Newsy Shorts for February 2023

FIFA's headquarters
FIFA's headquarters

FIFA’s Best Awards

Today, FIFA presented its Best Awards (and I am speaking about the men’s awards for player, coach, keeper, team, and Puskas Award for best goal—which are the ones I feel qualified to comment upon). The ceremony included a heartfelt tribute to Pele, who was given a posthumous special Best Award, received on his behalf by his wife and daughter. Another interesting aside was the pre-best player award video which featured two of the finalists for the award—the contestants for the 2022 World Cup final—but not the third. Finally, FIFA had to say the Qatar 2022 World Cup final was the best final in the best cup ever—not even close.

The winners were:

The FIFA Best Player of the Year Award went to, please tell me you didn’t hold out hope it would be anyone else, right? Of course, the presumptive pre-coronated—Lionel Messi. For me Kylian Mbappe should have won THIS year. The award is supposed to go to the player whose entire 2022 year was best, not who did well in five weeks of the World Cup or who is the best player walking on the planet. Luka Modric had a great 2018 World Cup, but he also won the Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup that year—which is why he was voted the Best of 2018.

For me, in 2022, in was Mbappe. The Frenchman’s performance in the 2022 World Cup final was the crowning jewel on a great 2022, his play at PSG was inspirational. Messi had a great World Cup but his PSG year was subpar. Frankly, this time around, Erling Haaland should have been a finalist. It still baffles the mind that voters cannot differentiate the best player on the planet from the player who had the best year.

The FIFA Best Coach of the Year Award went to Lionel Scaloni, who, given his lone victory of 2022 was in Qatar—which was, to my view, unfortunately tainted—should not have received the prize. It should have gone to Carlo Ancelotti whose team, Real Madrid, won both the Spanish La Liga and Super Cup, and the FIFA Club World Cup. But he was especially worthy because of how he also led Madrid to win their fourth trophy of the year, the Champions League, in the most incredible and unexpected of ways.

The FIFA Best Keeper of the Year Award went, again undeservedly, to Aston Villa’s Emiliano Martinez and not to the outstanding Champions League-winning keeper Belgian Thibault Courtois without whom Real Madrid would not have won four 2022 titles. Interestingly, the best keeper of the 2022 World Cup, Croatian Dominik Livakovic, didn’t even make the cut to the final three, he came in fourth.

The FIFA-FIFPRO team was Goalkeeper: Thibaut Courtois (not Martinez?!); Defenders: Achraf Hakimi, Virgil van Dijk, and Joao Cancelo; Midfielders: Kevin De Bruyne, Luka Modric, and Casemiro; and Forwards: Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema, and Erling Haaland. Every player here deserves the prize.

The FIFA Puskas Award for the best goal of the year went to amputee Marcin Olesky (and not to either Dimitri Payet’s Europa Conference League volleyed golazo or to World Cup 2022’s best goal, by Brazilian Richarlison, two much more deserving goals).

Can you say politicized? Really. Another Argentina sweep of awards. What did Scaloni do in the 47 weeks of the year prior to the five of World Cup 2022 which overcame the four trophies Ancelotti won in the one year? How was Messi’s PSG year better than teammate Mbappe’s or Martinez’s year at Aston Villa better than Courtois at Real Madrid?

It is a shame that these awards followed soon upon the heels of the news that no one is opposing Gianni Infantino for the FIFA Presidency in this year’s elections, which followed the globally broadcast farce that was the Argentina-Messi-Qatar-World-Cup-2022-FIFA sports washing coronation. Let us hope we do not experience another nail in the coffin of our sport too soon. Then again Who knows, we just might Get Fooled (Yet) Again.

But the unfortunate legacy of the FIFA-Qatar-Messi coronation would be incomplete without a nostalgic look back at the many years of Barcelona dominance of Spanish and Continental Football during the heyday of the great (?!) Messi-Pep Guardiola Barca.

Barcelona paid refs—say it ain’t so

According to the Sporting News, ESPN-FC, The Mirror, Goal.com, AS, Yahoo Sports, and SER…It has come to light that FC Barcelona has a history of providing millions of dollars in “consulting fees” to a firm owned by Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira the then (at the time of the payments) VP of the Spanish Football Federation’s Referee Technical Committee (known as the CTA for its official Spanish title Comite Tecnico de Arbitros). Mr. Negreira’s company received payments for “verbally advising” the club—in specific, by “explaining to the players how they should behave” with each referee in charge of their matches.

An aside—the way players should always behave in every game and with every referee is in a sportsmanlike manner—period. So, what exactly was Negreira’s consulting providing Barca? Has anyone seen Amazon Prime Video’s The Consultant?

The practice, Barcelona said, of receiving these types of referee reports “existed since at least 2003 and it was stopped at one point for cost-cutting reasons.”  In their press-release-response to the allegations, the club stated, “FC Barcelona laments that this information has surfaced during the best sporting moment of the current season.” The connection between the club’s past “best sporting moments” and the consulting payments, though, was not addressed.

For those of you who have followed the club during the entire Lionel Messi era, you know that Papa had previously reported on the fact that Barca was consistently allowed to foul immediately upon the loss of possession (sometimes called and others not) in their Spanish domestic league and cup matches and it was not until the 2015-16 Champions League season that non-Spanish media outlets began to report on the phenomenon since they could differentiate the Champions League calls made by non-Spanish refereeing and compare them to those from Spanish refereeing in Barcelona’s domestic play. At one point, the domestic stats showed that all of Barca’s opponents were consistently called for fouls twice as often as the Catalans. This was aside from the universal preferential treatment of Messi.

ESPN-FC reported that:

LaLiga chief Javier Tebas has said Barcelona president Joan Laporta should resign if he is unable to offer a reasonable explanation regarding payments made to a former senior referee. “If he does not explain what they were paying for, I think he should step down,” Tebas said on a call with reporters when asked if Laporta should resign. “He has not offered a reasonable explanation for these payments. In Barca’s statement, it was as if every football club does the same. It is evident they do not.”

And their coverage continues here.  Yahoo Sports collated the news thus. And Sid Lowe reported it thusly for The Guardian. Stay tuned, the investigation is ongoing and it will be fascinating to see just who Regus Patoff/Negreira turns out to be.

 

Photo: FIFA –Shutterstock ID: 1155136330, by Ugis Riba.

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