Football: Restored Stam would be deserved Player of Year

THOSE OF us who can remember a time before awards became a prominent feature of the sports agenda are intrigued by a knotty problem that recently arose for officers of the Football Writers' Association.

It was one of prestige springing from the discovery that the Professional Footballers' Association had put back their annual dinner - and thus the announcement of peer recognition - until next Sunday.

The outcome, one some of you may possibly think to be descending into a twilight of reason, is that the FWA will not name their winner until 6 May. "Considering that our award goes back more than 50 years we didn't want it to be overshadowed," the FWA secretary, Ken Montgomery, said.

This may bring up in the minds of many people the credibility of a football writers' vote when set against that of a player who has the advantage in nomination of having played with or against the obvious candidates. Personally, I have often been at odds with the reasoning of colleagues, especially before the FWA's original citation - "By precept and example," was overwhelmed by a changes in attitude and disciplinary measures.

Importantly, the writers' preference is much more a reflection of what supporters probably think but history reveals that sentiment has sometimes figured too prominently in assessment.

Denis Law was, by a distance, the outstanding candidate in 1963 but lost out to Stanley Matthews - the first and worthy winner in 1948 - who had helped win the Second Division championship for Stoke City in his 48th year.

Nothing is held out here against Tony Book who shared the writers' honour with Dave Mackay in 1969 - the only time it has been split - but such had been Mackay's contribution to the game, both in his great years with Tottenham Hotspur and then with Derby County, that he should have been the outright winner. These days, I think, football writers generally pay a lot more attention to all-round technical influence when casting their votes but I still find myself at variance with some of their selections.

Apparently there are a lot of votes this year for David Ginola who has contributed significantly and often with spectacular effect to the progress Tottenham Hotspur made under George Graham.

The big question to be asked here is whether Ginola's brilliant response to Graham's searching demands is more important than the efforts put in this season by men from the Premiership's three leading teams: Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea.

Even then there is plenty of room for doubt and deliberation. For example, last season the writers's choice fell on Dennis Bergkamp. Doubtless this met with the approval of most Arsenal supporters. However, it was felt necessary here to set the Dutchman's artistry against spells of indifferent application. So, on the basis of consistently effective defending, immense influence and a triumph over personal problems, I voted for Tony Adams.

In advance of last night's big affair in Turin - votes had to be cast by Tuesday - four Manchester United players, Peter Schmeichel, Roy Keane, Jap Stam and Dwight Yorke figured most prominently in my thinking. A case could also be made out for David Beckham, who dealt manfully with the wicked response to his crucial indiscretion when turning out for England against Argentina in last year's World Cup finals.

Adams, who has again been outstanding in a remarkable Arsenal defence that has only been pierced 13 times this season, also came into the reckoning along with his team-mate Emmanuel Petit.

I imagine that artistic merit played its part in the voting but to my mind nobody has performed better in English football this season than Stam.

The best player on the field (Adams ran him close) in both FA Cup semi- finals between Arsenal and Manchester United, the 26-year-old Dutchman has made a nonsense of doubts arising from mistakes made during the World Cup.

Knowing the way many football writers think a pretty safe bet is that Stam will not be singled out. But if somebody were to ask what a Footballer of the Year looked like, whose image would come to mind?