Commentary

FIFA's Scandalous Snub of Costa Rica

By Paul Gardner

Should there be any lingering doubts about the total domination that Europe now has over the global game they have surely been put to flight by the announcement of the short list of candidates for the most prestigious individual awards in men’s soccer in 2014: the Ballon d’Or (best player), and the FIFA World Coach of the Year.

There are 23 players named. All of them play with European clubs. Seventeen are European, five are South American, one is African. I’m counting Diego Costa as European, as does FIFA. If you prefer to identify him as Brazilian, then there are six South Americans, a change that hardly affects matters.

This is how FIFA describes the selection procedure: “the list of candidates has been drawn up by football experts from the FIFA Football Committee and by a group of experts from [the French magazine] France Football.” Which signals that this is primarily a European process.

Well, that’s fine, just as long as the selections are made objectively. But whether that overwhelming European dominance on the list is justified seems to me doubtful (I do, to take but one name, find it curious that Sergio Aguero is not named). I mean justified in soccer terms. That needs saying, for there are other influences at work here that undoubtedly distort the process, as becomes pretty clear with a look at the coaches list.

Ten coaches are named -- seven European, three South American. Alejandro Sabella is the only totally non-European coach, an Argentine coaching the Argentine national team. But there are oddities. Why is Louis van Gaal there? Or is it automatic that you get nominated if you finish in the first three at the world cup? Jose Mourinho had a nothing-year, but his name is there too.

I would have expected to find South American Jose Pekerman named -- he did, for sure, have one of the better, more attractive, teams in Brazil. But he is not named.

I’m surprised to see European Jurgen Klinsmann named -- a coach who produced one of the least attractive World Cup teams, which achieved nothing that the USA hasn’t done before.

And I’m disgusted by the fact that Jorge Luis Pinto is not on the list. It was Pinto who took Costa Rica to the World Cup quarterfinals, where it lost -- in a shootout -- to the Netherlands. That was surely the most remarkable coaching achievement of the tournament -- by far. Klinsmann lamented that the USA had been drawn in a Group of Death (with Germany, Portugal and Ghana), but that group looks like easy going when set alongside the three teams that confronted Costa Rica: England, Uruguay and Italy -- all of them previous World Cup winners. Yet Costa Rica topped the group, with wins over Italy and Uruguay and a tie with England.

And it did all that by playing skillful, intelligent, stylish soccer. Yet Pinto, having engineered what may well be the most astonishing run by any unfancied team in World Cup history, receives no recognition from the battery of FIFA and France Football experts. This is blatantly scandalous.

How to explain such a crass oversight? We go back to those “other influences” that I already mentioned. In particular, the advent of invasive high-power marketing. An activity that needs a constant supply of stars and personalities. An activity that has carried soccer into the celebrity world. A world that ensures plenty of publicity, some of it accurate.

Simply put, van Gaal, Mourinho and Klinsmann are celebrities, so -- even though their achievements in 2014 were hardly brilliant -- they make the list. But Pinto and tiny Costa Rica ... who the hell are they? (I am told that, during a World Cup telecast, one of the NBC announcers referred to Costa Rica as an island).

Pinto and Costa Rica are assuredly not celebrities, they don’t even register as celebrity material. So they get ignored. Not willfully or maliciously, they just get elbowed aside by their more glamorous rivals.

I need to stress that the celebrities I’m invoking -- van Gaal, Mourinho, Klinsmann -- are to a large extent innocent parties in the marketing game. They have, so to speak, had celebrity thrust upon them. Some -- like Mourinho -- have learned how to play the celebrity game overtly to the hilt. Others, like Klinsmann, prefer to play it cool. However they play the role, they are not to blame for their selection as top-coach candidates.

The blame there lies with these experts who, swayed by the siren call of celebrity, have included unsuitable candidates like Mourinho and Klinsmann on their list, thereby turning what should be a genuine tribute to exceptional coaching into a joke.

Well, that’s not anything new. I’ll confess to an aversion to most of these awards, there are far too many of them and their sheer multiplicity is bound to devalue them. But these two FIFA awards are held to be the ones that matter. They should be uncorrupted by regional bias, uninfluenced by marketing and celebrity concerns.

