The Best Fifa’s Men’s Player shortlist has been announced: Luka Modric, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mohamed Salah. Notice anything familiar? There are no defensive players on the list. Raphael Varane must feel he is being robbed, just like numerous world class defensive players have felt before him. Since the award’s inception in 1991, only 0.047% of nominees in the three-man shortlist have been defensive players. Let that sink in.
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Over 28 years, two defenders (Fabio Cannavaro – 2006 Winner, Maldini – 1995 runner up) and two goalkeepers (Manuel Neuer – 2014 Third Place, Oliver Kahn – 1995 Runner up) have made it in the final three. Fabio Cannavaro won the award in 2006, when he captained Italy to a World Cup triumph. Lottar Mathaus, the first winner of the award, played as a sweeper at the end of his career but won the award in 1991 when he was a box-to-box midfielder.
This year was a good chance for a defensive player to win the award. With Lionel Messi and Ronaldo exiting the World Cup at the Round of 16 and a very pragmatic French team winning the World Cup by relying on defensive solidity, a French defender should have been considered for the award. Raphael Varane in particular checks all the boxes. He was as important as his fellow Real Madrid players who made the shortlist, forming a magnificent defensive partnership with Sergio Ramos (another fantastic defender who should have been on the final list at least once between 2008-2017) on their way to winning the Champions League. On the way to the World Cup triumph, Varane was a stalwart in Deschamps’ defence and even contributed on the other side of the pitch with crucial goals.
From FIFA’s website, Varane:
- Helped France to World Cup victory at Russia 2018
- Helped keep four clean sheets in seven World Cup games
- Lifted 2017 Club World Cup and 2018 Champions League with Real Madrid
Alas, Varane was only in the original list and was cut off the three-man list. Makes you wonder how one season wonder Mohamed Salah is in the final three instead of Varane, who has been performing at an astonishing level during the past few years and who, at the young age of 25, has already won four champions leagues and one World Cup.
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One reason is the wow factor of offensive players. While forwards like Salah and Ronaldo dazzle with their technical ability and beautiful goals, defensive players like Varane, Ngolo Kante or Sergio Ramos’ essentiality often goes unnoticed, especially to people who do not understand the game as well as the experts. For example, Romelu Lukaku was picked as Man of the Match against Burnley recently because of his two goals but manager Mourinho pointed to defensive midfielder Marouane Fellaini as the standout performer because the Belgian was selfless, disciplined and kept the opposition at bay, allowing the offensive players to express themselves freely.
Offensive players can miss a few goals and score a couple and be named man of the match. Defensive players cannot afford the same error rate. For example, if Varane makes two mistakes, it could cost his team two goals and the game. When Ronaldo makes two mistakes, the defensive ability of players like Varane cover for him. In terms of responsibility, accountability and the impact of an individual’s performance, there is a double standard here, one which is certainly not reflected at awards time.
The award has invariably been treated as a popularity contest between offensive players, especially Messi and Ronaldo in recent years. Ofcourse, there are many times when Messi and Ronaldo have hands down deserved the title but a 0.047% presence for defensive players over 28 years is shameful and unjustifiable.
For The Overhead Kick, Raphael Varane should be player of the year. As for the FIFA Men’s Player of the Year, since Varane is not in the three man shortlist, Luka Modric has our vote, for having won the Champions League and made the World Cup final as captain of an impressive Croatian team.
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Picture by pohjakroon from Pixabay