into these conversations without doing absolutely incredible things. But if we're going to pay attention to awards, we should at least try to make them reflective of actual events. There are no objectively right answers here, but there are objectively wrong ones. And when the wrong ones keep getting picked over and over it's, well, it's pretty embarrassing.
Which is not to say that these things are easy. Taking in the global game is much easier than it used to be, but it's still tough. There's almost no one out there watching enough of all these leagues and competitions to form strong judgments about comparative quality. And 2020 was particularly weird, what with this global pandemic. Reasonable people can disagree about how much to 'punish' a player for missing time, how much to weight quality in big games, etc.
But awards matter to people, and they're worth getting right. At the moment, the voters for these award are not getting the job done. And until the process improves, it would be a disservice to the rapidly growing audience for the global game to treat these awards as if they reflect reality.