Friday, 8 April 2011

PFA Player of (some of) the year 2010/2011 nominees

Spring time. The sun is out, the birds are singing, flowers are in bloom, the days are longer and otherwise unattractive members of the human race all of sudden become far more appealing for whatever it is consenting adults choose to do behind closed doors. Spring also brings with it the conclusion of the football season and with it the depressing realisation that the months on end you've spent watching your team in the vain hope that they won't disappoint you yet again have been wasted as, predictably, they disappoint you yet again.

In time honoured tradition, the end of the football season sees various trophies, medals and other such shiny trinkets being lavished onto both teams and individuals for their various achievements over the winter months. Of course, with enough of the campaign remaining between now and May for major changes to still take place, one would think it would make sense to wait until then before the customary back-slapping and brown-nosing over which player was supposed to have been the 'best' in the league since August.

Not the PFA however. No, the player's player of the year award is based on what an individual has managed to achieve in only three quarters of season making it, in some people's eyes (mine), somewhat flawed. Given that the eventual winner could go on to have a stinker in his remaining games or have another player perform better than him over the next few weeks, I'm sure I'm not alone in suggesting that maybe they should wait before the customary arse-kissing that takes place?

The PFA award is voted for by fellow players. Coupled with the dodgy timing of the award, you may also wonder whether the pros are best placed or indeed have the nous to make an informed and more importantly, objective decision as to who is most deserving of the prize. But alas, things are as they are and ultimately, who are we to question it?

The shortlist of nominees was announced on Friday:

Gareth Bale

Pros: Once upon a time, the White Hart Lane faithful would shudder when the name Gareth Bale was read out pre-match thanks to his reputation as something of a jinx. It's not that he was a 'bad' footballer but there was certainly a feeling that the young Welshman was about at home in a Tottenham shirt as a Katie Price in a convent. This all changed last season as 'Arry realised that Bale was a left winger and subsequently played him there rather than in the left back position where he had previously struggled so badly. After playing a major role in getting Spurs into the Champions League, Bale started this season with a bang keeping his side within touching distance of the top of the table with a number of man of the match displays. His goal at Stoke in the autumn is up there with one of the strikes of the season and will hopefully not be forgotten in the glut of great goals over the campaign.

Bale however, saved his best for Europe as he blasted himself into the consciousness of the of the entire continent following two masterful displays against the European Champions Internazionale including a jaw-dropping hat-trick at the San Siro in a 4-3 defeat. These performances alone led to many over-excitable 'experts' declaring that Bale was as good, if not better, than the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi!

Cons: This kind of over excessive praise and the fact that, in truth, Bale has come nowhere near living up to it. To equate him to Messi and Ronaldo is an insult to both those players as well as the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Sneijder, Robben, Villa and any other player that has been good for more than five minutes. Yes, an 'exciting' player but then again, so was Jose Dominguez. To suggest that Bale is one of the best players in the world is mind-boggling simply by virtue of the fact his productivity is below par for someone of his talent. Despite being a nightmare to defend against, his 7 league goals and ONE paltry assist in 25 games suggest his overall output this season has not nearly lived up to the hype he generates. Against Real Madrid last Tuesday, the so-called best player in the world only completed 5 of his pitiful 8 passes in Spurs' 4-0 pasting. Ok, injury has blighted his progress but it seems when people go mad over the Welshman their opinion is clouded by those matches against Inter which, let's face it, get further away with each passing day.

Samir Nasri

Pros: Once heralded as a the 'new Zidane' and while not quite as good as the best European footballer of all time, Samir Nasri has shown this season that such comparisons are not as outrageous as they may initially seem. Up until his injury in January, Nasri was far and away the stand out performer in an Arsenal team that looked to be on the verge of greatness this season. His form was so good and so inspiring for the gunners that injury to Cesc Fabregas in the Autumn was not as damaging as first feared with some even suggesting Nasri could even seamlessly take over from his captain should the latter run off to Barcelona.

Nasri's main attribute is the kind of close control you only see in computer games. Add some pace, balance and trickery and in Nasri you have one of the finest creative players in the league this season. Having netted 9 times in the league, it's not been the quantity but rather the quality of his goals that have people in awe of his ability. In a team choked with talented players, it says a lot about Nasri that he has been the best.

