The Last Word: Voters' lack of imagination makes players' award a farce
The limelight could glint upon literally the most disarming smile in sport
When Will Rogers showed his niece the “Venus de Milo”, he told her: “See what will happen if you don’t stop biting your fingernails?” These days, of course, he might sooner suggest that Aphrodite had simply said something to annoy Luis Suarez.
If only Rogers were still around to open the envelope containing the name of the PFA Footballer of the Year. For there remains a serious danger, votes having been counted before Suarez tucked into a spot of “bleu” sirloin last Sunday, that the limelight could yet glint upon the most literally disarming smile in sport.
In which case, perhaps the only way to avoid communal gnashing of teeth at tomorrow’s ceremony would be to remember what happened when Rogers announced the winner of best director at the 1933 Oscars. He ripped open the envelope and exclaimed: “Come up and get it, Frank!” The young Frank Capra duly bounded towards the podium, only to find that Rogers was beaming towards another nominee, Frank Lloyd. On the same basis, whoever has the excruciating honour of opening this envelope could simply grin and say: “Felicidades amigo!” And trust that Suarez and Juan Mata could both recognise how only one of them might truly be named a friend to football.
Mind you, the poll would seem to be undermined nearly as flagrantly by the absence of another amigo from the top six. It seemed culpable enough for so few managers to have known about Michu that Swansea were able to smuggle him into the Premier League for the price of Andy Carroll’s hairband. But you would have thought that he might since have been noticed even in the Stygian recesses prowled by those indigenous troglodytes who are supposed to be marking him. No wonder he has so many one-on-ones with the keeper.
It would seem that the average English professional – a tautology, I know – nowadays views the game through the same inanely narrow apertures as the rest of us. The six in contention are all at “bigger” clubs than Swansea. As it happens, albeit to much outrage at Celtic, the Scottish award is going outside the Old Firm for the first time in 23 years, with nominees from Aberdeen, Hibernian, Inverness and Motherwell.
Five of the six, meanwhile, are attacking players. In fact, John Terry in 2005 is the only defender to have won this award in the last two decades. When it started, in the 1970s, Andy Gray was the only striker to win in the first eight years.
Moreover, the voters plainly have the attention span of a bluebottle adjudicating on a handball in the Manchester United penalty area. Though a sublime talent, with feet that could dance the polka over a cattle grid, Eden Hazard has been too fitful an influence on his first season here to be sensibly proposed as its defining performer. But it just happened that votes were being cast immediately after Hazard and Mata had trussed up West Ham so silkily that he was even noticed by the former players whose platitudes on Match of the Day provide a chilling sample of the acuity that informs this vote. Only days previously, likewise, Danny Welbeck’s yeoman display against Real Madrid evidently registered as the least baffling pretext for nominating as Young Footballer of the Year one who has made such a nugatory contribution to Manchester United’s season – certainly when compared with David de Gea or Rafael.
Much, then, is plainly contingent on the eccentric timing of the vote, which perversely precedes those games where the stakes are highest. As it is, the prize is likely to go to a player – Suarez, Gareth Bale or Robin van Persie – who has provided a fig leaf to cover the deficiencies not just of his own team, but of a league grievously lacking depth. (Its arrogance is now nakedly sustained by money. Why else would Robert Lewandowski be presumed to have the slightest interest in leaving a league that has just achieved an 8-1 aggregate against Barcelona and Real Madrid?)
Perhaps it is time footballers borrowed the example of basketball players in the United States, who have taken to producing campaign videos for public voting on the All-Stars line-up. In trying to engage with millions of ordinary people, they have disclosed humour, imagination and – whisper it – even humility.
Steve Nash looped together footage of his own worst blunders. Chris Bosh pitched as a used car salesman in 2008. (“Ain’t that right, Bubba?”) Amar’e Stoudmire has repeatedly hammed up thin-skinned egotism. Rudy Gay swills wine by the fireside, surrounded by his honeys, and is extolled as “the most interesting man in NBA”. Kevin Love stars in a sumptuous scent commercial.
So how about it? Suarez could play Dracula, perhaps. Bale could take off Ronaldo. (As usual.) Not that the results would be any different. The wealthier candidates would have a clear advantage on production costs. And as Rogers used to say: “A fool and his money are soon elected.”
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