Other than VVD and Raheem, PFA Player of the Year Award is a farce
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Virgil van Dijk will be crowned as the PFA Player of the Year on Sunday and deservedly so. The Dutchman has transformed into the world’s best centre back over this season, turning Liverpool from also-rans into serious title contenders in the process.
He is as deserving of the award from his fellow professionals as any. Few will argue with him winning the award. Those who dispute his success may do so because they Raheem Sterling should be victorious. There's a case for the Manchester City winger too. Sterling is capping off a sensational campaign, stepping into the Kevin de Bruyne shaped hole to become City’s key man.
But it is off the pitch where he contributes his best work. Sterling took it on himself to be the poster boy for the fight against racism, sparking a much-needed and long overdue debate about an issue plaguing the entire United Kingdom. He challenges the media and fans alike to stop ignoring the problem and take responsibility.
Although the award should be decided solely between the lines, both are worthy recipients. The rest of the list beggars belief. It boils down to a popularity contest with one or two stars rounding into late-season form thrown in. Sadio Mane’s inclusion rather than teammate Mohamed Salah proves the point.
Currently the Premier League's joint-top scorer, the Egyptian broke several more Liverpool and league records this season. He’s had another superb campaign, playing a pivotal role in Liverpool’s bid for the title. With goals and assists combined, his contribution stands at 29, again the joint-most in the league. When the vote was taken, however, he was mired in a terrible run of form. He hadn’t managed a goal in eight games. That told in the voting. His achievements, [otherwise] consistent scoring and superb performances were forgotten because he wasn’t in the headlines at the right time.
Mane, on the other hand, benefitted. During the voting period, he was in the form of his life. He picked up his teammate's slack for those eight games. In January and February, the Senegalese international hit world-class levels. It's not his first superb campaign. Even so, he doesn't approach Salah for quality. Not even close. This season, the Egyptian is ahead of him for goals, assists and a plethora of other attacking stats. The award is meant to reflect the entire campaign, not just a month or two.
Then there is the complete nonsense enveloping the Young Player of the Year Award. Other than to pump up the defending champions, why Sterling and Bernardo Silva are included is a mystery. Both are 24-years-old. Each now only qualifies for their country's senior national team. especially in football. Neither is introducing himself to the world. Individually, the pair claim hundreds of first-team starts not to mention winners medals and other accolades. Sterling has more Premier League appearances than some of its past legends. Their presence on the ballot is a travesty.
This award should highlight those just breaking into the league. The likes of David Brooks, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Declan Rice should be celebrated, not experienced pros like Sterling and Silva. Despite his age , Marcus Rashford's extensive experience should preclude him from consideration as well.
Other young stars deserve to join Brooks, Alexander-Arnold and Rice on the ballot. You can even throw those who have missed out in there too, Crystal Palace star Aaron Wan-Bissaka is an obvious choice. What about James Maddison. The Leicester City playmaker creates more chances than Eden Hazard and was outperforming Lionel Messi in that regard at one point during his first season in the Premier League. The league should be shouting that from the rooftops.
If officials had wanted a Manchester City player, Oleksandr Zinchenko deserves a nod. The Ukrainian is an actual youngster making huge strides in Pep Guardiola's squad.
Instead, the award is being groomed as a consolation prize for Sterling. The PFA Merit Award is used to recognise past players for their contribution to the game. It affirms legendary status. There should also be a humanitarian award that recognises players like Sterling for their public service.
Creating it would help avoid conflicting priorities such as these. Arsene Wenger famously doesn’t like individual awards. This year's farcical ballot likely illustrates why.