On first impression, the 2013-14 Bundesliga season seems to offer no obvious choices for player of the year, unlike 2012-13 in which Bayern’s Franck Ribéry was the consensus pick – a choice validated by the Bundesliga and UEFA rewarding the Frenchman with separate player of year awards.
The reasons for the lack of clear winners this season are various. First, despite Bayern’s domination of the Bundesliga, die Roten had no single dominant player standing above his teammates, unlike last season. Instead, Pep’s Bayern seemingly relied on the combined skills and cooperation of the likes of Lahm, Thiago, Ribéry, Alaba, Kroos, Dante, Schweinsteiger, Robben, and Mandzukic. That is, it’s difficult to pick just one Bayern star from this powerful cluster without getting into silly debates regarding utility, influence, formations, etc., etc. Let’s not go there. Second, 2013-14 didn’t feature one single dominant goal-scorer, running away with the Bundesliga’s coveted Torjägerkannone, unlike Stefan Kießling from a season ago. Instead, we were blessed with five prolific scorers this season. I’m not complaining. However, for the silly purpose of picking player of the year candidates, having no heads-above-the-rest Torjägerkannone winner, complicates matters. Robert Lewandowski’s 20 goals won him the award, but only on the final matchday, as the Pole pushed past Mandzukic.
Nonetheless, despite the lack of a super obvious winner, someone will win the Bundesliga’s player of the year award. So without further ado, I declare that my 2013-14 Bundesliga player of the year is Marco Reus. I’ll spend the rest of this column making the case for why Reus should win this award, especially in relation to whom I consider to be the next four best players.
Gang of Five
In my mind, five Bundesliga stars deserved serious consideration for player of the year accolades (ranked with the winner at #1):
- Marco Reus
- Roberto Firmino
- Robert Lewandowski
- Max Kruse
- Philipp Lahm
Honestly, spot #5 on my list was closely contested between Lahm and FC Augsburg Daniel Baier, Gladbach’s Raffael, and VfL Wolfsburg’s Ricardo Rodriguez. For giggles, and on the “versatility” principle alone, I could toss BVB’s Kevin Großkreutz to the list of honorable mentions. I wouldn’t be terribly sad if any of these three other players took Lahm’s place in my top 5. However, choices must be made and Lahm made my final cut, as you’ll see later.
Why these five? A good question.
Here’s something these five players mostly have in common: they made important statistical contributions in categories that seem to be emerging as markers of value-added on the pitch. Specifically, these players added value to their clubs through statistical categories like goals scored (duh), shot selection, assists, shots assisted, “big chance” activity, and moving play forward with passing. These five players consistently emerged around the top of many important statistical categories. If this validation wasn’t enough, the likes of Reus, Lewandowski, and Firmino have especially emerged as the main player of the candidates around many Bundesliga media outlets.
As usual though, I must remind you that the importance of any isolated statistical category in a sport as dynamic, fluid, and chaotic as football is ambiguous given the networks of contingencies both prior to and proceeding from any given pitch event. This murkiness means that it’s not totally useful to contrast, say, Reus and Firmino, on the basis on their final tallies of assists. These players perform in different formations with different playing philosophies, as well as in a large number of different game states throughout the season. Blah, blah, blah. So yeah, it’s not apples-to-apples stuff, obviously.
Okay. But why bother with this player of the year business? Well, we are narrative and pattern seekers. Besides, it’s fun to rank players. For what other reason does sports talk radio exist? And the award exists anyway (although perhaps the value of such an award are dubious, given the complexities I discussed above). Someone has to win, even if we can’t unequivocally claim that one player is absolutely-certainly-universally-TRUTHFULLY better than any other player in the Bundesliga.