It is very rare for any athlete to win a best junior player, or rising star award and in the same year win the Player of the year award in their chosen sport.
Socceroos great Mark Vuduka in the 1993-94 season of the National Soccer League when playing for the Melbourne Knights won the Young player of the year, the Player of the year and the league’s top scorer award. He repeated the feat winning the same three awards in season 94-95 and scored two more goals than the season before, taking his tally to 18 in 24 games. In more recent times in the A-League Marco Rojas in the 2012-13 season won the NAB Young player of the year and the Johnny Warren Medal for the best player in the A-League. In 2010-11 Kyah Simon took out the Young player of the year award and the W-League Player of the year award.
It is a rare feat in any sport in any national competition. So to achieve such a feat at International level is remarkable. Belgian Hockey player Arthur van Doren achieved the double this week winning the FIH Rising Star award for players under 23 for the second consecutive year, and also took out the FIH Player of the year award.
If you look at most major sports, including football and rugby this has never happened. It is a very rare achievement, the magnitude of which few seem to want to acknowledge. Van Doren should be congratulated on his unique achievement. Hopefully he will continue to perform and live up to the very high expectations that will now fall on his young shoulders.
What has been interesting is that rather than acknowledging the uniqueness of this achievement many have looked to question how this can happen. Which is a very strange reaction.
Where the problem seems to arise is in the fact that both van Doren and Argentina’s Maria Jose Granatto won the Female Rising Star of the Year for the second consecutive year.
There are some who question how a player can be a “rising star” two years in a row. The criteria is simply that the player must be under 23, so if they have shone on the world stage then in realistic terms it is possible, and the results show that.
However some say that if this was a “Junior Player of the Year” award that would be fine, but to be a “Rising Star of the Year” award twice is hard to swallow. How can you rise twice? After all even Jesus only rose once. Is this just semantics?
If we look at the PFA awards in England for the Premier League, Ryan Giggs, became the first player to win their Young Player of the Year award twice, back-to-back in 91-92 and 92-93. Liverpool’s Robbie Fowler became the second player to do this in 94-95 and 95-96. Wayne Rooney also achieved the feat and most recently so too did Dele Alli from Tottenham Hotspur in 2015-16 and 16-17. None of these players however made the list for the Player of the Year.
It is unusual for this to happen even in English football and has only happened four times since the award started in 1973-74. It is almost impossible to find any junior player winning back to back awards at international level in other sports.
Another argument being raised against van Doren winning the award back-to-back is that he has played over 100 International matches; in fact he is closer to 150 games. Some feel a player having that much International game time can hardly be a “rising star,” and is in fact an established player. Van Doren turned 23 in September 2017 but made his debut as a 17 year old. Granatto is younger than van Doren at 22 years of age and turns 23 in April. She has 69 capps to her name at the time of writing.
It is worth noting that Giggs and Fowler both had under 100 games to their names at Manchester United and Liverpool respectively when they won their back-to-back awards. Dele Alli has only this season clicked past the 100 games at Tottenham in all competitions.
So should a player be penalised for making their debut at a young age and establishing themselves in the national team?
All Arthur van Doren has done is be an exceptional player at a very young age. The rules state that as long as he is under 23 he can be nominated for the Rising Star of The Year. He does not make up the rules. The fact that those making the decisions on the finalists felt that he was good enough to be ranked among the best in the World and not just his younger peers is again a credit to him as a player.
As stated it is a very rare achievement in domestic competitions let alone international sport. It is an achievement that should be celebrated, as obviously we have a player in our midst who in time may be mentioned alongside some of the greats like Teun de Nooijer and Jamie Dwyer.
As much as van Doren is no doubt proud of his achievement, what are the odds on him being prepared to swap both if it meant that Belgium would be crowned World Champions at the end of 2018, and Olympic gold medallists in 2020? Individual awards are nice, but ultimately it is the success of the team that brings the greater rewards.