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Like beauty, best player of the year is in the eyes of the beholder

Tuesday July 28 2020
hendo_pix

Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson (centre) lifts the Premier League trophy with his team-mates during the presentation following the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on July 22, 2020. Liverpool on Wednesday lifted the Premier League trophy at the famous Kop stand at Anfield after their final home game of the season. PHOTO | PHIL NOBLE | AFP

By CHARLES NYENDE

Sports awards are invariably controversial, particularly with such subjective adjectives like the best, the finest, the greatest, the top most.

Consider, who is the greatest footballer ever to have lived? Who is the finest ever athlete to race in the Olympic Games? Who was the top most player at last year’s Rugby World Cup?
Is Edson Arantes do Nascimento, aka Pele, football’s Greatest Of All Time (GOAT)? 

All Brazilians and half of the world born before 1990, including yours truly, think so, while the whole of Argentina and the other half of the world born in that same period think it is Diego Maradona.

The millennials and latter-born football fans probably view Barcelona and Argentina star Leonel Messi as the GOAT with another sizeable number of similar chronological age raising their hand for ageless Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal.

The late Jonah Lomu of New Zealand is considered by many as the greatest rugby player of all time.

But there are other rugby greats worthy of that title: All Blacks’ Michael Johnson, Zinzan Brooke, Richie McCaw, Dan Carter; Wallabies’ David Campese, England’s Jonny Wilkinson, Martin Johnson; France’s Serge Blanco; Wales’ Gareth Edward.

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What about our very own Edward “The Eagle” Rombo who could glide in and out of the tightest of defence lines as easily as a hot knife going through Blue Band?

Is Kipchoge Keino the best athlete Kenya has ever produced? Better than Henry Rono? David Rudisha? Bernard Barmasai? Noah Ng’eny? Eliud Kipchoge?... I could go on.

Remember the contentious 2011 IAAF Athlete of the Year awards that every Kenyan and African expected Vivian Cheruiyot (then a reigning double world champion) to win the female gong only for the organisers to hand it to Aussie 100m hurdler Sally Pearson.

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson was recently voted this year’s Football Writers’ Association Football Player of the Year.

Social media in Kenya went aflame with many self-declared experts questioning whether the player deserved that accolade. Mmmm.

I have been voting in the annual Ballon d'Or since 2008.

How I started participating in this most prestigious of world football individual awards so desired by the top most players of the world was rather fortuitous.

I was covering the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana for Nation, minding my own business despite the surreptitious attention of the Ashanti girls, when a scribe from France approached me at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium’s Press Centre in Kumasi.  

“Are you a journalist from Kenya?” he asked extending his hand.

“Yes I am,” I replied friendly like.

“That’s nice. I am from France Football and we are looking for a sports journalist who works for the largest circulating newspaper in Kenya,” he said.

“What is it about?”

“We would like to recruit a writer from Kenya to be voting in the Ballon d'Or.”

I have had the privilege since then to choose the world’s best football player every year.

Last year my top five picks, in that order, were Liverpool’s Van Dijk, Messi, Ronaldo, Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez of Manchester City.

Some quarters on social media questioned why I had not picked Liverpool striker Sadio Mane, who, admittedly, had had a storming season. 

The drift was he was African…and I was African. Honestly, I had not considered race in my selection, and I shouldn’t.

To open up to scrutiny, I was seriously contemplating replying to any queries concerning my preferences in the 2020 Ballon d’Or but unfortunately, this year’s awards will not be held -- for the first time since 1956. 

France Football feel that the Covid-19 interruptions make the season imperfect to conduct such a hallowed exercise.

Voting, by the way, is secret, even though the individual selections of the jurists are later made public.

For the record, as late as last week, I had made up my mind who I would vote for. Barely.

While Messi, who has once again had a great season with Barcelona, was pinching my heart for a record seventh title, Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski loomed large in front of my eyes for his first global accolade.

The peerless Pole plundered a record 34 goals to lead Bayern to an eighth successive Bundesliga title. His goals also helped the Munich football monarchs win the domestic Cup. 

He has scored a jaw dropping 51 goals in all competitions thus far this season and is the Bundesliga all-time leading foreign goal scorer.

Winning the Uefa Champions League this season would be the icing on the cake for this accomplished goal getter.

His wife of seven years, Ann, an ex-athlete, is a nutrition expert. 

Lewandowski openly admits she has greatly helped him live healthily (read be successful) and he is lucky to have her by his side. 

Is that not beautiful?

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