T here’s been a fair old rumpus since the nominations for the world’s best footballer were announced and maybe this fan captured it best: “Pas de Andy Robertson dans la liste de Ballon d’Or? Quel scandale!”
You don’t have to be a French scholar to understand the tweet. The Liverpool left-back and our national team captain is not among the 30 contenders for the prize. This despite seven Anfield team-mates featuring in the stellar cast. Despite being brilliant for the European champions.
What’s this, a parochial rant from Scotland? Well, the supporter who posted that message was actually a Chelsea fan – proof that Robertson’s appeal stretches far, far beyond anyone who ever helped form a quorum inside an echoey Hampden when he used to turn out for Queen’s Park.
Speaking of which, the award-night master of ceremonies will thus be denied the opportunity to do what all commentators cannot resist whenever Robertson appears on a grand stage, namely reference his modest beginnings: “And to think that only nine years ago last Tuesday this young man was playing in front of 245 people and doubtless the obligatory dog away to East Stirling… ”
I mean, what were the organisers thinking?
Now for the rant: Robertson, though he is a modest fellow, will say it’s all about the team at Anfield and how he is pleased to see so many of his mates in the running – but he is dreadfully unlucky to have been overlooked.
Maybe he will get around to laughing off the snub like James Milner, the midfielder putting up a photo of his training-ground tumble while nominees Virgil van Dijk and Mo Salah look down on him. The caption reads: “Early faller in the Ballon d’Or stakes.”
For a snub is what it seems, certainly in Robertson’s case. Liverpool’s most valuable player in their Champions League-triumphing year? Van Dijk, no question. Then Sadio Mane (also in the running for the Ballon d’Or), then the goalkeeper, Allison (ditto).
Let’s examine Salah’s credentials. A fabulous player, no question, and he scored in the final, although the goal came from the spot. In truth we’re now glimpsing slightly less of his twisted blood-conferring trickery than in his golden season when he was voted the best in England. Defenders seems to be reading his sand-dancing moves better; well apart from David Luiz, memorably skinned when Arsenal went to Anfield this term.
And this term’s best in a red shirt? Roberto Firmino, no question. Indeed, some Kop-ites who exalt in the delicious skills of the one they call “Bobby” would probably give him the gong for two outrageous flicked set-ups: the one for Salah’s goal against Newcastle United and similarly in Genk on Tuesday night.
But did the Brazilian perform any better on the road to glory in Madrid than Robertson? Really, did fellow full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold who we tend to view as one of a pair with our man?
In the comeback of all comebacks against Barcelona the young Englishman, who is among the seven, contrived stunning deliveries from the right. Maybe in the year under review Robertson hasn’t quite managed to bring the house down and come up with a showstopper like Alexander-Arnold’s inventive corner kick which produced the winner. But hasn’t he been more consistent, playing in the first leg in the Nou Camp when Alexander-Arnold was dropped to the bench?
The last of Liverpool’s nominations is Gini Wijnaldum who led the charge against Lionel Messi’s Barca with two goals. But the Dutchman didn’t start the match and wasn’t an ever-present last season, though it should be said he has featured in his national team’s recent revival.
So is this how Robertson has lost out? Have his national team’s recent struggles counted against him? If we were being ruthless we would have to acknowledge that he hasn’t always replicated his club form in a dark blue shirt (though who does right now?). But ruthlessness is not always part of the formula when determining who should get to look out their tightest, shiniest suit for the prizegiving.
Kevin De Bruyne has been put forward. There are no quibbles about his greatness, and especially recently for Belgium, not least when he cut open Scotland at Hampden a few weeks ago. But for Manchester City last season he had two spells out with injury and, understably, did not return at his absolute best. Others in the team did more for that Premier League title.
City have five nominations. That’s three more than Ajax who went further than Pep Guardiola’s men in the Champions League. The Ballon d’Or? As footballers are wont to say: “It’s a strange one.” Once nominated, you will keep being asked back. If your game loses some of its lustre, a flunky will still take your invite and show you to your table, some rows behind Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo who will be tighter and shinier than everyone in the room.
Neither of these guys will win this year, by the way. The award goes to Van Dijk. A pity, though, that Andy Robertson won’t be there to survey the glittering scene and wonder quietly to himself: “Aye, but have you lot ever done it against East Stirling?”