Wayne Rooney is clearly the front-runner for the PFA Player of the year award this season. In an ordinary year, the baby faced, man headed Man United striker would also be the front-runner for the World Player and Ballon D’or trophies too. Following steadfastly in the footsteps of his former brethren – and former winner – Cristiano Ronaldo, his rampaging run towards the 40 goal mark and eye catching performances in the Champions League (the competition that really matters with the voters of those particular awards), has seen him labeled the hottest prospect in Europe and caused his world standing to finally rise as high as his hairline. However this is no ordinary year, because sandwiched between the two term halves that theoretically encompass the qualification period for the two most significant individual awards in football (but logistically don’t, as they’re still ostensibly seasonal awards in truth) is a certain summer festival du foot that often – if not always now – renders any domestic achievements as redundant as an English manager after a bad start to the Premier League season.
The last 5 winners of the Ballon D’or in a World Cup year were Fabio Cannavaro, Fat Ronaldo De Lima, ZZ Top, Hristo Stoichkov and Lothar Matthäus. The 4 winners since the inception of the WPY Award have been identical, with the exception of Romario for Stoichkov in 94. Notice a trend per chance? The only blip – Stoichkov – turns out to be no such thing when you remember that non European players were illegible for the European Footballer crown before 1995, and Stoichkov had inspired his Bulgarian side to an unexpected Semi Final place in the USA, during a tournament I like to remember primarily for Diana Ross’ fantastic impersonation of Savo Milošević during the opening ceremony. For the benefit of anyone slow on the uptake, the rest were all World Cup winners.
Realistically, Rooney would still need to win the European Cup in an ordinary season anyway. Increasingly, club football’s headlining act is becoming the only auditioning ground for prospective winners. Last year’s final between Barcelona and Manchester United was seen as a battle between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for not just Old Big Ears, but Old Big Balls – and new shiny gold oblong thing – as well. Many United fans still claim Ronaldo should have won in 2007 too after enjoying a far more prolific and influential season on the whole, whilst Kaka – the eventual winner – was stand out only in the Champions League. However with Ronaldo’s Madrid now comically out at the 1/8 stage again, and Messi enjoying a far less prolific season in the competition (if probably a greater one domestically) the award would probably be Rooney’s to loose, provided United got to at least the semi’s. But once again, this is not an ordinary season, and unfortunately for Rooney – and United, who would celebrate their second winner in 3 years, a feat last achieved by their Holy Trinity duo of Best and Charlton (who also won as part of a victorious World Cup side) – he will have to shine brightly in the summer to have any chance of grabbing the only golden balls available for England this summer – apart from the actual World Cup Golden Ball, which is – confusingly – also a large golden ball called the Golden Ball. Someone should really do something about that.
Is it fair that a player’s yearly contribution should be jettisoned in favor of an inspired 7 game run of form? Probably not, but no one would quibble with the prime star of the prime competition of the prime game in sport deserving the honor. So if Rooney really wants to cement his place along side the greats when the history books are written sloppily in terms of subjective personal awards, then he’ll need to carry his blistering form along to the Coupe de Monde. Despite the inevitable media hysteria that will envelope us all in the coming months, England do not look like a World Cup winning side. Humbled by Spain a few months back, the Three Lions are a long way off that level and will need Rooney to not burn out by then if they’re to stand any chance of besting the same side in South Africa. Furthermore, with Ronaldo piping a Spanish player to the prizes after that nation’s European Championship win in 2008 (which shouldn’t be looked on as a reprieve for Rooney, the World Cup is a different beast) a victory for the Spaniards would almost definitely see one of their stars rewarded in the new years honors lists this time. Xavi and Iniesta were equally deserving of the award last year in my book anyway, and the voters (who are comprised of coaches and team captains in the WPY’s case, and Journo’s in the Ballon D’or’s) would probably feel the same.
So I can’t see it happening personally. Even my most optimistic side sees England crash out valiantly in the semi’s, probably in a penalty shoot out. So unlucky Wayne. I’ll be rooting for you, but you’ve got a hell of a lot to do this year, even if by the time the ceremonies roll around in the winter, you’ll still be the most deserving. And a tip for any promising young stars hoping to follow in their heroes’ footsteps and claim those coveted golden trophies; don’t choose a World Cup year to hit your prime, unless you can win the thing.