Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Farcical Football Awards???

While football may not seem the most worthy topic to be discussed on this board, I believe the philisophical nature of the disagreements that have sprung forth since the awarding of the Balon d'Or today warrant an exception. The Balon d'Or is the award given to the best player in the world (the merits of assigning the award to a single player in what is possibly the world's most team oriented sport are dubious, but i will leave that debate for another day). This year's winner is the italian defender Fabio Cannavaro. He played his club football for Juventus of Turin before they were relegated to the italian second division for match fixing. He then captained Italy to world cup glory this summer and joined Real Madrid this fall.

Now that we have the background over with I will air my gripes. In the history of professional football only one defender has ever one the award. His name was Franz Beckenbauer and he was the tall grey haired gentleman that you saw in the stands 2 or 3 times each world cup match. not only was the world's most accomplished defender, but his charges upfield with the ball earned him the nickname der kaiser. he was a complete player who's dribbling and passing were second to none. Since then we have seen other great defenders with the skills to play anywhere on the field such as Carlos Alberto, Fernando Hierro, Roberto Carlos, and Paolo Maldini (who started playing professionaly for AC Milan before we were born and still plays there today). None of them have won the award. There are even contemporary examples of complete defenders such as Gianluca Zambrotta, Rafael Marquez, Eric Abidal and Rio Ferdinand. This year's winner has little in common with these players. He is a tough, fast, take no prisoners type of player. He is the archetipical defender, but nothing more. he lacks the skills to control, protect and pass the ball. When pressured he uncerimoniously boots the ball into the stands. And when he is beaten he resorts to fouls. I have no problem with this type of player (I am this type of player). The skills required to stop the Ronaldinhos of the world are just as important to victory as attacking finesse. Should all players be judged within the sphere of thier vocation, or should they have to transcend it? should 'the best' be the decisive player of the skillful player? Is Cannavaro's selection a victory for all hard working, self sacrificing football players like he claims it is? or is it the imposition of heartless resultism that misunderstands the emotions of the game? Does the Balon d'Or in a world cup year need to be on the winning team? This would be a nice return to the team ethic for this paradoxical award, but that makes it hypocritical. To call him the world's best player and base that status on being arguably the best player on the best team is markedly unjust.

I invite your opinions on all of these questions and of course on the parallels in the world in general, because the beauty of football is that football is life. Everything that exists in life and the world is present in football. It includes men of every size, shape and origin. It has fair play and cheats, an imperfect justice system, tribalism, nationalism, political alignments, history, globalization, a winner, a loser or neither all within 90 minutes.

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