The award of Player of The Year is much maligned for obvious reasons. After the final days results though, the awarding of the 2012/13 prize is surely no better example of why the accolade should be given right at the very end of the campaign.
In April 2011, former Manchester United defender Gary Pallister told BBC Sport ‘It’s Player Of The Year not Player Of The Season, so that’s where the difficulty lies’. He continued, ‘for me, it should be PFA Player Of The Season. The way it is now sometimes makes the voting a bit unbalanced’.
Since Ryan Giggs’ sentimental and compassionate win of the Players’ Player Of The Year in 2008/2009, I myself have not taken the voting system among the players as seriously as I used to. There have been murmurs in the press, that there is a spokesperson for teams and players tend to copy their team-mates when voting, as they don’t take the process as seriously as they really should. This can lead to further imbalance, this is why I feel the award should not only be given out later, but should also have its parameters altered. Voting shouldn’t begin in March as it stands now, but at the end of calendar year like the Balon D’or for instance.
The only four players I feel had any realistic chance of winning the award are Juan Mata, Robin Van Persie, Luis Suarez and of course the actually winner of the Writers’ and Players’ Player of the Year Gareth Bale.
Despite the brilliance of Eden Hazard and to a certain extent Oscar, in their first Premiership seasons, Juan Mata runs Chelsea, full stop. If he doesn’t play well, then Chelsea rarely win. Luckily for them his poor games have been sporadic. He has scored at a good rate from the midfield and also assists heavily; he actually led the league in this category with twelve. I always felt Mata would be overlooked though, so in that case we will concentrate on the other three individuals I mentioned. The votes are predominantly gained via a players’ League form, so it is this measure we will focus on.
If you had asked me just a month before the season ended, whom I thought should be named Player Of The Year, without hesitation I would have stated Luis Suarez (and I would’ve been right). I feel he has been the League’s most consistent performer and in regards to a player’s value to a team, his contribution has pushed Liverpool five places up this season. Telling goals in telling games has been Suarez’ signature this season. He has always been involved in a game; he tracks back, links up play and never goes into hiding. The end result; 23 crucial League goals and a dynamic focal point for the Liverpool team to play off, rely on and go to throughout the season.
His reputation though was always going to be the main thing that bought him down. The 2011/12 season’s racial abuse of Patrice Evra is a dark cloud that he can never move away from and rightly so. On top of this, it’s generally agreed he goes down easily when challenged and then to cap things off, his known to be a biter even in the absence of a full moon. Any result based on football alone would have to ignore these indiscretions, however this is the year of the ‘poster boy’. The self-proclaimed best League in the world is now facing a barrage from two sides; to the left the German League, to the right the Spanish. In this environment, there is little wonder the ‘angelic’ Bale and Van Persie have elevated above the anti-hero Suarez.
In the case of Robin Van Persie, who bagged 26 League goals, (the Premiership’s golden boot winner now for the second consecutive season), it is easy to see the impact he has made for Manchester United. United lost the League on the final day of last season on goal difference to their local rivals Manchester City, and in this campaign they actually conceded ten more goals (43), than last season’s tally (33). His goals this season have won important games that helped claim the title.
For example, his hat-trick at the start of the season at Southampton, was pivotal, United were 2-1 down and had they lost, it would have meant two defeats in their opening three games, (as they had already succumbed to Everton in their opening fixture). Another paramount Van Persie goal, was the injury time winner against defending champions Manchester City (away) 3-2 in December. This gave the Red Devils important breathing space and was arguably the turning point in the season.
Now to the aforementioned ‘angel’ Gareth Bale. Bale had six League goals before Christmas, a good return as he is not a striker, but effectively his strong second half of the campaign is what bagged him his awards. A hat-trick in the 4-0 demolition of Aston Villa (away) on Boxing Day, kick-started his charge towards Player Of The Year. Including those three, he went on to score 14 League goals after Christmas to accumulate 21 for the season. What stood out was that Spurs had injuries up front, and when Emmanuel Adebayor & Jermain Defoe were fit, they did not hit the back of the net as regularly as expected. So Bale’s contribution was even more relevant, taking the team on his back when needed, and showing a great level of maturity at 23.
Bale has now made himself one of the hottest properties in Football. Not the most skilful individual, but has great balance, a superb turn of pace and possesses quite beast-like upper body strength. On his day, and he has had many a day this season, he is a defenders nightmare. One wonders what Theo Walcott would be if he had Bale’s footballing brain. Bale seems to know the right times when to push the ball past a defender or shoot early. The more games he has played, the more he seems to have control over his decision making, which I see as a perfect example of someone maximising their potential.
Now having looked at these three main contenders individually, I would like to refer you back to my first point of the article. To recap, awards should be given at the end of a campaign. It must be universally agreed the results on the last day of the season went against Bale’s case. Arsenal clawed back the final Champions League spot from local rivals Tottenham despite the brilliance of Bale. You can not look back on this season and say ‘remember when Bale fired Spurs into the Champions League and won Player of the Year?’ because it didn’t take place. Bale has had a great influence on the season, but it could be argued Harry Redknapp had a greater influence taking Spurs a position higher in 2011/12, only to be cruelly denied a qualification spot by Chelsea going on to be crowned Kings of Europe.
In terms of achievement,Van Persie is the only one of the three players who can say his contribution bought silverware to his club. The remainder of United’s forward roster consisted of, Wayne Rooney (12), Danny Welbeck (1) and Javier Hernandez (10) combining for 23 goals, three less than Van Persie (26), mustered himself in the League. If we had to choose a Golden Boy for the Premier League to market to Asia and the Americas then Van Persie could have and maybe should have back-to-back Player Of The Year awards in reality. United finished higher than the previous season so he has to take the majority of the plaudits.
In spite of this and many may choose to differ, I’m going to be ‘controversial’ and say I would like to have seen Luis Suarez take at least one of the two awards available. If we look at the history of these awards, one of the greatest players to win the Writers’ Player Of The Year was Eric Cantona (95/96), the season after he hospitalised a fan with a karate kick, this led to a ban for the remainder of that season. Another example is Wayne Rooney whose off field adulterous sexual shenanigans did not prevent him winning both awards in the 2009/10 season.
Now these two footballing magicians were rewarded despite of their faults, their fellow wizard Suarez should have also been honoured, even though his sometimes known to dabble in the dark arts.
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