Luis Suarez pulled his shirt over his head and, with some justification, sobbed. An astonishing ‘Inverse Istanbul’ had robbed him of a Premier League winners’ medal. The knowledge that he had been given the Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year Award earlier that day was, I imagine, scant consolation. But if I had been the only one to vote, he wouldn’t even have had that.
The idea of individual awards in team sports always strikes me as faintly ridiculous, but the FWA award does at least seek to clarify a certain criteria. “To the professional player who by precept and example is considered by many members the footballer of the year,” said FWA co-founder Charles Buchan. Precept and example. This award is not simply for the ‘best’ player.
This is why Scott Parker won in the much maligned vote of 2011. In a year without a standout star, the little-legged midfielder’s redoubtable one man fight against certain relegation was considered virtuous. It was football’s equivalent of a posthumous Grammy for the band on the Titanic.
Ideally, of course, a balance should be struck between effort and attainment. You can’t just reward triers. This why I resisted the urge to bestow my favours upon Tony Hibbert, whose grim-faced stoicism and dignity in the face of obvious obsolescence is an inspiration to all of those who have been cast aside by modernity. Carl Jenkinson was another possibility, but then my irrational love for him is so profound that I’d consider voting him into parliament as well.
In terms of pure individual attainment, it’s rather hard to ignore Luis Suarez. He has, after all, scored all of the goals. But on a personal level, I feel uncomfortable. There will be a reckoning for this discomfort, I will probably have to hide from Twitter for a few days, but such is life. I can only hope you’ll forgive me for being just a little squeamish about voting for a man who racially abused Patrice Evra and still hasn’t apologised. No, he hasn’t racially abused anyone this season, but he hasn’t apologised this season either. Until he does, the episode hangs over him like a storm cloud. I don’t believe that he is a racist, but I do, having read the tirelessly comprehensive FA report twice, believe that he said a racist word at least once with the intention of putting Evra off his game. And I’m not keen on that.
I’m also a little unclear about the specifics of this ‘redemptive season’ I keep reading about. Are goals so redemptive? If he had only scored half the goals, would he be half as redeemed? Would 30+ goals get Ron Atkinson back on the TV? Call me terribly old fashioned, but when it comes to redemption, I still think that an apology to Evra would be a more effective gesture.
I have a similar feeling towards John Terry, whose extraordinary excuse for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand was rightly ripped to shreds by the Football Association. I have no hesitation in recognising that he has been one of the Premier League’s most consistently indomitable defenders this year, but I feel that his example is not quite while Buchan was really getting at either.
When it comes to striking a balance between being really good at football and being’ an example’, who’s a better candidate than Daniel Sturridge? When he arrived at Liverpool, he was little more than just another English player labouring under the misapprehension that talent alone would sustain his career.
Sturridge left Manchester City because they didn’t want to give into the salary demands of a wildly hyped young man with only four goals on his CV. He was later bombed out of Chelsea because of his enduring belief that the football belonged to him and that if the other players wanted to kick one, they should go out and buy one.
But this season, Sturridge has dispelled that image forever, dramatically modifying his game while retaining the selfish streak that every top striker requires. He dovetails almost perfectly with Suarez and is so consistent in front of goal that before March 1, he’d only failed to score in three league games. Off the pitch, he is well regarded by those who encounter him regularly and he represents his football club with charm, intelligence and warmth. He was so nearly just another spoiled English forward, but he has reinvented himself, becoming both a better player and a better man for the experience.
Yaya Toure would perhaps have a greater claim to the award on merit, and unless I’m unaware of some hideous misdemeanour, on character too. But if we’re talking about redemption, if we’re talking about setting down an example for wayward young talent, if we want an X-Factor style ‘journey’ to coo over, then we want to vote for Sturridge.
Every football writer will interpret Buchan’s guidelines in their own way, as is their right, and we must keep in mind that this is only a subjective and highly illogical bauble. But my vote, for on and off the pitch behaviour, had to go to Sturridge.
Liverpool are now 9.00 to win the Premier League.