Peer Pleasure

By Pete Reilly Source:Global Times Published: 2019/4/11 19:58:40

The race for the PFA Players’ Player of the Year


Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk celebrates scoring during the Premier League match against Watford at Anfield on February 27 in Liverpool. Photo: VCG

The English Premier League season is heading toward its end and outside of the title race one of the most interesting sidebars is the race for the best player.

The Professional Footballers Association Players' Player of the Year is arguably the most exciting of the sideshows.

An individual award that is voted for by their peers, this is the most meaningful of all titles to professional footballers that are not decided by the final day's league table or a day out at Wembley.

Past winners have thrown up some surprises since it was introduced in the 1973-74 season and it was won by Leeds United's fearsome defender Norman "Bite Your Legs" Hunter in their title-retaining season.

Golden oldies

Teddy Sheringham, aged 35, became the oldest winner of the award in the 2000-01 season after guiding Manchester United to the Premier League title.

Sheringham described it at the time as "the biggest personal award you can get in the game."

Ryan Giggs, who won it the season after his teammate Cristiano Ronaldo had won it for two seasons in a row before moving to Real Madrid, became the oldest winner at 36-years-old, 16 years after winning the PFA's Young Player of the Year.

Giggs remains the most decorated player in the English game with 13 Premier League titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups and two Champions Leagues but he only won the PFA Players' Player of the Year once.

It's an award that does not care for longevity or achievement, instead based on that season itself. Riyad Mahrez won it in Leicester City's title winning season in 2015-16 while his Premier League winning teammate N'Golo Kante won it the following year after lifting the trophy with Chelsea.

Exceptions



More often than not it ends with one of the players who have gone on to lift that famous trophy at the end of the season.

There are exceptions, of course, and recently they have included Liverpool's Luis Suarez in 2013-14 when Manchester City won the Premier League title for the second time and Liverpool finished runners-up.

Gareth Bale of Tottenham Hotspur won it the season before in the season that marked Manchester United's last title win. The Welshman then moved to Real Madrid in the summer transfer window and he has gone on to win four UEFA Champions League medals since that transfer.

Similarly, Steven Gerrard won it with Liverpool in 2005-06 but, while the team failed to win the Premier League, they did win the FA Cup final that season, in a performance that personified Gerrard's season even if it came long after the votes from his fellow professionals had been counted and the award handed out.

Gerrard's personal trophy cabinet may lack a Premier League winner's medal but it's by no means barren. He has had seasons that included the dramatic UEFA Champions League win the season before and several, ultimately unsuccessful, tilts for the Premier League.

Will this season's vote be different? In a title race that seems set to go down to the wire, it's hard to tell.

There have been plenty of Premier League players - and it is always footballers from the top flight who win - who have been outstanding this campaign.

Favorites



Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk is the bookmakers' favorite for this season's award.

The Dutchman has been outstanding in Jurgen Klopp's defense and arguably the key ingredient to the side's title challenge this season.

His performances have been lauded all season, most recently in the club's game at Anfield against Totthenham Hostpur that kept alive their dreams of a first title win in 30 years.

Van Dijk has also contributed to this effort with several vital match-winning goals.

Nevertheless, the man signed from Southampton in the January 2018 transfer window has opted for a player at a title rival as the most deserving for the award.

Players are not allowed to vote for their teammates in the PFA Players Player of the Year Award and Van Dijk has voted for Manchester City's Raheem Sterling to win this season, he told the media last week.

Sterling has been in imperious form for Pep Guardiola's side this season as they chase an unprecedented four-trophy haul.

The England international forward came into the season on the back of taking the Three Lions to a World Cup semifinal in Russia last summer and he has not looked back.

He's returned 15 goals in the league this season, while also thriving for Gareth Southgate in the national side, alongside becoming an outspoken critic of racism in the game.

Sterling or Van Dijk would be worthy winners of this year's award, no matter which of their teams wins the Premier League - or the other trophies still available to their teams this season.

Unpredictable

But, given the unpredictability that has gone before, there may be another winner.

Sterling's Manchester City teammate Sergio Aguero is the third favorite for the bookmakers.

The Argentina striker has been integral to the club's attempt to retain their Premier League title after winning his place back in the side.

Another goal this season will return a 20-goal league haul for the fifth time in a row for Aguero, but a PFA Player of the Year win would be unexpected. Aguero only made the PFA Team of the Year team for the first time last season

If not a Manchester City player, then it will be Liverpool.

Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, the current owner of the title, are the fourth- and fifth-ranked by the oddsmakers. Salah has not hit the heights of last season, but he has still impressed, while Mane has stepped up this season.

When the award is announced on April 28, we might be closer to knowing which of these superstars has had the vital affect on the home of this year's Premier League.

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