The Problem with Individual Awards in Football

What relevance do individual awards in football hold beyond pomp, misplaced notches on player belts, and further bloating of already highly-inflated young millionaire egos?
The Best FIFA Football Awards 2023 - Show
The Best FIFA Football Awards 2023 - Show / Kate Green/GettyImages

There is an argument they should be scrapped altogether. Football is played by teams after all, and matches are won or lost together as a collective. Trophies won and final league positions then should be reward enough, no? Perhaps.

Some individual recognition holds certain objective merit: most goals scored in the league or tournament and most clean sheets preserved. Even they ignore the contributions, often vital, of fellow players who provide the assists or the defensive unit as a whole without whom no striker might ever win the Golden Boot nor any goalkeeper the Golden Glove. Still, one has to make the save or place the shot accurately, and thus, the awards do hold some credence.

The more subjective, arbitrary ones represent quite another story. And where to begin with them? Which problem to tackle first?

Take Premier League Manager of the Season, for example. Why is the award’s recipient determined, in part, by public voting and why from a select pool of nominations chosen for … what reason exactly? Any manager who leads their club to title glory has certainly objectively been the best manager across the season. One could argue survival against relegation, European qualification and domestic cups won are all achievements worthy of recognition given the clubs’ respective circumstances, and they are indeed, but winning the Premier League should really trump them all. And if public opinion must hold weight, let the fans vote for any of the twenty managers.

Or how about this season’s Player and Young Player nominees? Haaland, Isak, Foden, and Palmer were all nominated for both categories. Saliba and Saka on the other hand, who are both older than Palmer, were only consider for Young Player of the Season. None of it makes any sense. Why was Adam Wharton not given one of the Young Player nominations, when he arguably had a better season than Kobbie Mainoo, instead of Foden? Jarrad Branthwaite too should have been given a shout, perhaps in place of Isak.

What it essentially boils down to then is essentially pandering to the big clubs because van Dijk being nominated instead of Gabriel Magalhães can only mean Liverpool had to have at least one player on the list.

Personally, I have never had much faith in such awards, particularly not since Pavel Nedvěd won the Ballon d’Or when it really should have belonged to Thierry Henry. And my doubts are only reinforced when I watch Lionel Messi winning it rather than Erling Haaland in 2023 or when Ange Postecoglou wins Manager of the Year for 2023-24 at the London Football Awards for no other reason than he has proved popular amongst the media. What has he achieved in London beyond leading Tottenham to ten games undefeated at the beginning of the season?

There are plenty of fans who consider trophies such as the Community Shield or the League Cup worthless but one may argue it is these individual awards which truly hold no value in the world of football.