The closest Player of the Year battle in years
As March rolls around every season, it quite often feels like a formality as to who will win the PFA Players Player of the Year and Football Writers’ Player of the Year awards.
Looking back over previous seasons there has, more often than not, been a standout player who wins the coveted prizes by a distance. Last season Robin van Persie was the obvious winner, single-handedly getting Arsenal into the top four with a relentless flow of important goals throughout the campaign.
Two years previous to that, in 2009-10, Wayne Rooney enjoyed his finest year to date, scoring 34 goals and revelling in the role as star man at Old Trafford. In 2007 and 2008, Cristiano Ronaldo wiped the floor with his peers, inspiring United to Premier League and Champions League glory, respectively.
Thierry Henry was far and away the Premier League’s best player in 2003 and 2004, winning both awards in both years, while Roy Keane hit his prime in 1999/2000 and was rightfully rewarded with both trophies.
That’s not to say there haven’t been outstanding other candidates in all of the aforementioned years, there’s just always been a clear winner.
This season, however, is very different. For the first time in a long time there are three outstanding footballers in the running for both awards this season, and people’s views on who should be named Player of the Year seem to be changing by the week.
The three in question are Robin Van Persie, Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez.
ROBIN VAN PERSIE
The 29-year-old Dutchman joined Manchester United last summer, and he has been an absolute revelation. When his side inevitably clinch the title, it will be Van Persie who will be looked at as the main reason for United’s triumph.
So often this season they have looked mediocre in the big games, only for the lethal ex-Arsenal man to nick all three points.
Just look at the crucial goals he has scored: A winning penalty at Anfield, a last-gasp winner at the Etihad, important strikes at home to Liverpool, Arsenal and Everton, and away goals against Tottenham and Chelsea.
He really has been the man for the big occasion. It makes you wonder how close the title race would be if Manchester City had him and not United. He has scored 23 goals in just 32 appearances in his time at Old Trafford, and expect many more to come.
In terms of winning the award, at Christmas it looked done and dusted for Van Persie. He was on fire and could do nothing wrong.
Since then, however, he has managed just one goal in his last eight games, and has not looked quite as menacing as he did earlier in the season. Perhaps he is saving some goals for the huge games to come later in the season, starting against Real Madrid on Tuesday.
The flying Welshman is having the sort of season Van Persie did at Arsenal last year; saving his side on countless occasions with moments of individual brilliance. His season may not have started at the level he is at currently, but his form over the last few months has been nothing short of astonishing.
Amazingly still only 23, Bale has added another dimension to his game, scoring goals consistently from a more central position behind the striker. His ability to run with the ball at pace and deliver a superb end product is what separates him from other players, and he is genuinely unstoppable at times.
Like Ronaldo, whom he is being compared to currently, he has a physical stature about him – standing over 6ft tall – and this makes him an even more daunting proposition to defenders.
Bale has scored 20 goals in 33 appearances so far this season, and there have been many memorable strikes, particularly recently.
The solo effort away to Norwich City, trademark free-kick against Newcastle United and crucial thunderbolt’s away to West Brom and West Ham were all special strikes. A move to Spain looks likely at the end of the season, and expect the transfer fee to be colossal.
The brilliant Uruguayan has carried Liverpool throughout the season, while others around him have floundered. In many ways he is the most unique, talented player in the country at the moment, but sadly his controversial character works against him.
Although he is loathed by many opposing fans, he is loved at Anfield, and his relentless work rate for the team, superb twists and turns and goal-scoring exploits have put him in the running for both awards.
He currently leads the Premier League scoring charts with 21 goals, which for a player who supposedly can’t finish is pretty impressive. Ask any defender who they would least like to mark and Suarez would be at the top of the list, and he carries a certain genius that singles him out from many others.
His most memorable moments of the season include the stunning free-kick against City at Anfield, his double in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park and his hat-trick against Wigan on Saturday.
Whether he remains at Liverpool in the summer looks questionable, and his magnificent ability would be a huge loss to the Premier League.
Although Van Persie, Bale and Suarez have been easily the outstanding trio this season, it’s worth mentioning a few others who have been excellent.
Michu has been superb at Swansea and the bargain buy of the season, Leighton Baines has been the best defender in the league and is Everton’s key player, while Juan Mata has been a joy to watch at Chelsea, carrying the side like the above trio have with their respective clubs at times.
So who will win the Player of the Year?
At the moment Bale is the favourite with the bookies, which is correct in my opinion. His season seems to be getting better and better while Van Persie’s doesn’t, while Suarez’s character will work against him, as well as Liverpool’s league position.
It is very difficult to call and it would be tough to argue with any of them winning; perhaps one will win the PFA award and another will take home the Football Writers’ honour.
Whoever misses out will have the right to feel fairly unlucky.