The Rational Ref
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 January, 2014, 10:12pm
UPDATED : Friday, 24 January, 2014, 10:30am

Men in black well placed to choose the best

Referees should have a say in selecting the top players' awards because they are neutral observers on the pitch


William Lai is a qualified soccer referee, instructor and assessor, and has also officiated in England and Australia. As an educator, scientist and social scientist, he is also interested in human behaviour which is why his column offers an alternative and rational commentary of what happens on and off the pitch.

All voting systems have their faults. Simply look at any number of Oscar winners, Nobel Peace Prize laureates and Hong Kong chief executives.

For this year's Fifa Ballon d'Or, Cristiano Ronaldo picked up the gong last week, winning by a slim margin. Ronaldo took 27.99 per cent of the votes, against 24.72 per cent for Lionel Messi and 23.39 per cent for Franck Ribery.

All three contenders could be justified as the winner in a number of ways, which means there is something inherently suspect with the voting process.

It is obvious players and managers cannot be entrusted with the responsibility of determining, or at least influencing heavily, the winner
William Lai

According to Fifa, both the captain and head coach of a Fifa member nation are given one vote each (there are 209 soccer nations), as well as one media representative from 173 countries.

This makes a total of 591 individual "judges" - and includes two from Hong Kong - who are given the responsibility to vote, where five points is given to the first choice, three to second and one to third.

Judges are asked to consider players on their "performances for club and/or national team (particularly in important matches), fair play and general level of performance in 2013".

But here's how some judges voted. Ronaldo chose Monaco's Colombian striker Radamel Falcao, Real Madrid teammate Gareth Bale and Arsenal midfielder Mesut Oezil. Messi voted for his Barcelona teammates Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Neymar.

Further subjective voting - or what some call tactical voting - was observed with Portugal manager Paulo Bento choosing his captain Ronaldo, then Falcao and Arjen Robben, leaving out Messi altogether.

Spain coach Vicente del Bosque voted for Xavi, Iniesta and Ribery, similarly ignoring both Messi and Ronaldo.

The two Welsh voters plumped for Bale, Uruguay's captain voted for Uruguayans Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, and the Colombia skipper vouched for Falcao.

It is obvious players and managers cannot be entrusted with the responsibility of determining, or at least influencing heavily, the winner. Looking only at the 173 media voters, Ribery won easily with 33.65 per cent of the vote, ahead of Ronaldo's 25.63 per cent and Messi's 23.44 per cent.

So, are soccer journalists better placed than players and managers to analyse and review the performances of players?

Although the media appear to be less biased, that is no guarantee they are competent in judging players, particularly on the criterion of fair play. Are there other alternatives or improvements to this faulty voting system?

In the English Premier League, it is television commentators of live televised matches who have the dubious honour of selecting the man of the match.

If Sky Sports has the televised rights then Gary Neville usually chooses, and recently, with BT Sport claiming some live broadcasting rights, it is Michael Owen.

"The thing I get most stick for is picking the man of the match," says Neville.

"[Once] I picked Danny Welbeck against Liverpool and got universally battered. Honestly, the guy comes into my ear, asking who's your man of the match? I'm so involved in watching the whole, I've very rarely narrowed it down to one."

The problem is there does not seem to be any criteria in choosing a recipient deemed worthy of a bottle of EPL-branded champagne.

In the lower leagues, the choice of man of the match is even more dodgy and wholly driven by the corporate sponsors of the home team. Increasingly, corporate executives have the task of choosing the best player. And these days, with the considerations of sponsors' wishes, the choice is further restricted to a player from the home team, win or lose.

Referees are perhaps well placed to select the best player awards because as neutral observers they are right there on the pitch with the players.

They can assess players' individual performances as well as their contributions to the team, and note their attitudes to playing in a manner that respects the spirit of the game.

Therefore the answer to the question of which individuals are best suited to judge players' performances has always been evident - on the pitch - but as usual referees are overlooked in such matters.

Rational Ref cannot think of any better-qualified individuals than referees to help select Man of the Match and World Player of the Year awards.

Agree or disagree? Contact Rational Ref at


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