Lionel Messi's omission from player of the year shortlist shows FIFA remain out of touch

Andy West 3/09/2018
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Apparently Lionel Messi was not among the best three players in the world last season.

That, at least, is the view of FIFA, who have issued a shortlist for their player of the year award lacking the name of the Argentine and instead featuring Luka Modric, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mo Salah.

It’s hard to know where to begin.

Let’s start off by acknowledging that Messi did not win the World Cup in 2018, and neither did he win the Champions League.

Salah, on the other hand, inspired Liverpool to a remarkable Premier League title triumph as well as glory in the Champions League, and then steered Egypt all the way to the most remarkable World Cup Final victory in history. A league and European double plus a World Cup…what a year for Salah!

Oh…hang on. No he didn’t. In fact, Salah won nothing in 2018. Absolutely nothing. Not even the League Cup.

Messi, meanwhile, led Barcelona to the La Liga title with four games remaining, staying personally unbeaten all season, and added a domestic double with the Copa del Rey.

In terms of honours, then, the last 12 months (when you include the Spanish Super Cup) have yielded the following result: Messi 3 Salah 0.

It’s pretty clear, therefore, that FIFA can’t be using silverware as their yardstick for deciding the identity of the players shortlisted for their award – which also helps to explain why no French players are represented despite their World Cup triumph in Russia.

Instead, FIFA must have preferred to judge individual performances as the determinant factor, and in that case it makes perfect sense to see Salah ranked above Messi after the Egyptian led all scorers in Europe and topped the Premier League in assists, chances created and dribbles completed. After a season of such dominance, it’s obvious he had to be shortlisted.

Sorry? What’s that? You’re saying that Salah didn’t achieve any of those feats? You mean it was Messi who won the 2017/18 European Golden Boot? And it was Messi who topped La Liga in seven different performance metrics? And Salah…didn’t?

Ok, now this is starting to get very confusing.

What we’re facing here is FIFA in their ‘wisdom’ (and remember this is an organisation which was fronted by Sepp Blatter for 17 years) deciding that a player who won zero trophies and scored 32 league goals somehow had a better year than a player who won three trophies and scored 34 league goals.

It only makes sense if you, erm, when you…umm, by looking at…hmm…

No. It doesn’t make any sense at all.

Salah won fewer trophies than Messi, and Salah achieved inferior personal statistics to Messi. It’s very, very hard to justify regarding his year as being better than Messi’s, however you look at it.

Then we come to Modric and Ronaldo. These are a pair of players, it’s worth noting, whose Real Madrid team only finished in third place, 17 points (17 points!) behind the champions, in a league title ‘race’ which was more like a procession due to the failure of their key players – such as, yes, Modric and Ronaldo – to consistently perform at their best.

The player in that same competition, of course, who did consistently perform at his best (and note the official name of the FIFA awards) was a certain Lionel Messi.

But apparently he didn’t do enough to earn a place on FIFA’s shortlist, essentially because his team had a bad night in Rome and therefore didn’t win the Champions League…although, considering Salah’s presence on the list when he didn’t win any trophies at all, perhaps that wouldn’t have made any difference either. Who knows?

Anyway, let’s forget the ‘best player’ award and revive our faith in FIFA’s decision making processes by looking elsewhere. Let’s look, for instance, at the ‘best coach’ award, where the three tacticians shortlisted are Zinedine Zidane, Didier Deschamps and Sarina Wiegman.

That’s more like it. A much more sensible list.

After all, it’s not as though they’ve included someone whose team finished 17 points off the pace in the league and who resigned at the end of the season after admitting he didn’t know what to do, whilst omitting a man who led his team to the highest points total, highest goals total and highest victory total in Premier League history.

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Lionel Messi's sensational display earns him European Team of the Week spot

Tom Biggs 3/09/2018
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The final weekend of action across Europe’s top-five leagues before the international break did not disappoint, with a host of inspired individual displays.

From Walter Benitez helping Patrick Vieira to his first win as OGC Nice boss, to Lionel Messi reaching another landmark figure in La Liga, there were plenty of brilliant performances.

