By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Apr 18, 2012) US Soccer Players — It’s 20th anniversary awards season in the Premier League, and as expected they’ve taken the noble way out of picking an MVP for the first two decades of Premier League soccer. Instead, it’s a Best XI, and yes they’re playing in a 442. That’s stopping no one from moving right along to the more intriguing question. Who was the best player over those 20 seasons?
Part of figuring that out is recognizing that words have meaning. Listing the players who had the most impact is different than listing the best players. Throw in ‘important’ and you could end up with three very different lists. Drop in most valuable player, and it’s yet another discussion of what that really means for two decades of a professional sport.
Surprising no one, Eric Cantona is in the running on all of them. Cantona, the first dramatic Premier League star, is arguably the best, had the biggest impact, and was the most important player in the Premier League’s opening decades. Let’s add another word, entertaining, and he was arguably that as well. He’s the easy answer, but he’s also the example for why taking these lists seriously can become difficult.
Cantona’s importance is without question. He’s the link to the flair players of the 1970’s. He’s a foreign player taking over another country’s domestic league. He influenced a generation of players, not only at Manchester United where his work ethic was without question, but across England and Europe. Then there was his involvement in some of the critical moments for the Premier League. Good and notorious, he was the marquee player. Hey, another word to start a list, and Cantona would win ‘marquee player’ in a walkover. He’d also be top of the list on best style, interview, and anything else that speaks to his singular importance as the face of the Premier League in the mid-90’s. But what about the rest?
I would argue that there’s another player who should be top of our best, influence, important, and most valuable lists along with anything else that measures offensive contribution on the field. Arsenal’s Dennis Bergkamp, and we can also pencil him in at the top of greatest goal, moment, and whatever else awards staggering skill.
Bergkamp was just a little better than whoever else you might want to put in the running. It wasn’t just the goals. It was how he and his Arsenal teams setup the opportunity for the goals. There was a vision with those clubs over several seasons that is still a rarity even at Premier League level. They played the game in a way that was admirable even if you had no love lost for Arsenal. Bergkamp was the key, overwhelming enough to put the undefeated Arsenal side in the conversation for best season if someone wants to make that list.
The Premier League itself doesn’t. Instead, they’ve decided to focus on match, goal, celebration, and save to go along with naming that Best XI. Hardly as much fun, even if it does allow us to balk on the best category by picking Cantona and Bergkamp as the two forwards.
The American Response To The CONCACAF Champions League
Hey, it’s easy enough to decide there’s only room for one soccer game on Wednesday, and it’s always going to be Chelsea – Barcelona. Or you can take the oddity of the Major League Soccer options, with the League scheduling two games including one that’s head-to-head with a tournament they said they held in the highest importance. That would be the CONCACAF version of the Champions League, with the first-leg of the final tonight in Monterrey.
It’s not surprising that most American fans lost interest when the last MLS team exited at the semifinal stage. There’s a case to be made that the enthusiasm ended a round earlier, when it was Toronto as the surprise standard-bearer. The Canadian champion that missed the MLS playoffs as the only hope to advance wasn’t the scenario anybody expected. Though Santos Laguna loomed from the moment the draw for the knockout stage was announced, there was at least the feeling that a 1-2 punch of Seattle in the quarterfinals and LA in the semis might be able to push past the only Mexican Primera Division team in that half of the bracket. Instead, it ended up CONCACAF Champions League business as usual.
Herculez Gomez gives US National Team fans a partisan interest, but that same partisan interest probably puts MLS before the other leagues in the region. Understandable, but MLS still made the choice to program against CONCACAF’s club championship. Had this turned out to be an MLS moment, why would the League choose to share it with Vancouver – Kansas City?
Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves. Please, tell me all about it.
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