Cons: Nasri is like a microcosm of Arsenal football club in recent years. Adventurous, skilful and very easy on the eye but a tendency to fall short before the final hurdle. Like Bale, injury may have played its part but Nasri has gone off the boil on in the new year. Of course, it's unfair to place all Arsenal's failings at his feet but a greater contribution would have been expected from him in recent weeks and had he produced anything close to what he has shown he can, it's unlikely that his side’s season would have gone into such dramatic freefall.

Carlos Tevez

Pros: Following his controversial pan-Manchester transfer a couple of years back after Sir Alex Ferguson declared that he 'wasn't worth the money', Tevez has arguably become the best striker in the league. Where the Argentine differs from his peers is a unique level of tenacity. Not only is he there to stick the ball in the back of the net but his work rate is second to none. Barely a City game passes where you don't sit there thinking "By 'eck! That Tevez doesn't half work hard".

Despite the embarrassment of talent squeezed into their squad and given their indifferent performances over the year, you do wonder if City would still be in with any sort of shout for any honours without him. So many times he has been the sole factor between a draw (or perhaps even a defeat) and three precious points.

Cons: Not so much anything he has or hasn't done on the field but his behaviour but his general attitude and demeanour over the course of the season. The whole saga over his transfer request and alleged fallings out with the manager has undermined City’s challenge this year. Ok, he still puts in a shift on the pitch but as captain and leader of an increasingly volatile collection of individuals, he surely could and should have been setting a better example.

Scott Parker

Pros: It's certainly fair to say that West Ham would most likely already be down if it wasn’t for Parker and his all too regular inspirational acts of leadership both on and off the pitch. Lord knows Avram needs all the help he can get and since sneaking cyanide into the opposition's Lucozade bottles might not go down so well with the authorities, the next best thing is having a player like Parker who not only contributes to attacks but also does that thing we English love oh so much: grafting. Box-to-box midfielders in this mould are all too rare in the modern game. With an abundance of deep-lying forwards, playmakers and anchormen all forming sub-categories of the traditional central midfielder, what Parker does seems to stand out all the more. Dynamic is an all too simplistic description of him and he has fully earned his place in the England set-up recently.

Cons: He plays for West Ham. No disrespect to the Hammers but they have been pretty abject over the past two years. Ok, this may sound like big club snobbery but if a good player stands out in a poor team, does that not distort our perception of him? Is being 'good' at West Ham the same as being average at say.... Chelsea? Something Parker himself can answer from experience. Like any half decent player at a 'better' team, it shouldn't be a surprise to see him thrive in such an environment. Should he really be a rewarded for being a big fish in a small pond?

Rafael van der Vaart


Pros: Ok, it's lazy and often redundant to quote transfer fees given that one player's value is almost never determined in relation to the value of another but in a world where a team can spend 35 million English pounds on a lump of a striker with half a season's Premier League experience, it seems crazy that Tottenham were able to snap up a regular Dutch international from Real Madrid for a mere £8million. In real terms this was the equivalent of going into Currys and finding a 50 inch plasma screen TV with a £100 price tag on it. This transfer wasn't just value for money, it was value AGAINST money (does that make sense? Probably not) and made a mockery of most transfers in football history. Van der Vaart didn't even require anything of a settling in period and took to the Premier League with ease. Playing as a second striker, he provided the perfect link between the creativity of Modric in midfield and the goals of, in particular, Crouch as a front man who he seems to work best with. His own haul of 10 league goals is not too shabby either.

Blessed with creativity and vision, the Dutchman added a new type of directness to the Tottenham team and certainly improved what was already a high-quality style of play under 'Arry. Alongside the abovementioned Bale, people were impressed enough at one stage to even speak of Spurs as potential champions this season. Signing of the season? Probably. Bargain of the season? No question.

