We should have learned by now that it’s best not to trust English footballers with anything. Your girlfriend, for example. Or a penalty shoot-out. A Player of the Year Award? Good Lord, no.
The decision to shortlist Scott Parker for the gong would be utterly unfathomable if it hadn’t been for years of similarly haphazard decisions from the booted fraternity. Remember when Ryan Giggs won it for a bit part campaign in which he contributed a single goal to the cause? That was like giving this year’s Best Picture Oscar to ‘Star Wars’ on the basis that it didn’t win it first time around. Remember when James Milner won the Young Player award after over 250 appearances and nine seasons in the Premier League? That was just stupid.
This isn’t another oh-so-contrary attack on Parker, by the way. I actually rather like him. Every team needs a Parker, particularly England, and perhaps if Fabio Capello or Steve McClaren had realised that earlier, the national team might have been spared a few humiliations. Imagine it. Steven Gerrard OR Frank Lampard scampering up with play, tail wagging, desperate to drive one home from 30 yards while Parker stays back to guard the base. Ground-breaking, isn’t it?
I even saw the sense in Parker’s Football Writers’ Award last year. In 2010/11, he looked like Bryan Robson v2.0, clattering up and down the pitch in a doomed, but valiant single-handed attempt to save West Ham from the drop. Why not bestow an individual award for an individual’s bravery? But this season, surrounded by other footballers who actually seem to have a clue, Parker has simply looked like a man doing his job quite well and while competence and consistency are sought-after attributes, they’re hardly enough to warrant inclusion amongst the top six footballers of the season. If we’re rewarding players for performing above expectations, where’s Younes Kaboul’s nomination?
In fact, while we’re at it, where are all the other players whose performances have lit up the campaign? Where’s Yaya Toure, the bustling midfielder who is now more machine than man? Where’s the refreshingly chunky stopper Tim Krul? Where’s the much maligned, but increasingly excellent Joleon Lescott and his consistently magnificent partner Vincent Kompany? Where’s the vastly improved Martin Skrtel? Where’s the Pass Master General Michael Carrick or Antonio Valencia, the most gifted right-winger since Otto von Bismarck? Where’s lovely Juan Mata? Where’s Clint Dempsey? And where the hell is Swansea tiki-taka hybrid Joleon Britallen?
I tell you where they are, they’re lurking in that shadowy half-world outside of the mainstream. They are known only to the people who watch them regularly, or to the people like you, who are so enthusiastic in your consumption of football that you’re scanning Twitter for articles when you should be working. To the people who watch Match of the Day, not religiously, but every now and then, to the people who only watch their own team, they are just names.
This may or may not surprise you, but that includes an awful lot of footballers, many of whom don’t actually like football. Jamie Carragher may work his Sky+ box like a six year old Vietnamese girl in a sportswear factory, but he’s the exception. A great number of players don’t even want to watch their own team perform if they’re not in the team, and they’ll do so only under duress, sulking in the stands.
This, of course, is entirely understandable. The generation of footballers who once passed through turnstiles as teenage fans has almost vanished. Today’s player was, in all likelihood, spotted and honed before his 10th birthday. Football is all he knows, all he has ever known and he probably has better things, or better people, to do on a Saturday night than watch highlights of other men doing his day job.
With that in mind, let’s not blame them too much. They are just footballers. They know not what they nominate. Far better to put your faith in the Football Writers Award, for that skilled, dignified and noble body of men and women watch football week in, week out, and they have never, ever got it wrong…
*desperately hopes nobody mentions that time when Tottenham’s David Ginola won the FW award in the year that Manchester United won the Champions League, the Premier League, the FA Cup and the 1999 series of Masterchef*