Trophy Syndrome

Can we have some perspective about greatness?

Another year, another hunt for a title. Liverpool got the monkey off their back to raise their first title in 30 years in 2020. This returned the expectation for the top of the league to be our ruling roost. It’s been a couple of years since that dizzying height was returned to in the Premier League. The expectation now colors the commentary, fan predictions, and pre/post-match interviews week in and week out. I feel the pressure here on my couch during the stressful second half of this Luton game. One can only imagine the pressure on the eleven players fighting to climb another three points closer to winning that next trophy.

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A Trophy Glosses Over So Much

Is the almost fanatical focus the sports world has toward silverware something that does a disservice to the sport as a whole? Each year, three domestic trophies are up for grabs. Additionally, there are individual accolades such as the Golden Glove and Boot awards. Votes are cast for Player of the Year to shine on moments of brilliance. Being in that running should put you in the conversation for the Ballon d’Or yet only a small fraction of players appear on those shortlists.

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For example, Mohamed Salah finished eleventh in voting this year as Lionel Messi raised his eighth Ballon d’Or. Strikes against Mo in the voting came down to the fact that Liverpool missed out on a trophy last term. His national team also languished without the burnished precious metal. The fact that he set records for scoring, assists, and goal involvements in Europe and in the UK paled in comparison to the glitter of all those golden cups.

Alisson wasn’t even included in the shortlist for the award. If you look at his season analytically though, our #1 was one of the if not THE best goalkeepers in Europe and possibly the world. It feels like an inanimate trophy is the star. All the while, hundreds of world-class players strive to add one to their trophy cabinet in hidden silence.

Is It An End All Be All?

These snubs beg another question. Can you be considered a star or consequential in the world of sports if you don’t have one of those few temperamental pieces of silverware?

I loved Giannis Antetokounmpo’s response to the Bucks’ early exit to eventual runners-up Miami. He was asked by a reporter whether he saw the season as a “failure.” His response was an emphatic NO. If you haven’t seen that interview I would highly suggest it. His justification for the response and maturity and clarity is a great addition to the world of sports.

In short, the former MVP highlighted how all the work, effort, wins, plays, and moments during the season don’t suddenly become meaningless because a championship wasn’t achieved. He ended with “Ultimately, it is about your life’s work and what you have been able to accomplish. If you are working every day to be your best, then you are a winner. Even if this means you do not achieve a stated goal.” Now some sports fans wrote the comments off as a way to console oneself in a moment of defeat. However many, myself included, saw it as a highlight of part of the sporting experience that needs more regular attention.

Career Defining?

Does the solitary fact that a player has a trophy make them better than another? I feel it is a variable that can be looked at but ultimately one that doesn’t carry as much water for me.

Is Steven Gerrard a scrub because he never hoisted the Premier League trophy? NO. His quality as a player speaks volumes to his skill, worth, and importance to the sport. This means so much more than any possible retraction because of the lack of this particular trophy.

Is it difficult to watch other clubs raise trophies and win titles? Hell yes. Obviously, you want to see those celebrations for reaching the pinnacle of the sport. But we shouldn’t let that one variable in a player’s or team’s life determine who is worth our wonder, accolades, and support.

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