Cons: On a continuing theme that surely justifies my argument that these awards are handed out far too early, his form has tailed off in recent months as has his attitude. Injuries haven't helped but perhaps more applicably, the Dutch have earned a reputation, in football at least, as being temperamental, argumentative and downright stroppy. On more than occasion following substitution, van der Vaart has irritated his manager by storming off down the tunnel in a huff. Unlike Tevez, the Tottenham man very much strikes me as the kind of player who will allow his unhappiness to creep into his game and ultimately, his performances will suffer.

Charlie Adam

Pros: The gaping chasm between the Premier League and football league is generally always going to see teams and players from The Championship come up and struggle. Therefore, I am always encouraged to see a player able to make the transition without much trouble. Aside from just making the transition, Blackpool's Charlie Adam has slotted himself and looks right at home. Adam's ability will certainly have proved to be a pleasant surprise to anyone who didn't follow Blackpool promotion-winning run last season but even for Championship fans and even those who saw his fantastic free kick in the Play off final (a trick he has had no trouble repeating), no-one would have expected him to be as good as he has been. This a reject from the SPL for Christ sake!

Adam's physical stature obviously doesn't invoke images of a flair player but don't let his frame fool you. Yes, he is a 'hard worker' but Adam shines through his flair, creativity and keen eye for goal. Like Scott Parker, Adam inspires the lesser players around him to play better. Transfer shenanigans in the winter almost saw him depart Bloomfield Road and you can easily see him staying in the Premier League next season even if Blackpool do not.

Cons: How many times have you heard pundits, journalists, bloggers etc refer to Blackpool as a breath of fresh air? It has been accepted practice to patronise Ian Holloway's team as they have performed beyond all expectations this season. Hang about, these are not park footballers. They are still professionals and it grates even at this stage of the season to still be surprised at the fact some players you never heard of before this campaign can actually get the ball down and play. In that respect, Charlie Adam is almost a poster boy for this 'plucky little team' of apparent nobodies and you can't help but feel that his nomination is an example of tokenism. I like Adam but he certainly isn't the best player in the league and giving it to him would come across like nothing more than overblown sentiment not far off the ludicrous decision to award it to Ryan Giggs a couple of years back.

Nemanja Vidic

Pros: Hoo-effing-ray!!! People actually realise that you don't need to be some poncey, fancy dan, orange-boot wearing attacker to be a good player. Some recognition for the guys at the other end at last. In The Republic, Plato talked about the rulers, or Philosopher Kings. Below them would be the Auxillaries, guardians or soldiers. Applying this hierarchy to football, the perception would surely be that the attackers are the rulers while the defenders would be the auxillaries. Without doubt the leader of these Soldiers would Vidic. The Serb is unquestionably the number one centre back in the division and this season more than any previous has he had to show it. Vidic has also been without his fellow defensive chum Rio Ferdinand for much of the season which just shows that they don't necessarily need to play as a partnership in order to thrive. With or without Rio, Vidic has been rock solid for much of the season. The general consensus is that this United team is one of the poorest for years yet unbelievably the team are still looking at a potential if not unlikely treble. Whether this happens or not, Sir Alex Ferguson will surely be looking at the general sturdiness of his Vidic in his back line to prevent defeats in many games when their performances deserved it.

Cons: On the rare occasion Vidic performs badly, he doesn't so much self destruct rather he sets himself on fire before diving head first into a barrel of gunpowder! The most recent example was in last week's controversial game at West Ham where he was an accident waiting to happen and extremely fortunate not to receive his marching orders. In years gone by, his struggles against Fernando Torres were well documented. In this year's game at Stamford Bridge, the misfiring Spaniard's mere presence in the stadium was still enough to unsettle Vidic into getting sent off... probabaly.

Does the fact that the list features two players involved in the relegation battle reflect the quality of the league? And if so, in a positive or a negative way? Nasri, Bale and van der Vaart have all missed a fair part of the season through injury and all three have suffered for form recently yet still make the list. Make of that what you will.

I maintain that there still too large a portion of the campaign to make a decision. Why not wait? What is the big rush? There is still time for players not on the shortlist who have had an impressive year (Nani? Kompany? Ashley Cole? Chris Brunt???) and can still have a major impact between now and May.

But I guess that would make too much sense.

Personally, I think Parker deserves it.

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