I haven't blogged about football since the World Cup ended, but it's an itch I just have to scratch.
Lionel Messi was recently crowned FIFA World Player of the Year, for the second year in a row. And the decision was complete rubbish.
Not because Messi is not brilliant. In fact, anyone with a brain can tell you that he is easily the best player in the world right now (with Cristiano Ronaldo not too far behind). He may yet prove to be the best ever.
So why is it rubbish? Because FIFA's award was never about being the best player in the world.
Think about it - it'd be a boring and slightly pointless award. Maradona would have won it virtually every year of his playing career, as would Pele before him. And Messi will probably win it every year for the next 10 years. Yawn.
No, the award is about being the standout player of the year, not the best. They have to be close to the best, sure, but it's more about impact and achievement.
Fabio Cannavaro won it in 2006. Did anyone really think he was the best player in the world then? Of course not. But he did happen to be the defensive linchpin of the Italian side that won the World Cup, and of the Juventus side that were Italian champions. So it's hard to argue he didn't deserve it.
What did Messi achieve this past year, aside from being a freakishly talented player who is the best in the world?
Well, he was the star player of the Barcelona team that won the Spanish league. But then again, the two others short-listed for the award, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, were also on that team. What's more, those two achieved more than Messi. They were key parts of the Spanish World Cup winning side, in a tournament where Messi did not actually score, and his talent-laden Argentinian side were knocked out in the quarter finals.
So does that mean Xavi and Iniesta have greater claims to the award than Messi? Arguably. Xavi, especially. His special skill is in making those around him better, which paradoxically means he is not as appreciated in the way that a twinkle-toed goal-scorer like Messi is. And one could convincingly argue that pass-master Xavi is more crucial to Barcelona than Messi. After all, would Messi still score all those goals without Xavi serving them up on a plate to him?
Of course, by that logic, one could argue that Xavi is made to look even better by Messi and Iniesta. Or Iniesta by Messi and Xavi. How do you pick an individual out of a team like Barca?
I wouldn't have picked any of them to be honest. Because the player who deserves it most actually came a lowly 4th - Wesley Sneijder.
Is Inter Milan's Dutch playmaker as good as Messi? No. He's probably not as good as Xavi either. But again, we are talking about achievements here.
Sneijder was the creative fulcrum of the Inter side that won basically everything in the 2009-10 season. They beat Barca and then Bayern Munich to win the Champions League, as well as the Italian Scudetto and several other cups. If that wasn't enough, he was the clear standout in a somewhat unsatisfying Dutch team who were beaten by Spain in the World Cup final. He scored 5 goals in the tournament and assisted most of the side's other goals. Somehow he was passed over as Player of the Tournament by Diego Forlan. It is notable that the Dutch team were not nearly as talented as Spain, and were dragged to the final only by the efforts of Sneijder and Arjen Robben. Likewise, you'd be hard-pressed to describe Inter as equals of Barca in the talent stakes; yet they beat them, with Sneijder the midfield maestro at the heart of it all.
So recognition where it's due. Messi will probably get even better, meaning that he may have a lock on the award for the foreseeable future. Sneijder is unlikely to ever have as good a year as he did last year. If he cannot place any higher than 4th in this award, in a year in which he won achieved more than Messi in teams with less talent, then the FIFA award has lost it's way. Maybe they should create a "Best Player in the World" award instead.