The good, the bad, the beautiful and the bizarre – Ewan MacKenna’s alternative World Cup awards

France's Hugo Lloris lifts the trophy as Kylian Mbappe with team mates celebrate winning the World Cup
France’s Hugo Lloris lifts the trophy as Kylian Mbappe with team mates celebrate winning the World Cup

These days there’s a weird habit of making absolute declarations, and making them instantly.

For instance, it was no sooner than France’s lifting of the trophy had been missed by most of the planet via one of the great television direction mistakes – as the camera chosen for the feed was zoomed in on the gut of a drenched steward – that many felt the need to call this out as the best World Cup ever and the best World Cup final ever. Maybe it is basic recency bias. Or maybe it’s this modern scream for attention whereby what just happened has to be described as bigger and better, as faster and higher. At this juncture it won’t be long before music critics rate a gig by how loud the band is.

Let’s be clear, the urge to compare World Cups is an odd one as frankly they are all wonderful at a surface level, and all reek of political corruption when you drill down a little, with the stench and scale of this vileness not truly understood by many. But let us look at this last month coldly for a moment and let’s not confuse entertainment with quality, let’s not confuse goals with standards.

Take the bottom part of the draw which was a write-off, meaning that half of the knock-out stages instantly disappointed. Indeed the heart was only kept beating by England being like a man stumbling across a minefield as we waited for it to all end badly; and by Croatia’s size and story covering up the fact that they were average and quite dull in two of their four elimination games.

As for the final, they got shafted in what was fun, but was also poor. Two of the four French goals came from the referee getting it wrong, two from terrible goalkeeping, while one of the Croatian goals came about through one of the ultimate blunders in the history of sport’s biggest game.

That’s not to say there wasn’t much good too. Belgium were involved in two of the three truly elite-level games (Spain-Portugal was the other one), Uruguay were supremely organised, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi raged against what may be their end on this stage, Neymar raged against himself and his reputation, Japan and Iran were surprisingly good, and France were by a distance the best team out there meaning that regardless of the taste left we still got the right winners.

But there have to be other winners too. So away with your golden balls, as here are our awards…

The Floyd Mayweather Reflex Award – Ivan Perišić

Not just arguably his nation’s best player and one of the stars of the last month, he is also seemingly superhuman. Consider his deliberate handball on Sunday as judged by officialdom. Firstly, what are you supposed to do with your arms when you challenge for a header exactly? But secondly, if he can move that quickly to bat the ball away, then he has one of sport’s great reaction times and ought to have been in goal. Considering Subašić, that may not have been a terrible idea.

The Sarah Huckabee-Sanders Public Relations Gong – Neymar.

This was his moment. With Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi on weaker teams and getting older, the torch was set to be passed. But when it was, he flung it out of the pram in a stunning tantrum. Given his talent it was a massive indictment of his attitude that there was a case to be made around Brazil being better without him.

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Dived. Lost it with referees. Slowed up his team’s game. Monopolised their set-pieces. And made it all about him.

A guy that’s so much about his brand, he made bits of it to the point even Real Madrid are getting angsty. Pity.

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Soccer Football – World Cup – Quarter Final – Brazil vs Belgium – Kazan Arena, Kazan, Russia – July 6, 2018 Brazil’s Neymar reacts after being fouled by Belgium’s Thomas Meunier (not pictured) REUTERS/Toru Hanai

The Aung San Suu Kyi Trophy For Questionable Praise – Japan and Senegal.

Yes, yes, they were the heart-warming stories in the earlier stages of the tournament. The fans of the Africans cleaning up after themselves in stadia, and the players and staff of the Asian outfit doing likewise in their Rostov-on-Don dressing-room before leaving a thank you note. But hang on, while not on them, when did the rest of us lower the bar to the point basic decency and manners is held in such esteem. Come Qatar holding open a door will be Nobel Prize-worthy at this rate. 

The George Washington Hypocrisy Award – Spanish Fans.

There were always going to be questions about Russia at this World Cup given their recent past, and when they showed themselves up as perhaps the fittest team about, those queries turned to allegations. Their defensive effort in holding Spain at bay saw doping calls turned up to 11. If there’s anyone with no right to point fingers around that though, then it’s Spain. Pot. Kettle. Black.

The Saipan Memorial Cup – Spain.

Another one for their trophy cabinet, for what a start that was. Julen Lopetegui. Florentino Perez. Real Madrid. A mess. It inevitably ended in failure but better still, it also ended with Diego Costa warning stand-in boss Fernando Hierro not to let Koke take a penalty. Is there anything a man that jet skis with his dog doesn’t know?

