Wednesday 16 January 2019

Early choices sum up farce of football's awards season

Contender: Mo Salah. REUTERS/Andrew Yates
Contender: Mo Salah. REUTERS/Andrew Yates

James Corrigan

The champions have been crowned and if one other thing is certain in this Premier League run-in it is that whoever wins player of the year between Kevin De Bruyne and Mo Salah will face a vicious social-media backlash.

Perhaps the recipient should pre-empt the fury with that old gag delivered by American comedian Jack Benny when picking up a humanitarian honour.

"I really don't deserve this award," Benny said, "but I have arthritis and I don't deserve that either."

Alas, humour never gets nobody anywhere when it comes to something so serious as Premier League football, even when - actually, especially when - it comes to the highly irrelevant aspect of individual recognition in a team sport.

Bias will be accused, conspiracy theories will be developed and grievances will be born, or in more cases, confirmed. Fury will flood the internet.


And throughout all this venom, all this recrimination, one very obvious and justifiable question might also be asked - why do they hand out the baubles so early? The voting deadline for the Professional Footballers' Association award passed approximately a month ago.

The good members of the Football Writers' Association have until April 30 to cast their verdicts. In this first case, the season had eight weeks to run, in the latter, four, and in these periods trifling matters have and will be decided - such as winners, leagues, cups and who will be hailed as kings of Europe.

Why cannot they wait until the play is over before jumping to their feet to start the applause?

It is like declaring the winner of the 100 metres with 10 metres still to go - and the most important 10 metres, at that. Say Salah scores a hat-trick in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final to take Liverpool to Kiev - and then scores four in the final to deny Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo (three)?

The Egyptian's candidature would be that much stronger, would it not? Except, the forms will be in, the sparkling trophy already presented, the tuxedo long back from the dry cleaners.

Yes, you may claim the judges analyse the "body of work" of a full season, but that is a nonsense as their deliberations were based on an incomplete season. In the rush to dish out the garlands the integrity of those garlands is clearly cheapened to the point of farce.

The reasons why are obvious. Football goes on holiday, or at least to Russia, as soon as the final whistle blows and TV and sponsors and chief execs and all those other self-important souls want the superstars present at their swanky evening. And to hell with the authenticity.

In fairness, in comparison to other bodies, the PFA and FWA have actually shown commendable patience. On March 1, the London Football Awards saw Roy Hodgson acclaimed as 'Manager of the Year', for "pulling Crystal Palace out of the relegation zone". More than a month on and Palace still might get relegated.

Meanwhile, Neil Warnock was last week named EFL Championship Manager of the Season for leading Cardiff City to the brink of promotion. Warnock saw the ridiculousness of the timing.

Cardiff could falter and if Millwall go up via the play-offs... "I voted for Neil Harris," Warnock said. "If they win promotion, there's only one winner in my opinion."

Like everyone, Warnock was forced to choose on what "might" come to pass.

But, hey, at least the suits enjoyed rubbing shoulders and popping the champers. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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