William Bi gives you the lowdown on the The Best Footballer in Asia award, presented by Titan Sports, which has been given out annually since 2013.
In 1956 a French group of leading football journalists including Gabriel Hanot, Jacques Ferran, Jacques Goddet and Jacques de Ryswick assembled in the office of France Football, to make a decision that would change the history of European football. Since that time, generations of top footballing talent have had a polar star to make chase, whilst sometimes producing sublime efforts in a bid to have their names marked on the Ballon d’Or obelisk. In 2013, a group of leading Chinese football journalists had a meeting in a South Beijing office. In this room the annual Best Footballer in Asia award was born.
Hegel used to remark that all great world-historical facts and personages occur twice; Marx complemented that the first time was tragedy, the second time farce. But Marx was wrong in football. The Ballon d’Or has made history, a 60-year history of footballing glory, as the most prestigious individual prize in the world. Following in the steps of France Football, Titan Sports are making Asian footballing history. For men make their own history, but do so under circumstances directly found, given and transmitted from the past. So what was the circumstance, when Titan Sports founded Best Footballer in Asia in 2013?
Why does Titan Sports host the Best Footballer in Asia award?
As early as 1984, the Asian Footballer of the Year, the predecessor of AFC Player of the Year, was established via the International Federation of Football History & Statistics. It was later adopted by the Asian Football Confederation in 1994. This official AFC award is a prize with some history, but the process and criteria of selection are obscure, both to football experts and Asian football supporters.
Titan Sports, possibly the most influential sports media group in China, have long been the partner of France Football and L’Equipe. In 2007, when the Ballon d’Or group expanded their voting pool, Titan Sports was granted the only vote representing Chinese sports media on the juror panel. It is evidence attesting to Titan sports expertise, integrity and reputation.
During the years of partnership with France Football and L’Equipe, Titan Sports have learnt how to organise a football award with impartiality, transparency and prestige. In 2013, 57 years after the foundation of Ballon d’Or, Titan Sports believed that it is the high time to have an Asian equivalent, through which the heroes of Asian football are honoured. Asian footballing men shall take expertise rather than whimsical decision and transparency rather than shrewd manipulation, in voting for the best players of Asian football at year’s end, to commemorate the achievements of our Asian football heroes. Titan Sports expects this move to represent a landmark in Asian football chronology.
The scope of Best Footballer in Asia
The AFC Annual Awards separates the “AFC International Player of the Year” from the “AFC Player of the Year”, whilst they narrowed the range of nominees of AFC Player of the Year to Asian players in Asian leagues. However, Titan Sports awarded Asian players regardless of where they play. All Asian players, Titan Sports believes, whether they play on the beaming stage of European leagues, or a flourishing Asian counterpart, should compete under the same criteria and framework. It is how impartiality is embodied.
Yet, an Asian football prize shall not only cover players of same nationality in AFC countries. The Ballon d’Or was reformed in 1995 to open the prize to all players in Europe, with George Weah the first non-European winner that same year. For this reason, the Best Footballer in Asia award should take players whose nationalities are not AFC nations, yet play in Asian leagues as foreign players, into consideration. As the new territory of world football, Asian leagues are attracting players from all over the world. Such foreign arrivals on the Asian footballing platform, no matter whether they be from Europe, America or Africa, should find equal treatment and opportune participation available within the Asian footballing family of AFC nations. Some of them have glittered in AFC competitions or domestic leagues as Most Valuable Players. Some of them have even helped to expand the influence of Asian football in the world. Since the world is becoming flatter, these arrivals have contributed to the development of Asian football with their own magic.
How is the voting done and who votes?
In every comparison and selection in the world, there should be common yardsticks for people to evaluate. For Best Footballer in Asia, we have four key criteria for voters to make their choice. (a) Individual and team performances (titles) within the year; (b) Talent and fair play shown by the player; (c) Career; (d) Personality, influence. A candidate of Best Footballer in Asia should fit at least one of the above four. One week before the voting pool opens, Tian Sports will release a nominee-list after discussion. It is merely a recommended list. Voters have their freedom to choose players beyond the nominee-list, as Titan Sports respect the freedom of judgement.