Which is what makes it so deplorable that this list of candidates includes coaches whose presence can only be explained by their celebrity status. But above all, there is the unforgivable absence of Jorge Luis Pinto. A blot on the reputation of the awards, an insult to the sport of soccer, and an unpleasant personal snub for Pinto.

Gentlemen, experts, what on earth were you thinking?

24 comments about "FIFA's Scandalous Snub of Costa Rica ".
  1. Gonzalo Munevar, October 29, 2014 at 1:35 a.m.

    Excellent article.

  2. Jogo Bonito, October 29, 2014 at 1:41 a.m.

    FIFA is so disgusting. I hate everything about them. This is par for the course with these corporate idiots. They lack any original thought and their corrupt people that line their pockets any chance they get. Russian World Cup (bribes, corruption, scandal) Qatar World Cup Cup (more bribes, more corruption, more scandal). Why should take anytime to actually care about whose nominated? There's no money to be made here.

  3. Rick Estupinan, October 29, 2014 at 2:20 a.m.

    Of the two brothers,Wiliams and Marcelo,which one is the best ?.Is World Football still call calcio in Italy?,what kind of stupid name is that!.

  4. Thomas Sullivan, October 29, 2014 at 6:48 a.m.

    As usual, PG provokes with keen insight and great writing.

  5. Joe Bailey, October 29, 2014 at 7:23 a.m.

    With the exceptions of his take on Louis Van Gaal, who I think deserves to be Coach of the Year, and that the group including the US was tougher, I agree with what PG wrote.

    Klinnsman shouldn't be on that list.

  6. David Crowther, October 29, 2014 at 7:34 a.m.

    Good article. Hard to believe Klinsmann is included over Pinto. I do wonder though if the fact that Pinto has a very abrasive personality and is generally disliked by a lot of people in the soccer world might not have something to do with it. It shouldn't, but those kinds of things probably do factor in.

  7. Fidel Colman, October 29, 2014 at 7:59 a.m.

    Again, right on brother Paul......

  8. randy horton, October 29, 2014 at 8:41 a.m.

    Paul, unfortunately you are so right!

  9. Clayton Davis, October 29, 2014 at 10:31 a.m.

    The only thing more shocking than the omission of Pinto was the inclusion of Klinsmann. How bad do people think the talent base in the US is that one can merely get to the round of 16 and get nominated for coach of the year? I don't really see any major accomplishments by Klinsmann during his tenure. While MLS might be improving and the popularity of the game in this country might be going up, the USMNT seems not to be particularly better. Hopefully the YNT teams will get better, although they seem to be stuck in a long term pattern of different age groups performing significantly better than other. All US Soccer seems to be doing to improve the youth game is introducing a more top-down approach, although whether or not this means an improved product remains to be seen.

  10. BJ Genovese, October 29, 2014 at 10:53 a.m.

    Maybe we need to start our own western hemisphere award or body? They will only respond approriately when it affects there wallets.

  11. Edgar Soudek, October 29, 2014 at 11:20 a.m.

    Mr. Gardner forgot one item in his insightful piece: the ignoramuses who selected the candidates for these awards were/are/will always be the same people(or people very much like them) who succumbed to "Qatari Gold"(speak bribes!)and selected Qatar as a World Cup host country!

  12. Kevin Leahy, October 29, 2014 at 11:24 a.m.

    FIFA is like any other political entity.
    They are out of touch with the people they are supposed to serve. They can't relate to regular people because, they aren't regular people.

  13. Dan Phillips, October 29, 2014 at 12:20 p.m.

    FIFA neds to get rid of Sepp Blather. I do not understand how he could even consider running again for re-election, and unopposed even. Anybody would be better as FIFA president than him!

  14. Edgar Soudek, October 29, 2014 at 12:44 p.m.

    I can almost "hear" Klinsbum's thoughts:
    "I am sure Costa Rica would have done better with ME as their coach!!!!"

  15. stewart hayes, October 29, 2014 at 2:22 p.m.

