A representative from each of 53 UEFA’s members was asked to name their five contenders for UEFA’s ‘best player’ award. From those choices, a list of 32 nominees for the award was compiled. You won’t be surprised to hear that the usual suspects of European football royalty were all included such as Messi, Ronaldo, Rooney, Iniesta, Van Persie, and so on.
However, the inclusion of one name on that list is a complete surprise, probably even more so to the player in question, it is a player that has had football fans, observers and writers all over the world thinking ‘who the hell is that?’ and reaching for their computers to Google his name. That player is Les Davies.
Les Davies is a striker for Bangor City, a side that plays in the Welsh Premier League and finished as runners-up last season. Davies, known as ‘the truck’ thanks to his large frame and has a full-time job working for a company that makes safety equipment for rock climbers, admitted he was shocked when he found out he had been nominated. “When I saw my name in the middle of those players it was just out of this world,” Davies told Sky Sports.”I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know what to think. It just goes to show that anything is possible if you work hard at it. It’s a really good feeling. It’s fantastic. It’s a bit crazy really, but a great surprise and honour to be included in the list alongside so many great players.”
It was a single nomination from Dave Jones, the Welsh journalist who voted, that proved sufficient to earn Davies a place amongst the nominees. At first glance it is easy to mock Jones’ nomination of Davies, or to ridicule the system that has led to Davies being mentioned in the same sentence as some of the elite players playing in Europe, but I think it’s actually quite nice that Jones took the opportunity to get a bit of publicity for the Welsh Premier League and the players that play in it, as nobody else would ever give them any.
The standard of the Welsh Premier League is pretty poor, and that’s being kind. In the UEFA coefficients, a measure of the strengths of all the European top divisions based on the performances of their clubs in European competition over the past five seasons, which then determines how many European places are awarded to teams from that league and at which point they enter European competitions, the Welsh Premier League is ranked 46 out of 53, which puts it lower than the leagues in Malta, Albania, Kazakhstan and Luxembourg. The Welsh Premier League even has a lower coefficient than Liechtenstein, which doesn’t even have a league!
Dave Jones has done this before. Last season, when the journalists were asked to nominate three players each, he chose Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Michael Johnson, a Bangor City defender. Jones said “People asked me then if I was serious in nominating Michael Johnston and my reply was ‘of course I was – I cover the Welsh Premier week in, week out and he’s one of the best defenders I’ve seen’. It’s the same with Les Davies. He’s a good, old-fashioned centre forward who plays well and gives his all week in, week out. It’s only right and proper to celebrate the talented players our Welsh Premier League possesses.
Jones’ other nominations for this year’s award were Messi, Ronaldo, Iniesta and Joe Hart.
Davies’ Manager, Nev Powell, believes that he is deserving of his nomination, saying “I’m very proud of him, he fully deserves it … For the last two or three years he’s been the best striker in the league. People only need look at his performances in Europe this season to realise what a handful he is for defenders.”
Unfortunately, not even Les Davies could prevent Bangor from being knocked out of the first qualifying round of the Europa League by Moldovan side Zimbru Chisinau 2-1 on aggregate, though Bangor were a little unlucky not to go through, and Davies did play well, hitting the woodwork more than once.
No one’s suggesting that there is even the slightest chance that Davies will win this award or even factor into the decision when the list of nominees is reduced from 32 to 3 names, but it’s going to make a great story for him to tell his grandkids one day.
Davies had trials at Everton, Wolves and Manchester City as a youth player and has represented Wales at the under-21 level and the Wales semi-professional under-23 side, but was never able to make a career out of football. Davies said “I just love football and I’d play football every day but unfortunately I have to work. It would be nice if football was my main job but I look forward to every day to getting out to play football when I can.”
His semi-professional career has seen him win three Welsh cups, a Welsh Premier League title and a North Wales Challenge Cup but the news of his nomination is still taking a while to sink in. He said “I’ve had a few texts from the lads but they don’t believe it either. They’re just shocked it can happen to someone like me from a little club in Wales. I owe Dave Jones at least a couple of drinks. I haven’t had the chance to thank him yet, but I will. I don’t think I’ll be going to the ceremony in Monaco, though. Not unless I make the final three, that is…”!