The Kanye West Delusion Bestowal – England.

Who else? We know standards have dipped a little but beating Sweden, Panama and Tunisia (barely) in 90 minutes, losing to the only two teams you played that can pass, and that is deemed as a major achievement? Don’t think perspective will come with time either. Arise Sir Gareth.

The Jogi Loew Scholarship For Style – Jorge Sampaoli.

Stunning. Simply stunning. As the competition progressed the Argentine coach went from the bouncer-allowed-run-the-nightclub-for-a-weekend look to leaving us in absolutely no doubt he has leather sheets on his bed and leopard-skin in abundance back in his Buenos Aires pad.

Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli cut a frustrated figure post-match (Rebecca Blackwell/AP).

The Michelle Kwan Impersonation Competition – Eden Hazard.

We know he’s inconsistent and we know that makes him hugely frustration. But watch his selfless efforts down the stretch against Brazil as Fernandinho will wake up in a sweat thinking about him for some time to come; watch the first quarter against France as he tried to beat the best team in the world by himself, terrorising both Pavard and Pogba. When on his game, outside of Messi, there isn’t a more fun or more entertaining player to stare at in awe. Grace. Balance. Brilliance.

The Mwepu Ilunga Endowment – Michy Batshuayi.

Come on, you know your inner child forced you to laugh. After Belgium made the mistake of scoring to beat England in the group stage, his celebrating involved trying to leather the ball into the crowd. Only he hit the post, with the rebound smacking him in the face. At least he owned up, taking to Twitter and stating, “Ahahha I knew I would be f*cked the minute I come to my mentions”. Damn right.

The Crimea-style Annexation Trick – Sweden.

You’ve probably done your best to forget about their effort in the quarter-final. It made Martin O’Neill and his team look edgy and cut-throat. There had to be more to it, and we presume that while they bored the planet into slumberland they were actually up to no good back in the real world. Turns out leaving the competition behind, Oslo is now the second biggest city in Sweden.

The Premier League Echo Chamber Grant – Roberto Martinez.

The most scrutinised league out there has a habit of thrusting reputations on certain people that just become lasting assumptions without further analysis. Martinez is a case in point. Coming into the competition he was going to be Belgium’s problem according to many. And no matter what he did, it was an idea kept being repeated throughout.

The reality was though that tactically he was really good. Started out playing three at the back with Kevin De Bruyne as a holding midfielder, his move to 4-3-3 against Brazil was inspired as De Bruyne became a false nine, and for the semi-final he reverted to 3-4-2-1 and it nearly worked. Better again he did it with Marouane Fellaini entering the side and playing a key role.

What was it we were saying about Premier League stereotypes?

Roberto Martinez’s Belgium leave Russia on a high (Tim Goode/PA)

The Battle of Santiago Recreation Society Honourary Membership  – Colombia.

Against England, they were given reasons to be annoyed by referee Mark Geiger. But man did they completely lose it to the point several could have been sectioned under the mental health act. It was actually awe-inspiring and there was a certain beauty in seeing so many teammates give up control of their minds and their bodies to the point we genuinely didn’t know what they’d do next.

The Purple Heart For Bravery – Final Pitch Invaders.

There’s a fine line between what’s courageous and stupid. But what about those that took to the field yesterday for that’s just another level of crazy. After all, this was Vladimir Putin’s big moment as the eyes of the world were on his capital and his event. We hope they brought gloves as they say the long Siberian winters are brutal on the fingers when it comes to outdoor manual labour.

The Sunday League Championship Sponsored By Your Local Pub – Panama.

There’s a theory that allowing nations a glimpse of the big time will inspire them, or at least that’s what Fifa say around their Concacaf allocation which is primarily at a ludicrous level so as to try and make sure the United States and their marketing dollars always qualify. That went well. Anyway, if this team inspired a nation then they’ve some serious issues; and that this team can make a 32-team competition means that competition has serious issues when it moves to 48. A pub team, and it may not be long before some group arrive and play with guts hanging out over denim shorts. No mas. More mass.

The Matthew McConaughy Why-Can’t-I-Be-Him Jealousy Award – Kylian Mbappe.

Had this tournament been held in the States, he couldn’t have even celebrated being the champion of the world and the future of the sport with a pint. A freak of an athlete whose basic attributes would likely make him a success in fields as diverse as track and rugby. We were wrongly skeptical before, probably based on him doing his thing in a pointless league where far more normal players still look amazing due to being on the Paris Saint-Germain books.

But those performances on this stage? And that maturity? And the ignoring of all that pressure?

All hail the new king. And the new kings.

Online Editors

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