That meant it wasn’t easy to pick our latest European Team of the Week, but here are the 11 players who made the cut this time around…

GK: Walter Benitez (OGC Nice)

Patrick Vieira’s Nice recorded their first win of the Ligue 1 campaign away at Lyon, with huge credit owed to goalkeeper Benitez for his display. The 25-year-old was worked constantly by the hosts, making nine saves in total. Having denied Memphis Depay on two occasions, Benitez did superbly well to preserve his clean sheet, and the win, with a fine double stop to keep out Ferland Mendy and Nabil Fekir.

RB: Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid)

Carvajal is enjoying his football under Julen Lopetegui at Real Madrid. The right-back has made an impressive start to the season and continued that against Leganes. The 26-year-old set up Gareth Bale’s opener superbly, while offering a constant threat going forward as he recorded four key passes. Defensively, Carvajal made two tackles and two interceptions as Madrid maintained their perfect start.

CB: Gustavo Cabral (Celta Vigo)

A terrific result for Celta Vigo as they beat Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid at home. It could have been any one of Cabral, Facundo Roncaglia and Nestor Araujo, as the trio did superbly well to nullify Atletico’s attacking threat, but Cabral just edged his team-mates. The 32-year-old made three tackles, four interceptions and nine clearances to help seal a clean sheet and the three points.

CB: Craig Cathcart (Watford)

Watford’s fine start to the season continues, with Cathcart playing a pivotal role in the success against Tottenham. The 29-year-old was excellent defensively, making two tackles, two interceptions, ten clearances and blocking one shot, before he headed home the winning goal at the other end. His partnership with Christian Kabasele has been a key reason for Watford’s early form.

LB: Jerome Roussillon (Wolfsburg)

Barcelona’s Jordi Alba can feel hard done by, but Roussillon’s display for Wolfsburg in their 3-1 win at Bayer Leverkusen sees him take the final spot in defence. The left-back excelled, helping his side come from behind to win. Roussillon had already stopped a certain goal with a last-ditch tackle in the opening minutes, before providing a teasing cross that was headed home by Wout Weghorst to make it 2-1.

CM: Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Southampton)

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg celebrates after adding a second for Southampton at Crystal Palace

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg celebrates after adding a second for Southampton at Crystal Palace.

Redemption for Hojbjerg after his red card in the defeat to Leicester a week previous. The Danish midfielder was superb for Southampton in the victory at Crystal Palace. The 23-year-old was influential, making 26 more passes than any other team-mate, and also working hard defensively to thwart the hosts. His efforts were rewarded late on, as he raced clear to round Wayne Hennessey and seal the 2-0 win.

CM: Ondrej Duda (Hertha Berlin)

A superb midfield display from Ondrej Duda, as he helped Hertha Berlin make it two wins from two to start the season, with victory at Schalke. The 23-year-old opened the scoring with a well-taken strike, before netting his second in stoppage time with a terrific free-kick. The midfielder also played his part defensively, making four tackles, one interception and two clearances in the away success.

CM: Ibrahim Sangare (Toulouse)

20-year-old Sangare delivered a performance of the highest quality to help ten-man Toulouse to a 2-1 win at Guingamp. After netting his side’s second to give them a two-goal lead, he was at his best defensively following Jean-Clair Todibo’s 26th-minute red card. Sangare made six tackles, five clearances and blocked two shots as he covered admirably for his team-mate’s early red card.

ST: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

It was another fine display from Barcelona’s main man. Messi reached 151 La Liga assists in the 8-2 win against Huesca, setting up both Ivan Rakitic and Jordi Alba with clever passes. Messi had earlier equalised after the visitors had taken a shock lead, and then made it 6-2 with another smart finish. The fact he chose to give Luis Suarez the ball to make it eight from the penalty spot, rather than grab a hat-trick himself, spoke volumes.

ST: Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United)

Romelu Lukaku scored twice in Manchester United's win at Burnley

Romelu Lukaku scored twice in Manchester United’s win at Burnley.

After his miss against Tottenham Hotspur last week, this was a hugely important display from Lukaku, as his braced helped Jose Mourinho’s men get back to winning ways. The Belgian headed home from Alexis Sanchez’s cross to give United the lead, before smashing in a second as the ball broke kindly to him in the area. Lukaku’s link-up play with his team-mates, in particular Alexis Sanchez, was impressive throughout.