In football world, there are no mathematical formula or Newton law. One man’s meat is another’s poison. Titan Sports try to avoid exerting pressures on the individual judgement of voters only except the four basic criteria above. Every voter has their philosophy in choosing the best footballer in Asia in their eyes. Titan Sports respect different philosophies behind each vote.
But who will take the responsibility of voting for Best Footballer in Asia?
Based upon the media links they have established along the years, Titan Sports invited 20 journalists from different AFC national associations in the first year after the inauguration of the award. Additionally, a few Asian football experts outside Asia were also involved in the juror panel. In 2016, Best Footballer in Asia witnessed the first expansion of the juror panel, after which the number of voters increased to 38. In this year, we have 36 voters representing 36 different AFC football associations and 6 other voters either renowned Asian football experts beyond AFC nations, or represent world-class sports media outlets. All these voters covering the 36 major AFC football nations are leading journalists, with expertise to represent football media in their own countries. The other 6 jurors represent world-top media like FOX Sports, France Football and Gazzetta dello Sport. With such a strong panel of jurors, impartiality, reputation and prestige could thus be established.
The rule of the ballot counting follows that of Ballon d’Or. Every juror is supposed to put 5 names in their vote, as their 1st choice to the 5th choice starting from the one deserves the award most. In the first 4 editions of Best Footballer of Asia, the 5 chosen players are awarded 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 points respectively. In the 2017 Best Footballer in Asia, the point awarded for the 1st-choice increases from 5 to 6, to emphasize the weight of the 1st choice. The player winning the highest points in the ballot will be awarded Best Footballer in Asia prize.
The Pulse of Asian football
Not only Asian football players have shone in major European leagues like Son Heung-min, Keisuke Honda and Sardar Azmoun, but also Asian capitals have landed in European market one after one to become unshakable powers, winning premiership league champion, tempting the top football mind like Pep Guardiola and the great football talent like Neymar. Players all over the world have come to Asian leagues for the charming cultures and new challenges. It is also a time when a European club paid 40m Euros for a Brazilian in an Asian league. Experts all over the world are watching the rising Asia. Peter Francopan said that the role of Asia is becoming more significant as the world football axis is shifting eastwards. Simon Chadwick also claimed that 21th century belong to football 3.0, in which the bold, ambitious vision of Asians is changing the development paradigm of world football.
Asian football is based on a huge geographical entity covering nine time zones, with varied cultures, languages, religions, which are totally different from each other. Even members of Asian football are not from the same geographically continent. Football is an effective delivery mechanism to glue different people together. The ‘clash of civilization’ alarm is set off. From the Eastern coast of Mediterranean, to the golden coast bathed by the cobalt blue wave of Pacific Ocean, from the bazaar of Tashkent to the resort of Malé, the plot of Asian football could be flattened by the common pulse of football. Best Footballer of Asia was such a pulse. It beat once a year, at the end of our calendar, by assembling the most respected Asian football experts together, to select and give the laurel wreath on the neck of the Asian football Heracles.
As a length for an interval between two World Cups, four years is a cycle for world football. At the year end of 2017, we look back to 2013, when Best Footballer in Asia were founded. There has been a long road Titan Sports have trekked, with five editions of balloting done, but there is a far longer way to go if we compare Best Footballer in Asia to the Ballon d’Or, which has experienced more than a dozen of four-year cycles.
But a new brave football world, in which Asia is destined to play a major role, is just around the corner. Asian football men disdain to conceal our views and aims, and Titan Sports, which grew up from a provincial newspaper in Changsha, the cradle of Chinese communist revolution, to the most influential sports media in China, hereby openly declare the catchword of Best Footballer in Asia.
Members of Asian footballing community, unite!
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