FIFA love their fan votes. We know this; just look at the Puskás Award and then, maybe look away for a bit. And whilst fans are a vital part of football and should always have a voice in the arena, it’s time for FIFA to divvy up their awards so that fan-favourites don’t just scoop all the silverware (unless they deserve it).
There are few awards in women’s football that cover the entire game – and even the scant few that exist struggle to actually cover the entire globe – which only hammers home the importance of the FIFA Best award, formerly the Women’s World Player of the Year. [And before we head down this dark tunnel of no return, Imma stop you now and point out that we all know goalscorers win all the damn individual awards and that in itself is a pile of something, but we solider on]. After some, shall we say, questionable wins (given the 12-month window of performance that leads to the voting), FIFA realised they needed to tweak their approach.
Without expanding on what they did, let’s just say that they reached a shortlist of 10 that was more representative of the 10 best in the world for the previous year, or at least, the 10 best attackers. Maybe there was a player or two who probably shouldn’t have been on the list but there was a degree of, “Alright but people will vote on the last 12 months, not historical reputation...”
I have often joked with a Scandinavian friend that Pernille Harder will never win something with a fan vote involved as there are less than six million people in Denmark and they’d have to work around the clock to out-vote the 200+ million in Brazil. This was no truer than the end of last year. When it comes to online fan votes, South America blows Arsenal out of the water so it’s no surprise to see Marta jump from fourth to first in the FIFA Best voting for 2018 thanks to the 25% share of the vote that came from the fans.
The argument is that it’s not purely a fan vote but that fans are given a fair voice in the process, but there’s no denying the discomfort that came with Marta winning the award last December, in 2018. Her first season in Orlando had been a good one but, like others before her, there was the awareness that, however you quantify it, she hadn’t been the best in the world that year.
Oh yes, more goalscorers
Trying to cover the World Cup was like getting hit with a freight train, or standing up and getting kicked in the head by a kangaroo. Or maybe that was just the effect of seeing the Australia kit in person. It was easy for games to melt into each other and 90 minutes to evaporate in the humidity, but no matter where I went in France, no matter what match I was at, I couldn’t stop my eyes from rolling when the Player of the Match was announced.
Of the 52 trophies given out, 45 went to those who’d scored during the game – and it would be easy enough to assume, if Jill Roord hadn’t broken the deadlock against New Zealand so late in stoppage time, she would have pipped Lieke Martens to the award that match.
Four goalkeepers were awarded player of the match once each: Vanina Correa vs England (0-1), Tiane Endler vs USA (0-3), Peng Shimeng vs Spain (0-0) and Hedvig Lindahl vs Canada (1-0). Caroline Graham Hansen vs Australia and Estefanía Banini in Argentina’s scoreless draw with Japan round out the set of seven.
All four defenders who were awarded PotM scored and in the case of Wendie Renard vs Nigeria and Kadeisha Buchanan against Cameroon, were the only goalscorers. Generally (as I’ve found in my many years), the person who puts the ball in the back of the net doesn’t have the best 90 minutes of the 22 on the pitch. Sometimes they do and it’s certainly an important job (arguably, the most important job in football) but it almost seems like those who voted just voted for the person who scored, not the one who had the best match.
Does it really matter? Probably not; it’s a nice shiny blue trophy to put on a shelf and remember a World Cup outing, but there are so few ways to acknowledge and celebrate female footballers, should it not also be given a little more care? (And again, I know, fan votes is what FIFA do at World Cups).
Whaaat a goal, what a… it was alright
There were 146 goals scored this World Cup, and just saying that makes me feel tired. From 146, FIFA whittled the strikes down to just 10 and whilst everything is hazy, I clearly remember better goals that were omitted (and surely two of Cristiane’s goals against Jamaica were better than her header against Australia?). I’m not bitter. So, we have a top ten, or a list of ten and we again hand the power over to the fans, which in this case is fine.
We’ll all rank them in our heads as we watch. Some goals were important in the context, some were teams moves others individual, some good finishes, some less good finishes. The English will say Lucy Bronze had the best goal, the Italians will say it’s Aurora Galli and the Brazilians, in their numbers, will say Cristiane.
As summarised by Arsenal and Brazil expert, Tim Stillman, Brazil’s “national sport  is winning.”
I've said it before and I'll say it again, Brazil's national sport is not football. It's winning. That is what they back no matter the event / sport / activity. Anything where Brazil comes out on top is their sport.— Tim Stillman (@Stillberto) July 18, 2019
How often has NWSL’s Save of the Week or Goal of the Week popped up on your Twitter feed with a club telling you to vote for them? Do the right thing. It’s shameless and it’s silly and it’s just SotW, who cares? It doesn’t mean anything and manages to means even less when it’s so, so co-opted by fans.
A little recognition, an unbiased thumbs up when a footballer excels, it’s not so much to ask, yet it devolves into a popularity contest. Who has the loudest fans, not who is the best.
Doing away with fan votes entirely is counter-intuitive, but there is an easy enough way to strike a balance.
The easiest way is to simply take an award like The BEST and slice the fan vote off. Instead of diluting it through the main award, create a separate, supplemental one just for fans. This can be done with absolutely every award. Short-lists are usually derived by “expert panels”; if you divvy up the process and have those who cover the league or woso in general and give them one vote and the fans another...other than having to double your silverware bill, it seems easy enough to me.
Let the fans have their voice, but don’t do it at the cost of never rewarding those at the top who don’t play for the biggest team or the loudest country.