ST: Gregoire Defrel (Sampdoria)

Napoli’s winning start to the Serie A season came to an emphatic end, with Defrel on hand to net twice for Sampdoria in a 3-0 home success. The forward’s first was a stunning strike as he broke the deadlock on the counter attack, smashing home from 20 yards on the half-volley, while his second of the night came courtesy of a deflection off a defender. Defrel was a menace for Sampdoria throughout against Carlo Ancelotti’s side.

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Dubai's LaLiga Academy to host open days in search of the stars of tomorrow

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LaLiga legends: Carles Puyol, former FC Barcelona captain and Roberto Carlos former Real Madrid star with LaLiga Academy Dubai players.

Following a hugely successful first season in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, LaLiga Academy is kicking off a second season with an expanded offering, in response to the overwhelming demand from young players wanting to develop their skills.

Open to boys and girls between the ages of 5 to 18 years, LaLiga Academy delivers the highest standard of Spanish football training at the hands of UEFA Pro-certified LaLiga coaches. It brings together the finest practices from the strongest LaLiga clubs, maintaining the same level that has created the world’s finest players, while providing a pathway to professional football careers and football scholarships at top universities in the US.

This season, LaLiga Academy is adding dedicated goalkeeper training, to enable UAE’s budding shot-stoppers to enhance their skills. In addition, LaLiga Academy is now offering female footballers between the ages of 12-18 dedicated coaching sessions and the opportunity to train at LaLiga High Performance Centre (HPC), LaLiga’s exclusive professional development centre.

At the only scouting academy in the region, the pathway to professional football careers starts with top players being selected for the Academy’s Advanced Development teams. From there, a further selection of top players is invited to join the LaLiga HPC, where the best footballers across the UAE are trained in preparation for professional football careers.

Stars: Fernando Morientes, former Real Madrid player and Fernando Sanz, General Director, LaLiga - MENA with LaLiga Academy Abu Dhabi players.

Stars: Fernando Morientes, former Real Madrid player and Fernando Sanz, General Director, LaLiga – MENA with LaLiga Academy Abu Dhabi players.

Players from LaLiga HPC will then earn their place at the annual LaLiga Summer Scouting Camp in Spain. This intensive 21-day camp provides youth the chance to play against top LaLiga youth clubs in competitive matches attended by LaLiga Club scouts on the lookout for top talent to be recruited by their clubs.

Over the last two years, 19 LaLiga High Performance Centre (HPC) players have been scouted for trials with top LaLiga and regional clubs as well as national teams, in preparation for landing professional contracts with these clubs and teams at the age of 18, after establishing a good fit. In addition, three players who have reached the age of 18 have been awarded professional football contracts.

All Academy players, across Development, Advanced Development and HPC squads, will have the opportunity to participate in tournaments and leagues in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi throughout the season and compete against their counterparts from other academies and local clubs. Plus, international tours which will be organised for players during spring and summer breaks, where they will have the opportunity to compete against top academies from around the world and further develop their skills.

LaLiga’s superior training method features not only football techniques, skills and fitness to hone players for competitive matches, but also emphasises physical, emotional and mental strength development. The coaches work closely with players and monitor their progress with one-on-one feedback sessions and regular dedicated development reports around young players’ performance, physical fitness, mental fitness, skill levels and technique to improve their game IQ and overall EQ and behaviour. While focusing on individual player development, the acclaimed LaLiga method also emphasises team spirit through developing children’s ability to interact with team members on the pitch to bring out the best of each other’s play, thereby boosting the level of the entire team.

LaLiga Academy has three training grounds in Dubai in Al Barsha, Al Barari & Al Qusais, and two in Abu Dhabi, in Abu Dhabi City and Khalifa City, with training sessions taking place up to three times a week.

Throughout the month of September, LaLiga Academy is hosting open days and trials starting from September 8, 2018 and offering young football players the opportunity to showcase their skills to earn a place on the advanced development and high performance centre teams.

What: LaLiga Academy open days
Where: LaLiga Academy has three training grounds in Dubai in Al Barsha, Al Barari & Al Qusais
When: Saturday 8th September
Contact: on +9714 392 6610, +97155 509 9489, ae.laligacademy.com.

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