A new year, a new semester, the recap of the old year that goes with it. Every year the annual rite of passage is to hash out lists of the best of the previous twelve months and what to expect in the next twelve; especially in sports where it is a great chance to sit down and run over the highlight reels and find the moments that still amaze, or hurt, or just make you laugh.
So it is with soccer and FIFA held their annual gala on Monday to recognize the best of the year: best players, best coaches, best team, best goal. To absolutely nobody’s surprise (except Cristiano Ronaldo’s) Leo Messi was again awarded the Ballon d’or for a record 4th consecutive year. Abby Wambach (USA) won the women’s Ballon d’or, and her former coach Pia Sundhage won the women’s coach award. The men’s coach award went to Vincente del Bosque from the Spanish Nat’l. team. Miroslav Stoch (Slovakia) won the Puskas award for best goal of the year.
But what I found the most interesting part of the evening (apart from Pia’s singing) was the World Best XI: the entire list was from one league. If you didn’t play football in Spain this year, you weren’t playing the best football in the world according to FIFA. It seemed a terrific snub to the EPL, Bundesliga, and Serie A, that not a single player who plays in England, Germany, or Italy – the world’s other top leagues could make the all-star team of all-stars. But then that’s what these lists are, talking points, snubs, accolades and nothing more. This Best XI will never take to the field anywhere except on some kid’s FIFA13 video game. But what this does is keep every sports pundit busy for the next week talking over who is the best player, what is the best league and can Messi be considered the best player of all time?
Oddly enough I was then confronted with a strange parallel in my own studies. In beginning my new geography course, I found my readings essentially traced important names in the field of geography. It is not too much different than the all-star list of geographers. And in that light, while reading the debates over whether Pele, Maradona, or Messi is best, I began to think a little more critically than I normally do as to who makes this list and why is it important. Now ultimately my prof sets the readings, so the final list comes down to their personal choice, but if it is at all like FIFA, is there a sense that it could be skewed a bit to favour one style of play, or in this case one style of geography?
As in the case with most of these lists some names stand out regardless. You can’t discuss human geography without David Harvey coming up at some point – perhaps the Pele of Marxist geography. He would be on any list, but then there are others that are more positional (continuing with a soccer metaphor do I use a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 formation) and suddenly the introduction of tactics complicates the list. My course is about critical geography, which would then differentiate the list of thinkers from a course in say economic geography (although I think you’d still find Harvey on both).
This then brings me to my more critical analysis of the names and readings for the course. For the next twelve weeks I will get the overview of a number of these geographical thinkers, the highlight package if you will for a number of them. But at the end it is up to me to be able to sort out the best XI (don’t worry, doesn’t literally have to be 11) for my own studies. I’ll need to be able to defend my choices, but then I can sort out where I am headed in my field.