Terry Duffelen
Mon 27 April 2009

Why do we care about player awards?

Firstly, let me make one thing clear. Ryan Giggs is a fantastic player. He’s a credit to his club and to the game. If anyone deserves a player of the year award, it’s the Welshman. You could definitely argue that there were other nominees that have played much better this season. However, as I suggested on the Onion Bag this week, you get the feeling that, like John Wayne in True Grit and Paul Newman in The Colour Of Money, it was quite simply Giggs' turn and that is good enough for me.

Having said that, it’s hard to ignore the controversy surrounding his selection by the PFA for their Player Of the Year. Last week it was all about the nominations. Many accused them of being biased towards Manchester United players. Some said that the nomination process took place too early in the season and so on. What’s of greater surprise to me isn’t that Giggs’ selection is controversial - it’s that the award should be of any genuine interest to anyone in the first place.

To coin a phrase, football is a results business and, ultimately, it is results that determine the success of a football player. Awards are a nice for the people who win them, but if you were to ask a winner which was of greater value - a Champions League medal or the Ballon D’Or - I’d hope that the player would opt for the former (bearing in mind that it is difficult to achieve the latter without one).

Despite this, I’ve noticed that in recent years, more attention is being paid to these sort awards, whether it be the PFA, Football Writers awards or the Ballon D’Or and I’ve been trying to figure out why.

It can’t be because the trophies and medals have become devalued. If anything, the European cups and domestic titles have become even more prestigious thanks to the game’s ever growing popularity and success. A lot of it is simply down to the pressure that football newsmakers are under to generate content. It’s Monday, there is not much else happening so let’s talk about this, maybe even try and stoke things up a bit. You can be sure that pretty much every mainstream Football media website, blog or podcast will be talking about the rights and wrongs of whether one of the greatest players ever to play in England deserves an award or not.

However, I think that a more worrying reason is the notion that some footballers see themselves as celebrities as much as they do sportsmen (although I should stress that I don’t believe that Giggs is one of them). The top players understand how much money and fame they can acquire by marketing themselves as superstars. Consequently, individual awards are now becoming a much more important part of their portfolio.

This worries me because football is a team game before anything else. Yes it does allow individuals to shine but these individuals would be nothing without their holding midfielders, uncompromising centre halves, coaches, managers and dare I say it, the many thousands of supporters who collectively pay millions of pounds a year to watch him play.

Perhaps player awards have become more interesting to football supporters and the media, because they have become more important to players themselves. But they shouldn’t. Awards are individualistic achievements in a game that relies on teamwork for success. I’m not suggesting they should be ignored, just taken with a pinch of salt. After all, football is a game, not a popularity contest.

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