Jonty Mark

By Jonty Mark

Football Editor

OPINION: Isn’t Carling Knockout’s Man-of-the-Match just a popularity contest?

Fans vote for their favourites, but are they the best performers?

Carling Black Label’s role as innovators or nonsense-makers in the local game, depending on which side you choose to take, has long been the subject of debate.

The Carling Black Label Cup was hammered in some quarters on its launch in 2011, a one-off game between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, where the fans picked the starting line-ups.

Yet even if the purists pursed their lips and dismissed the competition as a gimmick, it proved hugely successful with the fans, who voted with abundance in terms of picking the teams, and with their feet in terms of packing out FNB Stadium for the match.

The latest competition sponsored by the popular beer (I think two mentions of the sponsor are plenty) is the Carling Black Label Knockout (oh no, I’ve done it again). Effectively replacing the Telkom Knockout, the tournament comes with a couple of twists, again involving the fans.

One is an All-Star Match, that will take place at the end of the competition, between the winners and and All-Star team, as voted for by the supporters.

The other is the Man-of-the-Match Award, which is also voted for by supporters and carries a prize for each game of a whopping R100 000.

This week’s last-16 of the Carling Knockout (let’s abbreviate) gave us the first chance to see how the supporters voted, in terms of the Man-of-the-Match gong. And there were several calls that backed up those who would argue that this method is more of a popularity contest, than a valid judgment on who actually was the best player on the day.

Let’s start with Kaizer Chiefs’ loss to AmaZulu on Saturday evening, another embarrassing early exit from a cup competition for Amakhosi.

Keagan Dolly, however, could at least console himself with R100 000. While he had an decent first-half, Dolly wasn’t exactly a game-changer, and was taken off by Molefi Ntseki with six minutes left to play.

Pablo Franco Martin, the AmaZulu coach, said immediately after the game that he couldn’t understand why one of his players didn’t get the award. The problem is that in a popularity contest, Chiefs are always likely to emerge victorious.

Lorch lucks out

Orlando Pirates, meanwhile, did beat Cape Town Spurs in their Carling Knockout game on Friday, but the decision to give the Man-of-the-Match award to Thembinkosi Lorch again raised eyebrows. Lorch was by no means Pirates’ best player, who many felt was a returning Evidence Makgopa. But Lorch is a headline-maker, for both good and frankly horrendous reasons (see his assault conviction).

To cap off a triple whammy of slightly absurd offerings, Andile Jali was named Man-of-the-Match on Sunday even though Moroka Swallows lost 2-1 to struggling Richards Bay in KZN.

Richards Bay coach Kaitano Tembo also expressed his discontent after the game, completely understandably. Jali is a popular player, for good reason given his performances for Pirates, Sundowns and Bafana but in no way was he the best player in this match.

So, R100 000 is a lot of money to give away to someone who wins an award without merit. Then again, as long as the votes keep coming in (and the revenue), it is unlikely the sponsors will care.

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