Join Now | 
HomeAboutContact UsPrivacy & SecurityAdvertise
Soccer America DailySpecial EditionAround The NetSoccer Business InsiderCollege Soccer ReporterYouth Soccer ReporterSoccer on TVSoccer America Classifieds
Paul Gardner: SoccerTalkSoccer America ConfidentialYouth Soccer InsiderWorld Cup Watch
RSS FeedsArchivesManage SubscriptionsSubscribe
Order Current IssueSubscribeManage My SubscriptionRenew My SubscriptionGift Subscription
My AccountJoin Now
Tournament CalendarCamps & AcademiesSoccer GlossaryClassifieds
Cristiano by a Mile
by Paul Gardner, December 4th, 2008 7AM

MOST READ

MOST COMMENTED

We now know that Cristiano Ronaldo is the best soccer player in the world. The annual poll conducted by the esteemed French magazine France Football gave him victory by an almost insultingly large number of points -- 446 to 281 -- over his nearest challenger, Lionel Messi.

I don't have a problem with any of that, I love to watch Ronaldo play, I revel in his marvelous skills -- and, since you ask, I don't give a damn about his so-called penchant for diving, though the fouling and crude tackling that he has to put up with does concern me. He's a player, a real soccer player who can light up a game with his electric talent. I can't believe that any other player can match the marvelous season that he had last year with Manchester United.

This award used to be limited to the best player in Europe, but such is the overwhelming dominance of European money on the soccer industry, that it's now been enlarged to include the whole world. Which makes no difference -- it is inconceivable that the best player in the world would be playing anywhere other than in Europe.

Having come up with a strangely reductive definition of the word "world," I can now puzzle over the word "best." You can be quite sure that all the people who voted for Ronaldo did not do so for the same reason. One man's best is another man's mediocre. Ronaldo the best dribbler? Possibly, but for plenty of people the mere idea of dribbling is abhorrent, so that would be a negative for them. And so on. But the one thing that the huge majority of points does show is that Ronaldo's various talents evidently spread themselves wide enough to convince almost all opinions that this is one hell of a player.

If that isn't convincing enough for you, bear in mind that Ronaldo has also won the FIFPro World Player of the Year trophy this year, plus the two most important "best player" awards in England -- that presented by his fellow pros of the Professional Footballers Association, and the Football Writers award.

All that -- and Ronaldo is only 23. Just two years ago he was in line to win the Best Young Player award at the 2006 World Cup. It came down to a straight fight between him and Germany's Lukas Podolski. In a decision that didn't look too good at the time, and looks considerably worse now, the judges decided in favor of Podolski. Things were not made any better by the fact that this German-organized tournament was about to end with Germany having won nothing -- until Holger Osieck, the German chairman of FIFA's Technical Study Group, announced to a press conference that Podolski had won the trophy. Sitting alongside Osieck on the dais was another German Lothar Matthaeus, who was described as "patron" of the award. Trying to explain the highly questionable decision, Matthaeus referred, obliquely, to Ronaldo's behavior: "I admit we were critical of this. We had a number of criteria, but we have to admit players of that age do have their weaknesses and are not fully developed." But Podolski got the nod anyway -- he was the "best."

The subsequent careers of the two players merely underline that a colossal error was made -- an error evidently based on values other than those of soccer skills.

None of this, of course, reflects badly on Podolski, but the episode does dramatically highlight the distortions that can creep into awards where it ought to be only the soccer skills that register. This is particularly true with the modern tendency to allow fans to vote on line. In 2003 the MLS Goal of the Year award should surely have gone to the MetroStars' John Wolyniec for a truly extraordinary goal - but concerted voting by Chicago Fire fans steered it instead to Damani Ralph for a much less remarkable goal.

Maybe none of this matters. There are now so many awards that they have obviously been devalued. Trophies come and trophies go, it seems. For the first 12 years of MLS existence the champion team has hoisted the Alan I. Rothenberg trophy -- named to commemorate the man who was seen as the true creator of the league. But you can now officially forget Alan Rothenberg. This year we have a new piece of silverware -- the Philip F. Anschutz trophy -- named for the man who single-handedly prevented the league from going under in its mid-life crisis years. There will be another Rothenberg trophy, we are told, for being best at something else in MLS.

Not winning the young player award in 2006 has clearly not harmed Ronaldo, while winning it has not been of much help to Podolski. I mentioned above the difficulty of defining the crucial words "best" and "world." The quandary involves a lovely paradox -- best revealed in a gentle joke: A New York tailor puts up a notice in his window: "Best Tailor in New York." His rival, right opposite him, responds with a bigger notice "Best Tailor in the United States." A third tailor just down the street caps them both with an even bigger notice reading "Best Tailor In The World." In the middle of this trio of fiercely competing shops, a fourth tailor puts up a small notice that says "Best Tailor In This Street."

 



No comments yet.

Sign in to leave a comment. Don't have an account? Join Now




AUTHORS

ARCHIVES
FOLLOW SOCCERAMERICA

Recent SoccerTalk with Paul Gardner
Why is it OK for coaches to advocate cheating?     
When this sort of thing happens -- and it keeps happening in soccer -- you're left ...
A sad, sad end for Steve Zakuani    
There is one pretty obvious risk involved in playing soccer: That of a serious, career-ending injury. ...
Latino Inclusion: U.S. Soccer Takes a Step Backward    
Hugo Perez is known as someone with strong connections in the California Latino communities. He also ...
New era in L.A. kicks off with same old FC B.S.    
Try as I might, I cannot see the demise of Chivas USA and its replacement by ...
Rip Van Wenger wakes up to the obvious    
What ever is it with Arsene Wenger and the Latin Americans? Because, here we go again ...
FIFA's Scandalous Snub of Costa Rica     
Should there be any lingering doubts about the total domination that Europe now has over the ...
A Tale of Two Clasicos: From Madrid to Seattle    
It seemed like a good idea -- to compare and contrast Sunday's big games. Two clasicos ...
How I referee Garber vs. Klinsmann    
That MLS Commissioner Don Garber should be upset by Jurgen Klinsmann's thoughtless and really rather peevish ...
To Landon Donovan: Ave atque Vale!     
So Landon Donovan has had his special day ... and I cannot think of anyone involved ...
The Need for a Holistic Approach to Soccer    
One of the stranger things about soccer is that it is rarely, if ever, considered as ...
>> SoccerTalk with Paul Gardner Archives