It’s that special time of year again. Dusk draws in ever quicker, colliding with the crisp afternoon sunshine (if we’re lucky) cruelly early in the day. The madness that is the Christmas Market on Princes Street is beginning and lectures are starting to wind down. Exams loom just over the horizon and people have started to look back to assess quite how just a blink of an eye ago we were bathed in a golden September glow.
The harsh reality of winter is unequivocally upon us but it seems that Christmas miracles have arrived a month early this year. Yes. The rumours are true. FIFA is in the news for something pertaining to actual football rather than dubious timepieces.
Sepp himself may seem reticent about the thought of returning his £16,000 gifted watch, but Blatter’s minions have been busy scouring the world from Mexico to Wexford to benevolently compile for us the shortlist for the Puskás Award, a selection of what FIFA sees as the top 10 most breath-quickening, awe-inspiring, heartbreakingly beautiful goals this year.
Vocalising the following statement may prove difficult, but FIFA on the whole have actually done quite a good job. The array of goals chosen are inspirational not only because of the undoubtedly high level of sheer unadulterated talent on show but also the variety it displays. The shortlist is representative of the modern game; supra-national, multifaceted and vital.
The usual suspects are, of course, included. Amongst the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Diego Costa and Robin Van Persie, James Rodriguez’ effort for Columbia in the last 16 of the World Cup this year against Uruguay features as a strong contender. His stunning ability to control the ball with his chest, pivot and release a stinging dipping volley in one smooth, almost balletic movement has, for now at least, made him a favourite to win.
In stark contrast to those thoroughbred sons of current footballing stock is Stephanie Roche. As the only woman on the list she not only represents the level talent in the fast growing women’s arm of the sport, but also the skills on show in the lesser known levels of the football hierarchy. Filmed on a shaky camera by her opponent’s coach, her display of control and mastery of skill was watched live by a minuscule cohort of fans. Roche is the rising star of the competition, experiencing a meteoric rise in support and becoming a serious contender.
Contenders for the crown hark from all over the world. The UK is represented alongside both North and South America, Asia, Scandinavia and Continental Europe. Global football is evidently alive and brimming with talented men and women at all levels of the game throughout the world.
Despite this resolutely positive outlook, the concept of the Puskás Award is unexpectedly controversial. It seems anathema to criticise the idea of comparison at all when sport is so heavily invested in competition. Yet, some argue that the Puskás Award places unhealthy emphasis on wonder-goals and leads people to undervalue the everyday marvels of the team game. By placing goals like this on a pedestal, it has been said that we neglect the broader talents it takes to make a team. Nevertheless, individual talent can be celebrated whilst recognising the importance of assists and tactical formations that form the superstructure that facilitate them.
Yes, the list is by no means exhaustive. For a start, Eric Lamela’s glorious Rabona wonder goal coming 29 minutes into Totenham’s 5-1 win over Asteras Tripolis doesn’t feature. But then again, given the near impossible nature of such a task there were always going to be some superb feats that couldn’t be included? We ought to be focusing on the array of talent that is there rather than dwelling on what is not.
It can be so easy to become stuck in a mire of criticism, especially when it comes to FIFA. However, if you choose to believe the positives rather than dwell on the negatives, the Puskás Award showcases not only individual talent, but highlights the diversity of the global game in a veritable smorgasbord of talent.
As winter descends and the temptation to stay tucked up and out of the cold with our nearest and dearest strengthens, think of FIFA, standing outside in the metaphorical moral wilderness facing a very real blizzard of criticism. They don’t deserve our sympathy, but as the season of goodwill approaches, let’s hope they rejoin the footballing family soon. For despite all the kickbacks, they’re missing out on something far more special- being part of a global community that truly appreciates the magic of the beautiful game.
The full list can be seen here: http://www.fifa.com/ballon-dor/puskas-award/