    The Costa Rican soccer federation quickly dumped Pinot after the world cup. A lot of people said they did not like him. So he created some enemies as well as the fallen opponents in his wake. He was at the helm when the team performed spectacularly. I would have to agree with Mr. Gardner. Why the snub?

  16. Andres Yturralde, October 29, 2014 at 7 p.m.

    Right on, PG! As I said to you before, whatever you're taking, baby, I want it!

  17. Kent James, October 29, 2014 at 10:47 p.m.

    As usual, Paul Gardner's sharp soccer mind spreads light on an important contemporary soccer issue. But unusually, everybody seems to agree with him! Well done Paul (though I think the ones where we disagree are more fun...).

  18. Zoe Willet, October 30, 2014 at 12:28 a.m.

    Regardless of his merit on the list, I think Klinsmann should be counted as American: he lives in the US, and I believe owns the house he lives in, and has for quite some time now. (I have no idea whether he has become a citizen.)

  19. Lorenzo Magaña, October 30, 2014 at 6:21 a.m.

    FIFA is, has been, and will continued to be the world's most powerful soccer global empire cartel lead by Joseph Blatter like Andres Escobar Colombia's most powerful drug lord in the 80's. FIFA is no different now days they pocket approximately 14 billion profit from Brazil 2014 with the worst World Cup history referee performance. So, to see Jose Mourinho, Jürgen Klinsmann, and Lois Vaan Gal nominated for FIFA coach of the year and not see Jose Peckerman, and Jorge Luis Pinto nominated doesn't surprised me. Stop for one minute and think ! A Colombian citizen demanded FIFA to pay back billions back to charity for mental damages he suffered for the referee sloppy performance. Now imagine Jorge Luis Pinto receiving FIFA's coach of the year award in front of Jose Mourinho, Lois Vaan Gal, Jürgen Klinsmann, Pep Guardiola, Cholo Simione, and Sur Alex Ferguson. Jorge Luis Pinto's coaching history just doesn't fit the European celebrity party to be invited and be recognized as the best World Cup coach. It's no different than seen an unknown new world talented young player on hold, being denied an opportunity to debut his 1st professional game, blocked for years by a corrupted coaching staff. Colombian James Rodriguez was an unknown world class young player who earned the World Cup Ballon d Oro award for his performance and scoring title but was denied, a well deserve award, giving to Lionel Messi for being Joseph Blatter's favorite kid on FIFA's celebrity party list. FIFA has become a wealthy global empire now with a big market in the USA too profiting billions airing the champions league games, FIFA tournaments and the World Cup and their celebrity favorites with huge sale outs in a youth soccer systems that is fractured, distant from MLS and MLS competition being shadowed by European competition with a celebrity coach Jürgen Klinsmann taking over Jorge Luis Pinto's nomination who well deserves FIFA coach of the year award for taking the World Cup Cinderella Costa Rica to the World Cup quarter finals defeating Italy, Uruguay, and a tie against England, loosing in penalty kicks against Netherlands with an extraordinary World Cup performance by their keeper Keyler Nava and #10 Brian Ruiz.

  20. The Face, October 30, 2014 at 10:18 a.m.

    Kevin is right. Any Republicans here?? You shouldknow

  21. The Face, October 30, 2014 at 10:24 a.m.

    Very well written article again Gardner. To all your haters, this is the same common sense shown by gardner on other issues. So maybe remeber this article before going on ignorant rants on other PG articles.

  22. Saverio Colantonio, October 30, 2014 at 2:02 p.m.

    And lets not forget that this is the same orginisation that awarded Lionel Messi the Golden Ball at the WC. Still out of touch with reality.

  23. Mike Jacome, October 30, 2014 at 3:10 p.m.

    Lorenzo,just a correction Andres Escobar was a colombian player who was killed during the 1994 WC, many hinted that was because of the own-goal he scored against us. The Drug Lord you are referring to was called Pablo Escobar Gaviria...

  24. Rick Estupinan, October 31, 2014 at 12:15 p.m.

    But it was his own 'SMART GENIUS'country men who betrayed Pinto.So,what can you expect from the Europeans?,sure he could have been a serious candidate,but...that's life.

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