The recent SportPesa Premier League Awards revealed the long held belief that it will take defenders another leg and head to win a major award beyond Defender of the Year. Gor Mahia prodigy Eric ‘Marcelo’ Ouma and Western Stima midfielder Kenneth Muguna were competing in two categories. New Player of the Year(Rookie of the Year) and Player of the Year (MVP) while Muguna was also nominated for Midfielder of the Year which he bagged, Ouma failed to capture Defender of the Year which went to old wine, Jokins Atudo of Posta Rangers.
It is like the recent US Presidential elections where it only took Donald Trump to be rich and white while a black Barack Obama had to have the right degree from a prestigious university, a superb wife, and strong family values and zero skeletons in the closet to enter White House. That’s the odds goal keepers, defenders and defensive midfielders face against attacking midfielders and strikers.
Disclaimer, I did not watch many KPL matches this season as I have done in the past. I watched Eric Ouma play severally after seeing many people praise him on social media. If Muguna had received such reviews I bet I would have spared time to get a glimpse of what he is made off. For this reason, I will not dwell so much on Muguna but for a player his age to get three nominations and bag two, he must be worth his salt. On the other end, if such a player can grace KPL for a whole season and fail to grab the attention of news makers, then there is a problem along the Sports Avenue of our Fourth Estate.
Eric Ouma went from being an untried rookie at K’ogallo to grabbing the left-back position from Abuba Sibomana and then cementing his place on the national team, all in one season. He is a lad you will think is a seasoned player in top flight football. Yet for his efforts and grace, he could not match a midfielder in the eyes of voters.
This trend is not new, since 1956 when World Player of the Year Award began;only one goal keeper has clinched it- Lev Yashin of Dynamo Moscow in 1963. Three other defenders, Franz Beckenbauer 1972 and 1976, Matthias Sammer 1996 and recently Italian World Cup winning Captain Fabio Cannavaro in 2006. Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Nuer was nominated but came third after Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo in 2015.
Midfielder Riyad Mahrez of Algeria and Leicester City won this year’s African Player of the Year. The other nominees, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon/Borussia Dortmund), Sadio Mané (Senegal/Liverpool), Mohamed Salah (Egypt/Roma), Islam Slimani (Algeria/Leicester City) are all attackers. I cannot remember a defender winning this award.
For a defensive player to win an award like the MVP, he must have done more than his normal call of duty on the field. This is about the press, coaches, and football administrators’ undervaluation of defensive players. The money paid out to acquire defenders and goalkeepers in the transfer market compared to midfielders and strikers tell the full story.
Everybody will notice the attacking side of the game because it is bound to create a goal. On the other side, very few people analyze defense side because in many cases it is about an opponent’s goal that did not occur. Teams will score very few goals compared to repulsed or cleared threats to their goal. This donkey work is done by the goalkeeper and defenders, yet the accolades will go to the scorer of that winning goal and the player who made the assist. No wonder the modern wing back must be able to attack up the flanks to be recognized.
This skewed analysis by football gatekeepers, denies us the full value of the defensive side of the beautiful game. I don’t believe Muguna performed way better than Ouma, the defender is a victim of a formed opinion in the world of football. In their book The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Football Is Wrong, Chris Anderson and David Sally say that “forwards are loved, defenders are respected”. People vote for and adore people they love.